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:
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.
In 2021, Mission Australia asked young Tasmanians where they would go for help with important issues:
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.
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.
“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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
Communication with a young person is helpful when:
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.
Active Listening is a skill that helps you not only hear the words, but really understand their meaning.
Choosing language that suits both you and your young person will give you the best chance of communicating clearly.
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.
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’.
Using ‘I’ statements helps you express what you need to share without making anyone feel defensive.
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.
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.
An open question encourages a full answer, not just ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Most open questions start with ‘How’, ‘Why’ or ‘What’.
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.
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.
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”!
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.
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.
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.
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.