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News from the Noteworthy by LEAF

Ongoing Conversation About Substance Use Important

If you are a parent and have had to make a decision about how to have “the talk,” you are certainly not alone. Thankfully, there is good news. In spite of the all of the eyerolls, heavy sighs, and shoulder shrugs, the research tells us that you, the parent, have the biggest voice in the life your child. So much so that kids who hear from their parents early and often about the expectation that drugs will not be used are 50 percent less likely to use them. You guessed it, “the talk” I’m writing about is the one centered on parental expectation when it comes to not using drugs and alcohol.

If you hear celebrities, pundits, and social media influencers expounding on this, you would think that most kids become rebellious around the mere suggestion that drugs and alcohol not be any part of their lives. The data simply doesn’t prove that out. Kids listen when spoken to from a place of love, respect and safety. I don’t know of any parent, anywhere, that wouldn’t want to give their child the very best possible chance of avoiding the entire laundry list of lifelong risks associated with any drug use. For younger people, that risk typically shows up in impaired cognitive development and personal injury.

Parents almost instinctively put a helmet on their child for biking, skateboarding, football and hockey. The importance of an ongoing conversation around substances rises to that level. Those talks are like a helmet for any child’s physical, social, emotional and educational life. I will admit, it is not an easy talk. However, it does get easier with a bit of practice. Here are some tips:

1) Pick a time when the atmosphere around the home is calm. These talks are too important to try to do it in the midst of a corrective conversation or when emotions are already high.

2) Kids/teens have BIG feelings. They hardly know what to do with them all. So, always approach these conversations with love, care and safety in mind. Share your expectations for their safety (no drugs or alcohol) along with why using these substances will make them unsafe.

3) Use age-appropriate language. This conversation is very different with a six-year-old who is just entering school and may observe things going on than it is with a 13-year-old who already has some life experience.

4) Make sure to create a space where it is safe for them to ask questions. Questions and challenges are healthy and demonstrate engagement. Young people are given all kinds of information in their world that seems to be fact to them. So, let them ask. If you don’t know the answer, say so. Promise them that you will find out and let them know and be sure to follow though.

5) Create opportunities for casual discussions. If you hear an ad about alcohol, if you see a billboard about cannabis, or even a come upon a vaping ad in a convenience store, ask a non-judgmental question. Ask them what they see or hear. Just open the discussion.

There are many more tips for these conversations. This includes what to say if your child asks you about your own possible substance use. Take a look at

LEAF has a free presentation that we can offer for your organization called “Shawna Has a Secret,” which covers these topics. Just call (607) 432-0090 and speak to one of our prevention specialists.

Parents—you’ve got this! And even though it is not easy, the benefits can be measured in healthy kids who grow into healthy adults.

Julie Dostal is executive director of the LEAF Council on Alcoholism & Addictions, Oneonta.


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