Addiction can be a tricky subject to address with children. To make it a little more informative and less uncomfortable, there are certain techniques and tips that a parent or educator can use to initiate and carry out the conversation. It’s also very important to educate yourself on the topic to be discussed. Whether it’s drugs, alcohol, gaming, or a different type of addiction, it’s important to educate your children and help to understand and empathize with the struggles that those battling addiction may go through, including rehab and recovery.

Drug Addiction

Drug addiction can be a scary thing to think about, let alone explain to your child. Unfortunately, this is a very necessary discussion that is being had at a very early age in order to explain and educate children on the dangers of illicit drugs. It’s important for children to understand that drug addictions come in many forms and can affect people from all different walks of life in a variety of different ways. Before you start the discussion, educate yourself on the different discussion techniques and talking points to help inform your children and prepare yourself for their questions on the matter.

When having this discussion, the needs of smaller children versus older school-age children vary substantially. Aspects that are important to touch upon with older children include the influence of their peer group through peer pressure, how to recognize a bad or unhealthy situation, and how to remove themselves from those situations and say no to drugs. Parents might do well to prepare themselves for their child’s disinterest or discomfort in having this discussion; after all, they’ve learned about this in school. But it’s important that the parent also has this discussion to reestablish themselves as someone the child can turn to should they have questions or find themselves in scary or unhealthy situations. Reaffirm that you, as the parent or guardian, want the child to know that you’re there for them and they can come to you with anything. This helps to further open the lines of communication that may become strained as a child transitions into adolescence.

Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction is a serious and widespread issue within our culture and can affect people very early on in life if they are exposed or predisposed to alcoholism. It’s important that children and adolescents have an open, honest, and age-appropriate discussion about alcohol use. There are many different schools of thought about talking to one’s children about alcohol consumption. For example, at what age might a parent talk about moderation rather than intolerance? Some parents might choose to discuss the importance of moderation earlier than the legal drinking age because studies have shown that many children and adolescents try alcohol for the first time while they are still well under the legal age. How you choose to talk to your child about alcohol and alcohol consumption versus abuse is a personal decision, but there are many techniques that you can use to aid your conversation.

Gambling and Gaming Addictions

Gaming addictions, including gambling and online gaming, may also be a tricky subject to address with children because it may not be as black and white as alcohol use and drug abuse may be. After all, many families partake in some form of gaming, be it Dad’s monthly poker game with the guys or Grandma’s standing weekly game of gin rummy with her friends; there are many levels of enthusiasm for a game that come before what some may call an addiction. This may be more of an abstract concept to explain to children and adolescents.

It may be beneficial to focus the discussion on balance; as with any outlet, there must be a healthy balance that does not detract from other important aspects of one’s life, like school, work, and one’s financial well-being. Some of the biggest differences between casually enjoying a game and being addicted to a game include the intensity and frequency with which the game is played. Because these are not cut-and-dried measurements, they can be a bit more difficult to understand.

Other Types of Addiction

Addictions, as we see with gaming and gambling, aren’t exclusive to substances; they can also include actions and behaviors. Really, anything that acts as a crutch to avoid dealing with deeper feelings or issues is worth addressing with your children. These emotional crutches or addictions, if addressed early and in a constructive manner, may be resolved in order to correct an unhealthy behavior. For example, an addiction to food may be a symptom of a deeper depression; addressing that root issue may help to correct the addictive behavior. Sexual addiction is also another highly publicized addiction that may be a symptom of a deeper emotional issue, perhaps one related to self-esteem.

Internet addiction is also garnering more awareness as we see the first generations raised with pervasive Internet access. Failure to develop important social skills and unhealthy learned behaviors, such as the abuse of anonymity online to bully peers (i.e. cyberbullying) via an unmonitored system, are only a couple of the drawbacks of having this unprecedented Internet access available to everyone. Parents, guardians, and educators are faced with problem behaviors that no other generation of adults has had to cope with to such an extent, making these discussions even harder to have. Keep in mind, too, that Internet addiction isn’t something that only affects children and adolescents. Adults may also struggle to balance their Internet usage, social media activity, and real-life responsibilities and relationships in a healthy way. Internet addictions may also piggyback other addictions, including gaming, gambling, and others that utilize the Internet as a means of connecting with specific interest groups and gaining access to the subject of one’s addiction.