SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- You can start talking to your children about drugs from an early age, this sets you up for ongoing conversations with your young person as they move through to their teen years.
- Always consider what is age-appropriate information for your child.
- Explain what drugs are, their functions, and which drugs are harmful or illegal.
- Stick to the facts. If you exaggerate the harms or dangers you will sound less knowledgeable.
- It will take time for your child to really understand the risks of drug use.
- Other people (particularly peers) will talk to your child about drugs, so it is important to learn what your child knows, encourage them to ask questions, and clear up any misconceptions.
- Your child will form attitudes about drug use from what they see at home, among their friends and in the media.
On this page
- Getting ready to talk to your child about drugs
- Tips for talking to children aged 4‒7 about drugs
- Tips for talking to children aged 8‒12 about drugs
- Tips for talking to children aged 13‒17 about drugs
- Getting the drug conversation started
- Stuck for an answer about drugs?
- Where to get help ‒ parents
- Where to get help ‒ kids
All children will eventually be exposed to drugs ‒ prescription medication, alcohol and tobacco, and sometimes illegal drugs too ‒ or to messages about drugs.
It is important for adults to clearly explain to children what drugs are, their functions and potential harms.
You can start talking to your children about drugs from an early age. And below we offer some age-appropriate tips to start these conversations. Talking to children about drugs in an age-appropriate way will help equip them with the information and skills to think critically about alcohol and drug use.
Another benefit of starting the conversation early is it creates an environment that facilitates open and honest information sharing. Supporting your young person through non-judgemental and open conversations lets them know they can come to you to talk about any topic.
If you feel you don't know the answers, or don't know enough, you are not alone. Many parents feel lost in knowing where to start the drug conversation and what to cover. This article will help you feel more confident in talking to your children about drugs.
Getting ready to talk to your child about drugs
There’s some excellent online resources to support parents and carers to feel more confident to talk about alcohol and other drugs with your young person.
- ReachOut is an online service for young people that provides information, support and resources about mental health issues including alcohol and other drugs and enables them to develop resilience, increase coping skills, and identify help and support services.
- The Alcohol and Drug Foundation has extensive information on alcohol and drugs and their effects, harm minimisation, the latest news and research, and where to find help and support.
- Headspace provides support to young people aged from 12 to 25 years to reduce the impact of depression, anxiety, stress, and alcohol and drug use, and to improve issues associated with sexuality, sexual health, families, and bullying. Young people and their families can get support at a headspace centre, or through their telephone support service or webchat.
- Positive Choices is an online portal to help parents, teachers and young people access accurate, up-to-date evidence based alcohol and other drug education resources. The website contains information on drugs and their effects, factsheets, videos, games, webinars and apps. It was developed in collaboration with researchers, teachers, parents and students across Australia.
When preparing what you will discuss with your child, consider the questions they might have.
Your child is likely to ask whether you have used drugs. You don’t need to tell them about your experiences with drugs (good or bad). However, if you decide to share, consider how much detail you want to give, if your story will be helpful and how you will respond to any questions.
Once you have spoken about the effects of drugs, it is important to be clear on your personal view. Explain how your child can stay safe when using legal drugs, and why you think your child should not use illegal drugs. Be clear on your beliefs, it is up to you whether you allow your teenager to drink alcohol under the age of 18, use the Australian alcohol guidelines to help you make the decision, they state that the safest approach is to avoid alcohol until a person is 18 years old.
Be consistent with your messaging. You can also positively influence a young person through role modelling lower risk drinking practices:
- not drinking excessively – following the Australian alcohol guidelines
- not drink driving
- showing that you can have fun and relax without drinking
- refusing a drink if you don't feel like it or you've had enough
- building some alcohol-free days into your week
- avoiding saying that you ‘need’ or ‘deserve’ a drink.
It is important not to perpetuate myths about drugs and alcohol, and to ensure that your child understands the risks and harms associated with drug and alcohol use. Discuss the harms realistically without exaggerating, and always consider what is age-appropriate information for your child. For example, a teenager might want all the details, but a younger child may be upset to learn about the potential for aggressive behaviour when people are under the influence of alcohol.
It is also important to be clear and consistent around rules and the consequences associated with breaking them, and help your children develop strategies to navigate situations that might involve drugs and alcohol with their peers.
Tips for talking to children aged 4‒7 about drugs
- When you use medicine in the house, talk about why you are using the medicine, how it can be used by only the person who is unwell, and how sticking to the correct dose is important (that is, we can't take too much).
- Repeat simple information about the dangers of drugs, smoking and alcohol, but also about the benefits of nutritious food. In other words, take a two-pronged approach: some things are not good for our body, and some things are great for us.
- When you know your child has heard an illegal drug mentioned in the media or in conversation, ask your child if they know what it is. Tell them that the drug is addictive and can have harmful effects on the body.
