Preschool to College

Important Information for Parents

In this Section:         

    • Elementary, Middle and High School Concerns           
    • Beyond High School:  College and the Workplace
    • Preschool through College:   Age Appropriate Prevention Conversations for Parents and their Children          

There is a growing amount of research that describes the need for children to learn about drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention as early as pre-school.  This section will describe in detail how and why it is important to begin substance use prevention at such an early age.  Also provided from the Partnership for a Drug Free America are age appropriate conversation suggestions for parents.  They explain what and how to talk with children about, as well as tips and recommendations about what substances may be in your child's world at different ages. 

My children are in elementary school.  Why is this important to me or my children?

As parents, we need to educate ourselves. Children are beginning to smoke or drink at very young ages, sometimes before they finish elementary school. Scientists now know that younge brains have powerful learning chemicaty that is extremely sensitive to the adverse effects of addictive substances such as alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. The earlier a person is exposed to an addictive substance, the greater the probability of a life-long addiction.

When should I begin to talk to my children about alcohol, tobacco or other drugs?

Most 6-year olds know that alcohol is only for adults.  However, between the ages of 9 and 13, youth begin to think more positively about alcohol use.  That's why it's never to early to start the dialogue about the danges of underage drinking or other drug use.

Are there times when children are more at risk for using alcohol or other drugs?

Major transitions in children's lives are high-risk periods, but alcohol or other drug usecan begin at any time.

  • During early adolescence when they advance from elementary to middle school, children often face new academic and social situations, such as learning to get along with a wider group of peers and are likely to encounter alcohol and other drugs for teh first time.
  • When they enter high school, kids face additional social, emotional and educational challenges.  At the same time they may be exposed to a greater availability of drugs, drug users, and social activities involving alcohol or other drugs.  These challenges incrase the risk they will use alcohol or other drugs.
  • Finally, when young people leave home for college or the workplace and are on their own for the first time, their risk for alcohol and drug use is high.

Elementary and Middle School Concerns

What can I do to help my child avoid alcohol, tobacco or other drugs?

1.  Educate yourself and your children

    • Elementary and middle school children should know:
    • What the school and home rules are about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs;
    • How medicines and illicit drugs differ;
    • The harm alcohol, tobacco and other drugs can do;
    • How alcohol commercials may impact them;
    • What definites a friend AND which adults they can go to in an emergency.

2.  Talk to your children.

Spend time together.  As they mature, consider asking questions like "Why do you think kids drink or smoke?  How do you feel about this?"  Avoid questions that have simple "yes" or "no" answers.

Do you know your son or daughter's friends?

During middle school and high school years, fitting in with friends becomes even more important.  But who is most likely to ask your child to try beer, cigarettes or other drugs?  A friend.  How does it feel to say "no" to a friend?  It is the alcohol, tobacco and other drugs that are being rejected, not necessarily the friend.  As parnets, it is important to emphasize that our kids CAN say "no" and keep their firends, sometimes.  Their friends may even follow their lead and say "no" too!

It's 3:45pm, do you know where your children are in cyberspace?

Keep your computer in a common room where you can supervise.  Stay in close touch with your children as they explore the Internet.  Talk about what they can and cannot do online.  Reinforce that people online are not always who they say they are.

Internet safety, do you know?

  • How do I password protect my computer?
  • What is online grooming?
  • How do I talk to my kids about internet safety?

Be open and encourage your children to come to you if they encounter a problem online.  An internet filter will never be a substitue for parents' presence.  (See Resources to learn more about Internet Safety).

Middle and High School Concerns

For Student and Parents

How can young people say "no" to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs?

Be calm and confident.  The first "no" is the hardest, it gets easier with practice.  The more prepared your children are, the better they will be able to handle difficult situations.  Role playing can help them feel confident.  Don't argue, don't discuss.  Say "no" and mean it.

What are some things to say at a party when a friend offers a cigarette, beer or other drugs?

  • No, thanks.  Let's shoot some hoops/Play video games ......
  • My parents trust me not to try that ....
  • My parents will ground me/take my license .....
  • I want to stay eligible for the team, play, ....
  • I might be drug tested at work, by my parents, .....

What can kids do if they find themselves in a house where kids are passing around beers and parents are nowhere in sight?

Leave.  Advise your child to call home and ask  to be picked up.  A prearranged code phrase as, "I forgot about practice tomorrow," or "I have a terrible headach, can you come get me?" will make it easy for your child to let you know that he or she needs help.

My children are in high school.  Is it OK to introduce them to alcohol occasionally, but only at home?

The younger a person is when introduced to alcohol, the more likely he or she will become addicted.  A National Institutes of Health (NIH) study reports that individuals who begin drinking alcohol at the age of 15, are 4 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who wait until they are 21.  "Learning how to drink" during adolescence is not a "rite of passage" or a "part of growning up".  When teens are allowed to drink, they are mroe likely to use alcohol and other drugs outside the home AND are at risk to develop serious behaviors and health problems related to substance use.  Be aware that other parents may make alcohol availalb eto your teens at their homes during their children's parties.

