Start the Conversation: Middle School Age

 “My health is worth protecting because I’m an athlete and I wouldn’t want to get into that mess”

 –8th grade boy | Seattle, Washington

“I just think that I don’t want to mess with my brain and marijuana can lower your IQ points and I’d like to stay smart…my future depends on how smart I am.”

–8th grade boy | Spokane, Washington

In middle school, students are interested in knowing facts about their brains and bodies.

Try this:

  • Start talking now. In Washington, about 1 in 3 eighth graders surveyed in 2014 said they had ever tried alcohol and about 7 percent said they used marijuana in the last 30 days. It is never too early to start talking. (Healthy Youth Survey, 2014)   
  • Set and enforce rules. Kids are less likely to use alcohol or drugs if their parents have established a pattern of setting clear rules and enforcing fair and consistent consequences.
  • Role-play different situations with your child where people offer him or her drugs and practice what to say. Peer pressure is real and hard to resist. Kids who know what to say and have a plan are more likely to overcome peer pressure. Practice makes perfect!
  • Ask them for reasons. Teens name many reasons not to use, including not wanting to ruin their futures, wanting to protect their brains and do well in school, fear of addiction and not wanting to disappoint parents. Let your child tell you why they choose not to use.
  • Tell your children what makes them special. Puberty can play tricks with a child’s self-esteem. At times, kids feel great about their lives and at times they feel insecure, doubtful and pressured. They need to hear a lot of positive comments – not just when they get good grades.
  • Help your child develop skills and hobbies. Participating in activities that your child excels in can build confidence and connect them to positive peer groups. Your encouragement can help your child find the motivation and dedication to work hard.
  • Set academic expectations. Many young people are self-motivated to do well in school. For those who aren’t, set clear expectations about school work. Help your child set goals and support their efforts to achieve them.
  • Model healthy choices at home. Your kids pay attention to what you say and do. Your words and actions influence them in many ways every day. Give them good examples to follow.
  • Talk about the future. Young people are naturally good at coming up with reasons not to use drugs and alcohol when they are thinking about their goals. Emphasize what alcohol or drug use can do to your teen’s future. Don’t be vague, give real examples. Discuss how substance use can ruin their chance of getting into the college they want or landing the perfect job.
  • Find teachable moments. If you see a news story about impaired-driver car crashes, drive by a marijuana advertisement, or walk through the alcohol aisle at the store, use it as an opportunity to start a conversation. Ask your child what they think. Spontaneous conversations can be as impactful as planned.  
  • Keep talking. Make conversations about drugs and alcohol a regular part of your child’s life at every stage of development. Ask questions to learn more about what they are experiencing, remind them about your expectations and let them know they can talk to you. This is easier when you keep the lines of communication open and if you communicate the way your child does.  

Explain to your child that only people age 21 and over should drink or use marijuana. Clarify that it’s never safe for anyone to abuse alcohol or drugs, or to drive after using them.