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You can't. But you can influence their capacity to make good choices in a world where alcohol and other drugs are available. It's about helping your child develop the skills to assess what might be helpful in achieving their goals in life. It's also about nourishing a supportive relationship, so they know where to go with questions or problems.
Opening up a discussion about drugs can help strengthen your relationship with your child. Inviting and allowing open, honest conversation about drugs (or any other subject) makes your child know that what they are thinking, feeling and experiencing matters to you. The goal is to get your child talking and sharing their thoughts and feelings.
When young people are asked thoughtful, open-ended questions exploring what they think, it helps them become interested in their own thoughts and behaviour. This process of self-reflection is part of developing critical thinking skills, a part of good decision-making. Critical thinking skills are actually an essential part of reducing the risks related to using drugs. Once young people have considered something carefully, they are a lot less likely to act out of impulse or in response to influence.
There is no rule about how or where a conversation about alcohol or other drugs should start. Even young children know drugs are a part of our culture. They see people drinking around them and are exposed to drugs on TV and in advertising. This makes it a subject that can be brought up naturally while getting ready for a family celebration where alcohol will be present, or if you are planning to visit a relative who uses tobacco, or while swapping stories at the dinner table about what happened at work and school that day.
Talking with teens and young adults about drugs as they make choices on the path into adulthood helps them to develop personal standards, minimize risks and critically assess popular beliefs about drug use. This can be particularly important as they transition to the legal age for using alcohol or cannabis and move out of the family home. While young adults have more independence and more legal rights, parents can continue to be an important sounding board on which to try out their thoughts and ideas.
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About the author
The Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, formerly CARBC, is a member of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information. The institute is dedicated to the study of substance use in support of community-wide efforts aimed at providing all people with access to healthier lives, whether using substances or not. For more, visit www.cisur.ca.