- If your child sees someone smoking in a movie or on television, talk about smoking, nicotine addiction and the effects of smoking on your lungs and overall health.
- If your child sees someone drinking heavily in a movie or on television, talk about alcohol, alcohol addiction and the effects of excessive drinking on your health.
- Be specific about the effects of a drug, but keep it simple. You can talk about a person getting very angry, for example, rather than more extreme violence.
- If your child asks for more information, give it to them.
- Talk calmly and use terms that your child can understand.
Tips for talking to children aged 8‒12 about drugs
- Begin by asking them what they think about drugs. If you ask in a casual, unjudging way, your child is more likely to be honest with you.
- If your child is uncomfortable talking to you about drugs, or seems disinterested, let them know that you are ready to talk whenever they are. They will come to you with questions eventually.
- Pay attention to their concerns and questions. Don't say that any ideas or questions are silly: be open to all questions, whether they are detailed or general.
- If your child shows they have false information, gently give them the correct information. Explain that they may come across more wrong information, but they can check everything with you.
- Be aware of drug-related news that your child may hear, such as drug use by people in the public eye. And check that your child understands what has happened, and the consequences of the drug use.
Tips for talking to children aged 13‒17 about drugs
- Be aware that your child may know other kids who use alcohol or other drugs. So, be prepared to answer more specific questions about drugs\.
- Try to understand your child's thoughts and feelings about drug-related issues (such as drink driving), but also be sure to talk about real risks of drug use. For example, explain that drink driving is illegal (so a person who drives under the influence may go to jail) and that someone drink driving could end up killing or severely injuring a pedestrian, a passenger, another road user or themselves.
- Consider making a written or verbal contract containing the family rules about going out or using the car. As part of the contract, make your child promise to call you if the person responsible for driving has been drinking or using drugs.
- Be clear about your expectations of your child. The idea is to be completely upfront about how you want your child to behave in situations that involve alcohol and other drugs.
- Stay up to date with drug street names and how different drugs affect the body, so you can give out the right information. If you don't have the answers, let your child know that you will find out what they want to know.
Getting the drug conversation started
Plan a quiet time with your child when neither of you will have other distractions. You may go for a walk, plan a milkshake at a café, or chat in the car on the way home from school. It might also be useful to use cues from relevant topics on the TV or in the media.
You can start the conversation with some basic information.
Explain that a drug can come from plants (such as cannabis or tobacco) or be manufactured (such as ecstasy and ice). Let your child know that drugs can affect how we feel, think, and behave.
Explain that drugs fall into three groups:
- everyday substances such as coffee or prescription medication
- legal drugs such as cigarettes and alcohol
- illegal drugs such as cocaine, ice and MDMA.
Explain that people use drugs (or medications) for different reasons:
- to treat illness
- to feel relief from pain
- to feel 'up' and energetic
- to feel relaxed and calm
- to fall asleep.
From this information, your child will probably have questions. Let the conversation flow from those questions.
In other words, let the conversation go in whatever direction your child wants to take it. You can always come back to your prepared information on another day. Remember it is also important to gauge your child's views about drugs and alcohol, and to talk about what they would do in different situations.
Stuck for an answer about drugs?
It’s OK not to have all the answers. There’s some great online resources that can support you and your young person to find out the facts together.
By looking together, your child knows you are happy to help them, and the conversation is open and honest.
If your child doesn't want to bother looking for answers, then do the research yourself. If you don't supply the answers to your child's questions, then someone else probably will, and their information may be wrong.
In other words, you can keep more control of what your child knows about drugs by being their main source of information. Research shows that children see their parents as a credible source of information.
Further, by talking to your child, you can learn more about what is happening in their life. And, by talking with you, your child can work out their choices and make informed decisions.
Where to get help ‒ parents
- The Other Talk ‒ for information for parents
- Alcohol and Drug Foundation Tel. 1300 85 85 84 ‒ for general information and help and support services by state
- Health.Vic DirectLine Tel. 1800 888 236 for treatment pathways and telephone support services
- Family Drug Help Tel. 1300 660 068 – for information and support for people concerned about a relative or friend using drugs
- Raising Children Network ‒ for warning signs of drug and alcohol use and for a video on family rules on using alcohol and other drugs
- Parent line - Parentline counsellors can help you navigate difficult parenting dilemmas.
Where to get help ‒ kids
- Kids Helpline
- Youth Drug and Alcohol Advice service (YoDAA), Victoria Tel. 1800 458 685 (9am to 8pm, Monday to Friday)
- Drugs and alcohol, Kids Helpline.
- The other talk, Alcohol and Drug Foundation.
- Difficult conversations with teenagers, Raising Children Network.
- Alcohol use in adolescence: how to prevent it, Raising Children Network.
- Talking about alcohol and other drugs, Alcohol and Drug Foundation.