Connecting through Conversations

A Community Conversation brought to you by the Drug Education Network.
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The Conversation

Puberty, bullying and 'the birds and the bees'. There are all sorts of big talks that we have with the young people in our lives. At some point, you may find that alcohol, tobacco or other drugs is something you'd like to cover.

This 'Community Conversation' is designed to help you have that talk.

Research suggests that one of the most important factors in healthy child development is a strong, open relationship with a carer or parent.  

We hope that this information can assist you in having 'The Conversation'.

In this Community Conversation we will:

  • look at how to talk with young people about drugs
  • look at what can make talking with young people easier or harder
  • offer tips for talking about drugs
  • share places where you can learn more
An older man with his arm around a younger man. They are sitting down and looking at a phone which the young man is holding. Illustration.

Important notes:

When we say carer in this conversation, we mean parents, guardians and any other adult who cares about a young person.

When we say drugs in this conversation, we mean all kinds of drugs. This includes things like alcohol, cigarettes and prescription medicines, as well as other drugs like cannabis, ‘nangs’ or vapes.


Get ready carers: Kids want to talk to you about drugs.

Did you know:

  • 1 in 3 young Tasmanians say they’d turn to their parents for advice about drugs
  • young Tasmanians highly value their family relationships
A younger woman and an older woman sitting at a table having a discussion. The young woman has long straight hair, and the older woman has glasses and coily hair. Illustration.

In 2021, Mission Australia asked young Tasmanians where they would go for help with important issues:

  • 80.4% said they would ask for help from their friends
  • 73% said they would turn to their family
  • and 53.2% said they would ask their partner for help.

The survey also found that 52% of young people rated their family’s ability to get along as either 'excellent' or 'very good'.

It is clear from Mission Australia's findings that many young people feel very comfortable seeking help from their parents and guardians when dealing with important issues.  

A woman and young girl reading together on the floor. The girl is resting her head on the woman's shoulder. Illustration.

We know you have probably heard it before, but it really does start at home.  Home is the first place that young people start to learn.  Even if you aren't sure what to say, the important thing is that you say something. If you’re concerned, let them know and tell them why.  

Show young people that you are willing to support them and talk with them about important issues. This will give them the chance to share what they are thinking or going through.

It can make a big difference to the young person you care for.

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When do we start talking?

“We can be so worried about getting it right, perfectly right, that we end up saying nothing at all”.

-DEN Focus Group Participant, 2023

The best time to start is now.  No matter how young the child in your life is, they are already seeing drugs in the world. The things they see and hear can shape what they know about drugs. By talking with them, you can help shape their knowledge and influence how or if they use drugs in the future.

Think about how often a young person sees an adult drinking alcohol or smoking a cigarette. When they see this, they are learning something about how people use drugs. Talking about drugs is an important part of preparing them for the future. As they get older, they may be around drugs more often, or invited to use them.

Having the talk as early as possible helps to make sure that young people know how to keep themselves safe. You don’t have to start by talking about the hardest parts. You can start by talking about the medicines you have at home. If you take a painkiller to treat a headache, talk about why you are taking it.

For very young children, talking about medicine safety and nutrition can be the perfect building blocks for bigger talks about drugs later on.

A woman and a toddler. The woman has her mouth wide open as the toddler holds a magnifying glass up to peek inside. Illustration.

Young people see things about drugs in all sorts of places. They see and hear things at school, in TV programs, in movies, through the internet and on social media.

When you discuss drugs with a young person, it is very important that you share correct facts and information. Using good evidence to support your conversation will help the young person to develop an understanding of drugs, and not just your opinions about them.

How you tackle this topic is important because:

  • research shows that parents’ beliefs and actions have a strong effect on if, when, and how a young person drinks alcohol
  • your rules around alcohol use can lower the chances of young people drinking in a harmful way
  • the law in most parts of Australia supports your decision not to allow a young person to drink alcohol.

Should you be worried when it comes to alcohol and other drugs?

Many carers worry about whether young people are using illegal drugs and what they should or can do about it. You may be surprised to learn that most young people don’t use alcohol or other drugs.

In the 2019 'National Drug Strategy Household Survey', findings showed that today’s young people are less likely to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs.

83.6% of young people between the ages of 14 and 24 had not used any illicit drugs within the previous 12 months.
Learn more in another conversation:
Information about drugs and young people
Read more: "Young People and Drugs" by InfoLinkBack to Contents

Getting ready for the conversation

A hand holding a magnifying glass over a background of the word 'fact' repeated. Illustration.

