Starting the Conversation

Parents have a significant influence in their children’s decisions to experiment with alcohol and other drugs. Talking to your kids about the dangers and reasons behind utilizing alcohol and other drugs can help reduce underage drinking and substance use among youth.

Throughout these sections, we will highlight local data from the 2019 Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS). PAYS is administered in odd-numbered years to youth in 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th grades in participating schools throughout Pennsylvania. The survey asks questions to survey attitudes, knowledge, behaviors, and experiences associated with:

  • Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drug Use (ATOD) and Access
  • Perceptions and Attitudes
  • Antisocial Behaviors
  • Social and Emotional Health
  • Community and School Climate and Safety

The PAYS data is a useful tool to understand the root causes of problems, understand youth’s own experiences, explore many areas of youth lives and guide interventions that are applied before evidence of a problem. The data provided here is to provide parents and caregivers a reference to understand the local need to engage in meaningful dialogue with youth about ATOD.

It is important that this is not used to be confrontational.

Conversation Goals

  • Show you care about your child’s health, wellness and success.

    Young people are more likely to listen when they know you’re on their side. Reinforce why you don’t want your child to drink or use other drugs—because you want them to be happy and safe. The conversation will go a lot better if you’re open and show your concern for their well-being.

  • Show you’re a good source of information about alcohol and other drugs.

    You want your teen to make informed decisions about alcohol and other drugs with reliable information about its dangers. You don’t want him or her to learn about alcohol and other  drugs from unreliable sources. Establish yourself as a trustworthy source of information.

  • Show you’re paying attention and you will discourage unhealthy risk taking.

    Young people are more likely to drink or use other drugs if they think no one will notice. Show that you’re aware of what your teen is up to, but do this in a subtle way and try not to pry. Ask about friends and plans because you care, not because you’re judging–you are more likely to have an open conversation.

  • Build your teen’s skills and strategies for avoiding drinking and drug use.

    Even if you don’t think your child wants to drink or try other drugs, peer pressure is a powerful thing. Having a plan to avoid alcohol and drug use can help children make better choices. Talk with your children about what they would do if faced with a difficult decision about alcohol and drugs. Practice saying “no thanks” with them in a safe environment and keep it low-key. Don’t worry, you don’t have to get everything across in one talk. Plan to check in frequently with quick chats and keep the lines of communication open.

  • Show you disapprove of underage drinking and other misuse.

    Over 80 percent of young people ages 10–18 say their parents are the leading influence
    on their decision whether to drink or not. Don’t assume they know how you feel about drinking and substance use. Send a clear and strong message that you disapprove of underage drinking and use or misuse of other drugs.

Additional Resources

Connecting and Talking with Your Child

Encouraging Healthy Risk Taking

Setting Limits and Monitoring Behavior

Why You Should Talk With Your Child About Alcohol and Other Drugs – PDF download from

Answering Your Child’s Tough Questions – PDF download from

10 Frequently Asked Questions Kids Ask About Drugs and Health (NIDA)

Science of Addiction – PDF download from National Institute on Drug Abuse