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Age 9-13

Speak Now, Here’s How

The preteen years are when children begin to figure out their place in the world. Friends are becoming an important influence in their lives but many kids are still willing and open to speak to their parents or care givers about topics like drugs and alcohol. Creating an open conversation about this subject now can set the tone for their teen years and beyond – allowing kids to feel comfortable discussing this subject with you.

Here are some important techniques to remember when speaking with your preteen about alcohol and drugs.

Start the Conversation

  • It's not too early. Children become curious about drugs and alcohol from an early age. It is important to answer their questions as best you can or be proactive and start a conversation.
  • Establish yourself as a resource. If kids know they can count on you for answers to their questions, they will come back for more information.
  • Consider your actions. At this age, kids will notice when a parent has a glass of wine or beer at home, or grabs medicine from the cabinet every once in a while. Being responsible with your own use of alcohol and drugs is also teaching an important lesson.


  • Listen to their answers. When you start a conversation, be open to all your child's answers. It's important that kids feel they can give an honest opinion rather than what they think you want to hear.
  • Establish a culture of care. Let them know you are there for them and that you care about their experiences at home and at school.
  • Build a trusting relationship. While you are still an authority figure, preteens need to know you are also someone they can trust. Listening shows you value their ideas and can be trusted to hear them out without rushing to judgment.

Establish Clear Rules

  • Be clear. Set rules and expectations for your children regarding drugs and alcohol. Clearly establish that you will not tolerate certain behaviors that can put their health and safety at risk.
  • Enforce the consequences. Kids will often begin to test your rules, it's natural. However, if a rule is broken it's important that you not let it slide.

Role-Play How to Say “No"

  • Talk through scenarios. Providing kids with a good example of when they may encounter alcohol or drugs, and peer pressure, can help them think through how to respond.
  • Help them find a way to say “No". Kids this age can use you as a great reason to avoid alcohol and drugs. “My mom won't let me play basketball if I do," or “my dad will ground me for a month."

Focus on Positive Messages

  • Use facts and not fear. More than ever, kids have the ability to quickly fact check what they're told. Sharing factual, honest information rather than scare tactics will help your advice ring true. Make sure the facts and information you share are from a reliable source.
  • Talk about the positives. Focus your conversations on the healthy alternatives, and positive things people can achieve without alcohol and drugs.
Instead of…

“Kids who are caught drinking or doing drugs get thrown in jail.”

“It’s against the law for people your age to drink alcohol or use drugs. You’ve always done a good job knowing right from wrong and I trust you to not do something that’s against the law.”

“People who use drugs will never go anywhere in life.”

“Your brain and body just work better when they’re free of alcohol or drugs.”

“If you use drugs just once you’ll be addicted for life.”

“A lot of drugs are highly addictive, and can be very difficult to quit using once you start. Some people may never be able to quit. That’s why it’s important to never start using drugs in the first place.”

Talk About Friends

  • Show an interest in your child’s friends. Friends are an important part of your children’s lives. Asking your child about his or her friends, and meeting those friends and their parents are important. Driving your child and his or her friends to movies or an activity will also allow you to get to know more about them.
  • Promote healthy, productive friendships. “Hanging out” at a friend’s house is fine from time to time, but encourage your child to get involved in clubs, teams, or organized activities that they can do with their friends.

Separate Reality from Fiction

  • Use pop culture to reinforce your message. Characters in books, movies, and TV shows your child has read and watched may use alcohol or drugs. Use these opportunities to discuss the real life consequences and impacts of alcohol and drug use.
  • News you can use. Pro athletes, celebrities, and public figures wind up in the news for alcohol and drug issues pretty regularly. These are also great opportunities to start conversations with your child.

Promote Self-Confidence

  • Understanding health is very important. Physical and hormonal changes often cause kids in this age range to care more about their weight and general appearance. Use this as an incentive to keep them healthy. Explain to them that alcohol and drugs can worsen conditions like acne or damage the health of hair and skin.
  • Give them the opportunity to make decisions. Give your kids the opportunity to make decisions, like whether or not to go to a party. This establishes your trust in them, and their ability to do the right thing.
  • Praise them for a job well done. Praise your children when they make smart choices. Positive reinforcement can go a long way. Let them know that making smart choices will bring about positive outcomes.
  • Say “I love you.” It is important for your children to know that you care. Tell them you love them frequently. Let them know you are there for them

Keep Your Relationship Strong

  • Take interest in your kids’ interests. As your children grow, their likes and interests will shift as a natural result. Stay involved by asking open questions that address a variety of topics. Ask them about the music they listen to, the kinds of shows they like to watch on TV, what they like to do with their friends and on the weekends.
  • Spend time with them. Set aside as much time as you can to talk, play, walk, or do something with your child.
  • Plan activities for the family. The preteen years are not free of rebellion. Your children might be looking to be more independent, but they still need you and the support family provides. Plan family and game nights. Go out to the park or plan an activity during the weekend. Show them that family can also be a place where they can have fun and feel safe.


Abilene Regional Council on Alcohol and Drug Use: 10 Actions to Raise Drug-Free Kids

Children Now: Talking with Kids about Issues—Drugs and Alcohol

Drug Free Action Alliance: Know! To Focus on Positive Prevention Strategies

Kids Health: Talking to Your Child about Drugs

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids: How to Prevent Drug Use at Every Age

U.S. Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration: Growing Up Drug Free—A Parent’s Guide to Prevention

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