For the past four years, Evolution has had the privilege of managing the Speak Now! Colorado/Hable ¡Ahora! Colorado statewide social marketing campaign in collaboration with Colorado Department of Human Services/Office of Behavioral Health. Speak Now! Colorado encourages parents and caregivers of children aged 9-20 to have an open, honest and ongoing dialogue about substances with their children. Now that the contract is coming to an end, we want to share some of the lessons learned while working on this project.
Keep Talking, They’re Listening
Whether we like it or not, part of being a parent is having unexpected, uncomfortable, or awkward conversations with our kids, and those conversations might start sooner than you expect. If you have a younger child, you may think you have years before you have to talk to them about drugs or alcohol and you may envision bringing it up at “the perfect time.” The reality is that very few things are perfect, and in Colorado, with legal marijuana for adults, you might be in the car running errands with your child and hear a question like “That sign says ‘Head Shop’! What’s that?”
These situations may be unexpected and uncomfortable, but they‘re also an chance to establish yourself as a resource for your kids. Some of the best teachable moments come out of everyday situations, and this is an opportunity to take advantage of our children’s natural curiosity. Of course, the conversation will look different for a 9 year old than it will for a 15 year old, so choose your words carefully. There’s no right or wrong way to have a conversation about drugs and alcohol with your kids; the most important thing is to START TALKING. And according to data collected from the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, your kids are listening (even if they roll their eyes!)
Facts, not fear
Of course we want to protect our children no matter their age, so the first instinct when kids ask about drugs or alcohol might be to say, ‘don’t do it’ or to make extreme statements that drugs or alcohol kill people. But if we want our kids to come to us for information, we need to be willing to talk it through, even if it can be uncomfortable or awkward.
This doesn’t mean you should minimize the risks of substance use, but talking about the benefits of not using tobacco, marijuana or alcohol is a better strategy than focusing on the negative. Pointing out that our brains and bodies work better when we don’t use these substances keeps things factual, and doesn’t require us to add drama to make an impact. Instead, you’re stressing the importance that you as a parent want your child to make choices that will lead to them being healthy.
An Ongoing Conversation
One of the biggest lessons we learned while working on the Speak Now! Colorado project is that discussing drugs and alcohol with your kids isn’t a single conversation, it’s an ongoing dialogue. Like every other topic, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drugs will come up again and again, and that’s a good thing. Every time your child asks a question, it’s an opportunity to solidify your credibility with them and establish yourself as a resource, someone your kid knows they can turn to for honest answers when they’re not sure who to believe.
Resources are available to help us have ongoing and honest conversations, like the Speak Now! Colorado website, which has information in English and Spanish on health effects of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs, and includes proven tips for how to start the conversation and keep conversations going about substance use with our kids as they grow.