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One conversation with your child about risky behaviors is not enough. Introduce the subject when a child is still very young, in simple language and with clear rules. As your child grows, repeat the message in more mature terms. 

Here are some suggestions to help you decide what to say, when to say it, and how.

Look For Openings
Keep it light. Nothing turns off teens and preteens (tweens) more than a lecture. Don’t do all the talking. Ask questions and truly listen to your child’s answers.

Be alert for opportunities to talk with your teen. Sometimes they say things which may actually be a veiled way of wanting to talk. If your child asks for permission to go to a party, talk about the situations that might be encountered there, and how s/he would deal with the.

State your own values clearly. Younger children may respond well to simple rules, but as your child grows older, s/he will be more concerned about fitting in with peers. However, your child is still listening closely to what you have to say — even if it doesn’t appear that way!

Focus on short-term consequences. As adults, we know that smoking leads to life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease, emphysema, and lung cancer; sexual activity can also lead to life-threatening disease such as cervical cancer, AIDS, and other life-long viral STDs. But most teens don’t worry about long-term risks.  So, you will catch their attention better if you focus on the immediate consequences of smoking — things such as bad breath, smelly clothes, yellow teeth, or poor performance in sports. For sexual risks, mention things like warts or painful blisters in the genital area (or mouth), painful urination (for boys, gonorrhea), etc.

Run a reality check. Preteens and teens tend to overestimate the number of peers who engage in all sorts of risky behaviors, including smoking, drugs, alcohol, and sexual activity, because teens like to exaggerate! Help your child to understand that the majority of high school students don’t smoke, and the majority don’t have sex.

Talk about peer pressure. Acknowledge some of the tough situations your child may face, and suggest positive ways of dealing with the. Remember, too, that positive peer pressure can help protect your child from cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, and sexual activity. Encourage your child to gravitate to friends/classmates who don’t engage in these risky behaviors.

Find a Good Time to Talk
Sometimes the most powerful parent-child conversations you have can take place while the two of you are doing some activity together. Kids tend to be more comfortable if they don’t have to look you directly in the eyes while they are talking about important issues.

Here are a few places and ways to talk about avoiding risky behaviors and making the right decisions.

Shooting hoops. This is a great time to mention how smoking/alcohol can affect one’s fitness and athletic abilities.

Driving. Smart parents have often utilized thei “captive audience” opportunity. Don’t launch into a lecture. Instead, ask your child for her/his opinions.

Shopping. Discuss the price of a carton of cigarettes. Figure out how much smoking costs someone each year. Then talk about what else he could buy for that same amount of money. Talk about clothing styles, and how it is important for girls, and guys, to dress modestly. Remind girls that guys are visual, and they are easily stimulated by skimpy, skin-tight clothing. Girls can help guys by dressing appropriately.

Watching TV. Wonder aloud why the director or writer had a particular character smoke, use drugs,  or have sex. Use this to reaffirm your disapproval of these behaviors.

Going out to dinner. Ask to be seated in the non-smoking section and use that as an opportunity to talk about not smoking.

Another postive dinner opportunity is to have a Chastity Ring or Necklace wrapped for your child and take her/him to a special restaurant. Talk about the importance of avoiding sexual activity before marriage and of saving sex for that special life-long spouse, and being faithful to that person in marriage. Sex is the gift saved for marriage, the cement that glues the two together. It comes after the friendship foundation has been built strong by communication and good character. Then, give your child the wrapped gift to open and wear as a symbol of his/her intention to remain chaste until his/her wedding night. Many styles of chastity rings are available at:, and

Also, there are some things you can do as a family that will help you talk about both the big and small issues with your children.

Have your child teach you something. It really doesn’t matter if it’s a computer game or something learned at school. Most kids feel proud to be able to teach you something new.

Eat dinner as a family.  During this important family time, share what each of you has been doing during the day. It’s a way for children to learn how you act on your values and beliefs. This time has been proven in studies to be extremely effective in protecting children from risky behaviors.

Adopt bedtime rituals. These aren’t just for younger children. Preteens and teens are often comfortable talking abaout things that are on their minds when you say good night to them. Linger, stroke their hair, tell them you love them, ask if there is anything they want to discuss, tell them about an event that has happened to you, or something funny that happened, etc.