We now know that young people trust the information provided by their carers. We also know that we can start small when talking about drugs, building to have more than one conversation. But how do we get ready to actually talk?

You will feel more confident in starting the conversation if you:

  • Get the facts about alcohol and drugs. Think about what you need to know and what you want the young person to learn. Who do you want involved? There is a lot of wrong information around, but if you focus on the facts your talk will go better.
  • Be prepared. The young person is likely to ask whether you have used drugs. You don’t need to tell them about your own use of drugs (or if you had a good time). But, if you decide to share, think about how much detail you want to give. Will your story be helpful? How you will answer any questions about your use?
  • Be clear. Think about what you feel is a proper and responsible use of legal drugs. Discuss the risks of mixing prescription medicines and alcohol. Set fair boundaries and explain any consequences to guide future behaviour.
A doctor and patient reviewing information in a folder. The man has short hair and a beard. The woman has long black hair. Illustration.

Before you take any action, you can ask for support and advice. Consider speaking to a Drug and Alcohol service or helpline, reach out to another carer, a family member, or your GP.

Try not to take it personally if the young person doesn’t want to talk to you about what is going on. Some resistance is normal. It doesn’t mean that you should give up.

Wait... what was that word?

Something that might help is knowing what words young people use when they refer to drugs. This is called "slang" or “street” language.

Have you heard your kids talk about 'nangs', caps, bath salts or blue nitro? Or does it sound like they’re talking in code? sometimes it can feel like you need a translator to talk to your kids, especially teens.

Read more: "A parent's guide to drug slang" by NSW Health

What does good communication with a young person look like?

Communication with a young person is helpful when:

  • you are talking in a way that works for both of you
  • where appropriate, you both feel able to talk openly about your feelings
  • you both feel heard and understood
  • you both feel comfortable talking about uncomfortable or difficult things when you need to.

Importantly, good communication with young people helps to keep the lines of communication open. You may not cover every part of the topic, or address every problem with one big talk.

It’s okay to pause a conversation and pick it up again later. It's okay to have lots of smaller talks. Talk about what's happening in the news or with family and friends. You will find lots of moments where you can help the young person to learn and grow as you talk.

Talking about drugs may be one way for you to connect. You can learn more about what is happening in the young person's life. And, by talking with you, they can work out what their choices are and make healthy decisions.

Keep in mind: When you do talk about it, they may find the conversation difficult.

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Tips for talking with a young person

Try active listening

Active Listening is a skill that helps you not only hear the words, but really understand their meaning.

  • give the young person your full attention
  • let the young person talk without interrupting
  • summarise their words and feelings: try repeating what they are saying in your own words
  • try to avoid making judgments.
If your young person looks like they’ve stopped listening, it might be a good idea to pause the conversation and start again another time


Choosing language that suits both you and your young person will give you the best chance of communicating clearly.

  • use words that both of you are comfortable with
  • keep your explanations simple and brief
  • check understandings: do you both understand the same things?

A word of caution

Language is powerful – especially when talking about drugs and the people who use them. Being labelled a “drug addict” can and does stop people from getting the support they need.

Choosing words that don’t shame or blame can have a powerful impact on how a person feels about themselves and their situation.

Read more: "The Power of Words"

Be curious

Be open minded and curious when you talk with young people.

What do they already know? What do they think? How similar is their understanding to your own knowledge or experience?

Approaching a tough conversation with curiosity can often help to ‘lighten the mood’.

Use 'I' statements

Using ‘I’ statements helps you express what you need to share without making anyone feel defensive.

  • Start your sentence with your feelings instead of the problem
  • Focus on the behaviour not the person
  • Focused on working through the problem together; talking about 'fault' or 'blame' is not helpful
  • Avoid starting a sentence with the word ‘you.’

'I' Statement Examples:

  • I feel worried when I don’t know where my family is at night. I worry I won’t be able to help if I am needed.”
  • “I feel hurt when someone tells me one thing but then does another.”
  • I really worry when people use drugs, because I know that accidents happen and I want everyone to be safe and healthy.”

Be aware of body language

The way you speak – including the volume and tone of your voice, your physical gestures and your facial expressions – has an important influence on how your message will be received.

  • Keep your posture relaxed
  • Have your arms resting gently: try to avoid crossing them
  • Try to keep a neutral facial expression
  • Speak with an even and gentle tone
  • Think about how you sit and don’t insist on maintaining eye contact – if face-to-face is too confronting, you could go for a drive or take a walk together.

