August 4, 2020
10 Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Prescription Pills

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In late July, Columbus City Schools announced it would start the 2020-21 school year learning remotely. Many other Central Ohio districts made similar announcements. While this move aims to protect students and teachers, and their families from COVID-19, the continued time at home can present several other concerns.

Dr. Delaney Smith is the medical director for the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County (ADAMH) with expertise in diagnosing and treating mental health and substance use disorders. Dr. Smith notes that the quarantine period during COVID-19 has presented a “perfect storm” of concerns for kids that their parents should be aware of:

  • The continued isolation away from their friends can negatively impact the mental health of kids, particularly during a time of so much uncertainty.
  • COVID-19 has added stress to the lives of people of all ages. There is the potential for more substances to be around homes during the pandemic. With kids spending most of their time at home, the risk of them getting into these substances increases.

“Parents really need to be aware of these risks,” said Smith. “It’s really important that they help their kids understand what’s going on and why they can’t see their friends. Help them feel empowered, knowing these actions have a purpose. It’s also so important for parents to take the time to go through the house and make sure there aren’t substances that kids can get into.”

Smith also notes how important it is to limit a child’s exposure to media reports, which can cause anxiety, and keep an eye on their online activity.

Talking to kids about the dangers of drugs can reduce their risk of using them by up to 50%. With the added stress and isolation presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, families have more reason than ever to talk to their kids about drugs.

Below are some tips for talking to your kids about drugs.

  1. Start talking when kids are young. As soon as they understand what medications are, kids can start learning about safely using medications and the dangers of misuse.
  2. Build a relationship with your kid. Show that you care about your child’s health and well-being. If you are successful in opening lines of communication with your child, they will be more likely to talk to you about serious issues.
  3. Once is not enough. Plan to have many short and frequent talks about the dangers of opioid misuse and abuse.
  4. Choose informal times to have the conversation. Good times include cleaning up after dinner, while on a walk, or while driving to or from school and extracurricular activities. With less eye contact, your teen won’t feel like they are under a microscope.
  5. Ask and listen, and resist the urge to lecture. Draw out your child’s innate curiosity and encourage them to seek out answers on their own. Consider starting with, “Tell me, what do you know about opioids?” Kids who feel like their point of view is valued may be more willing to engage.
  6. Use active listening. Let your child know they are understood by reflecting back what you hear — either verbatim or just the sentiment. For example, say, “It seems like you are feeling…”
  7. Be empathetic and supportive. The human brain doesn’t fully develop until age 25. And this helps to explain a lot about the way your child or teen communicates. Let your child know understand and remind them that you are there for support and guidance.
  8. Talk to your children about having an “exit plan” if they are offered prescription pain relievers that are not theirs. Help your child create a plan for what they would do if faced with a decision about drugs, such as texting a code word to a family member.
  9. Be prepared to discuss any family history of substance abuse. Substance use disorders often have a genetic component. Exposure to substance use in the home is also a major risk factor. Honest conversations about unhealthy substance use, addiction, and family risk factors can help provide a child the foundation they need to make the decision to not use addictive substances.
  10. Just because it was prescribed, doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful. Remind your child that it is unsafe and illegal to take someone else’s prescription medication, even if the drug was prescribed to someone your child knows, like a friend or relative.

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10 Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Opioids