Tips for Raising Drug Free Kids

“Parent power is a potent force in getting kids to stay away from drugs and alcohol and cigarettes, and it’s greatly underutilized.”—Joseph Califano, founder of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse

Your child is always watching you. What is he or she learning about your values and behaviors about drugs? Do you quickly grab a painkiller to try to deaden the pain of the everyday headaches of your life? Do you drink a glass of wine every day because you have to have one? Kids notice. There used to be a misconception that only “troubled” teenagers get into drugs, but we now know that’s not true. Even young children are vulnerable to drug dangers. Here are some tips to help you keep your child safe and drug free.

Tips for all parents...

• Keep all medications locked up. It doesn’t matter how young or old your child is. It’s too tempting for kids to go into a medicine cabinet and get into something they’re not supposed to.

• Be aware of drugs that tempt kids. Some kids are into huffing aerosols. Others are abusing prescription drugs such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Vicodin. More and more kids are becoming open to using marijuana, reports the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

• Emphasize good choices. Talk about how being drug free, having friends who share your values, and getting involved in good activities (such as organized activities, music, art, theater, and clubs) are great ways to keep drug free.

• Talk to your kids about why you want them to be drug free. See this article from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

• Keep learning about how to prevent kids from using drugs. Download this free guide from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

• Never give a child aspirin since doctors suspect that it causes Reye’s Syndrome, a serious disease that affects children 12 years and younger.

• Be aware, however, that some highly competitive sports, such as football, put kids at greater risk for alcohol use in high school, reports a study presented at the American Public Health Association.

For parents with children ages birth to 5

• Abstain from all drugs, alcohol, and medications while breastfeeding. These all can appear in breast milk and will have a harmful effect on a baby.

• Follow exact medication dosages for your child. If you’re unsure about a dosage, call your pediatrician for advice. Be careful not to become distracted when giving medication to a child.

• Be vigilant about keeping all medications locked up. Young children love to explore and will put almost anything in their mouths. Accidental poisoning is a common danger to young children.

For parents with children ages 6–9

Talk about the dangers of drugs with your child. The more your child hears consistent messages from you about being drug free, the more likely your child will stay that way as he or she grows up.

• Never give a child aspirin since doctors suspect that it causes Reye’s Syndrome, a serious disease that affects children 12 years and younger.

• When your child is sick, be thoughtful in how you give medication. Talk about how medication is only for treating diseases. If you take a medication to control high blood pressure or high cholesterol, talk about how important it is to follow a doctor’s orders to remain healthy.

For parents with children ages 10–15

• Ask your child what he or she thinks about drugs. Bring up the topic periodically since kids during this age range can often change their minds about drugs, being more open to it than before.

• If you discover your child experimenting with drugs (such as cigarettes or alcohol) be careful not to overreact. Talk about why it’s important to be drug, alcohol, and tobacco-free. Find out what your child did and why. Then address those issues.

• As kids get older, they can begin to know peers who use drugs. Talk about peer pressure and how not to be influenced by people making poor choices.

For parents with children ages 16–18

• Continue to articulate your views, rules, and values about drugs. Be clear that you expect your teen to be drug free. Get talking tips >

• Ask your teenager what he or she thinks about different drugs. Get specific. It’s too easy for teens to say that all drugs are bad but then think that some are worse than others. Ask about over-the-counter drugs, such as sleeping aids, diet pills, and cough syrup.

• Create consequences about drug use—before anything happens. What is the consequence if you find drugs in your home? What if the family car your teenager uses smells like marijuana? (Be ready for your teenager to say, “That’s not because of me!”) Make the rules and consequences stand no matter who is using. Your home and cars are drug-free zones.