Embrace Silence

Silence allows us to speak about our issues without interruption.

It also provides young people with space to process their thoughts and feelings without feeling distracted.

Use open questions

An open question encourages a full answer, not just ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Most open questions start with ‘How’, ‘Why’ or ‘What’.

Try this...
Instead of this...
How do you feel about...?
Doesn't that make you feel...?
Why do you think...?
Don't you realise...?
What do you know about...?
Don't you know...?

Suspend your judgement

Being non-judgemental is really important!

Young people are often worried about feeling judged. If they think you might be judging them unfairly, they may not want to continue talking with you. They may even stop asking for your help or advice.

Even when you have opinions about the things they say, or are choosing to do, try not to judge- at least until they have finished sharing. Approaching each conversation with love and patience, will help you to communicate well.

The right talk at the right time

Choose a time when you are both ready and relaxed. If either of you are tired, angry or emotional, it might not be the best time.

Make sure you are in a comfortable place without interruptions and with some privacy.

Listen calmly to the young person’s side of the story.

Share when things are complicated

Balanced conversations about drugs include acknowledging why someone may like or enjoy using drugs. Young people understand that people use drugs for a lot of different reasons: being honest about those reasons will show that you understand the issue. It’s okay to say “It’s complicated”!

If you don't know the answer to a question... say so! Nobody knows everything. Not knowing the answer is a great opportunity to find out together.

Help guide their decisions

As a young person grows older, they will start to make their own decisions about their behaviour.

As a carer you can set rules, consequences and boundaries, but you can’t make decisions for them.

  • Share your feelings about the actions you’d like them to take. Explain why you feel this way.
  • Help them plan for all sorts of scenarios: make sure that they know what to do or where to go for help in case something goes wrong.
  • If you have information that is helpful to them, share it. Many young people feel reluctant to bring up the topic or ask questions.
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What about miscommunication?

Sometimes a talk goes wrong. How does it happen, and how can you stop it?

This video has some great suggestions to help keep your communication on track.

Read more: "Scaring a young person into not using drugs" by NSW HealthBack to Contents

Wrapping it up

Good communication takes work, practice and planning. Take the time to listen to the young people in your life; you may be surprised at where the conversation leads.

Young people want to share their life with the people that care about them. They don’t want to be judged or criticized. They want your support, guidance and to feel that they are heard.

In this Conversation we have learned that:

  • Young Tasmanians see their carers as a reliable source of information when dealing with important issues like drugs.

  • It is never too soon to start talking about drugs. We can have as many conversations as we need.

  • Our conversations can be made easier by making sure everyone feels comfortable, listened to, and safe.

  • There is a lot of support available to us. There are plenty of places to find tips and advice to help you have these conversations in the best way possible.
  • You can have a positive impact on a young person by being available to them, and encouraging them to come back to you if they have anything more to say.

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Looking for more information?

Check out the resources below:

Discovering that your child or family member has tried or is using drugs may be upsetting. You are not alone. Not all drug use leads to problems and help is always available for you and your loved one. Find more information in this factshet from Your Room.

When do you start talking to children about alcohol and other drugs? How do you even start the conversation? Find the answers to these questions and more in this factsheet from Better Health.

You may have a difficult conversation with your young person coming up. What can you do to make it go smoothly? Learn more from this factsheet at Raising Chidlren.

Blurred Minds gives you the answer to some commonly asked questions around drugs, alcohol, talking with teens, social media, parties and keeping your family safe. See what the experts have to say about the latest research and get tips and perspectives from parents who are raising teenagers.

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Services and Helplines

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Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, Younger people (2023) Australian Institute of Health and Welfare,

Effective communication and teenagers -ReachOut Parents (n.d.),

Leung S, Brennan N, Freeburn T, Waugh W andChristie R (2022) Youth Survey Report 2022, Mission Australia, Sydney,

Parentlink (2010) ‘Young people and drugs’,

The Other Talk - Alcohol and Drug Foundation(n.d.),

Walsh J (2021) ‘Talk Soon. Talk Often.’,


All illustrations are © Drug Education Network 2023. All rights reserved.

Any adaptations are credited below the image.

Authored by Clare T. Edited by Zoe K., Deni S., with contributions from many other DEN team members.

Special thanks to the participants of the focus groups for the Community Conversations project, who helped shape these resources.

Many thanks for the reference photographs by artists at CC0 stock sites: and

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