By: Johnnetta Davis-Joyce, M.A., Director, SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention 

A new school year often brings a fresh start for children and their families. A new opportunity to wake up on time, get homework done early and accomplish academic goals together. For parents, it’s also a time to revisit conversations with their children about alcohol and other drugs. According to SAMHSA’s 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 2.2 million adolescents ages 12-17 and 18.8 million young adults ages 18 to 25 had consumed alcohol in the past month. The same survey found that in the past year, 3.1 million adolescents and 11.8 million young adults had used marijuana, and 699,000 adolescents and 1.9 million young adults had misused opioids.

One way to help prevent underage drinking and drug use is by talking with children about the risks. SAMHSA’s “Talk. They Hear You.”® is a national media campaign that provides resources for parents, caregivers, and other adult role models to help them have conversations about alcohol and other drugs with children, starting as young as nine years old. Although it may not always seem like it, children do hear the concerns of their parents and other adult role models, which is why it’s so important to discuss early and often the risks of using alcohol and other drugs.

It’s also important to have conversations with children about alcohol and drug use throughout the year, and now is the perfect time to start. Having these conversations regularly keeps the lines of communication open for both adults and children to address any questions or concerns as they come up. It also relieves the worry of needing to cover every talking point in one big conversation.

Don’t know where to start? Keep these five conversation goals in mind:

Show you disapprove of underage drinking and drug use. Send a clear, strong, and consistent message that you disapprove of drinking and using or misusing other drugs.

 Show you care about your child’s health, wellness, and success. Reinforce why you don’t want your child to drink or use other drugs—because you want your child to be happy, healthy, and safe.

Show you’re a good source of information about alcohol and other drugs. You don’t want your child to learn about alcohol and other drugs from unreliable sources. Establish yourself as a trustworthy source of information.

Show you’re paying attention and you’ll discourage risky behaviors. Show you’re aware of what your child is up to, as young people are more likely to drink or use other drugs if they think no one will notice.

Build your child’s skills and strategies for avoiding drinking and drug use. Talk with your child about what they can do if faced with a difficult decision about alcohol and other drugs, such as texting a code word to a family member or practicing how they’ll say “no thanks.”