Minnesota law states that it is legal for parents to serve their own children alcohol in their own home.  However, parents cannot allow their children to be served alcohol at another person's house, even if their parents are present.  Additionally, adults cannot serve any other childrenlly alcohol even if they take the keys away.

Do most students in high school start out using alcohol or other drugs?

NO.  That is a myth.  The trick is to NOT make smoking, drinking or using other drugs a ticket to fitting in.  Adivse your child to find 2 or 3 others who do not drink and with whom they would like to be friends.  This will make their transitions into high school easier.

Beyond High School 

College and the Workplace

College Bound

PARENTS - For more information regarding College Drinking Prevention go to


College is a huge investment of time and money.  As we guide our teens to choose the "right" school, there are many factors to think about: A large or small school?  How far from home?  A rural or urban setting?  What majors are available?  Costs? As most college kids are under 21 and still not legally eligible to drink, an important additional question that we can consider is "What is the alcohol and other drug scene on camplus?"

Why is it important to ask about alcohol or other drug use on campus?

The consequences of college drinking and other drug use are more significant, more destructive, and more costly than many parents realize and may affect your son or daughter whether or not they drink, HNIH reports

  • 1,700 students die each yar from alcohol-related unintentional injuries
  • 599,00 students are unintentionally injured under the influence
  • 696,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.

The transition to college is often so difficult to negotiate that about 1/3 of first year students fail to enroll tfor their second year.  Excessive alcohol consumption or other drug use is one of hte factors that can interfere with successful adaptations to campus life.   For more information go to

How can we learn about a college's efforts to prevent problems related to student alcohol and other drug use?

1.  Ask questions:

    • What is the college's alcohol and other drug policy and its consequences?  Is there an orientation program to educate students and parents about this?
    • What is the Parental Notification Policy?  Will teh administration inform parents if the student is disciplined, arrested or hospitalized as a result of alochol or other drug use?
    • How many alcohol/drug law violations and alcohol/drug-related injuries and deaths have occured over the past few years?
    • Does the school work with the town to restrict sales to minors?
    • What treatment is available for those with alcohol/drug problems?

2.  Visit the campus:

    • Are there alcohol/drug/smoke-free dorms or floors?
    • Are there RA's in the dorms to monitor behavior?
    • What is the role of the RA if the student is caught drinking or using drugs?
    • Talk to current students and ask what kids do for fun on campus.

How does excessive alcohol or other drug use harm college students?

College is a time of new friendships, intersts and experiences.  For many students it can also be a time of drug use and/or excessive alcohol use (binge drinking).  The College Alcohol Study at Harvard ( reports that kids who drink in high school are more likely to be binge drinkers in college.  Consequences to those students who drink excessively or use other drugs may include:

  • Missing classes/falling behind/academic failure
  • Doing something they regret/forgetting where they were or what they did
  • Fighting/damaging property/having trouble with campus/local police
  • Driving after drinking or using drugs/crashes/date rape
  • Alcohol poisoning/serious injury/death

How does binge drinking affect campus life in general?

"Second hand" effects are problems that binge drinkers cause to others.  Even if we as parents are not worried about our own children's excessive alcohol use, the problems caused by binge drinkers affect ALL students, wheather or not they drink, and may include:

  • Having study/sleep time interrupted resulting in lower grades
  • Being insulted or humilated/having seriuos arguments
  • Being pushed, hit or assaulted/having property damaged
  • Receiving unwanted sexual advances/date rape/other serious injury

What can we do to help our college student?

Before your teens enter college, talk about what the culture is likely to be and your expectation that they not abuse alcohol or other drugs.  Parents remain a key influence on college students.  We can:

  1. Call frequently during the first critical 6 weeks and throughout the first year - ask about roommates, classes, extracurriculars, social activities
  2. Discuss penalties for using fake ID's, underage drinking, and how alcohol/drug abuse can lead to academic failure, voilence, date rape, or alcohol poisoning.
  3. Emphasize where they can go for help for themselves or a friend.

The Workplace

Young people will eventually enter the work force for summer internships, and part or full time employment.  Many companies are implementing drug-testing programs as a pre-requisite for employment.  For some businesses drug screening is mandated (federal employees and contractors); however, it is not unusual to find drug testing policies in both small family owned businesses and Fortune 500 companies.

Is there on-the-job help for those with alcohol or other drug problems?
Many organizations offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAP's) that are confidential personal counseling services.

Community of Concern

 Age Appropriate Parent-Child Prevention Conversations for Children in Preschool through College


Your Child: The Preschool Years

Since the foundation for all healthy habits — from nutritious eating to face washing — is laid down during the preschool years, they are a great time to set the stage for a drug-free life. 7 tips will help you work with your preschooler so that she'll grow up happy, healthy and drug-free. 

Go to:


Your Child: Grades K - 3

5-to-8-year olds are still tied to family and eager to please but they're also beginning to explore their individuality. In addition, your grade-schooler begins to spend more time at school and with peers and to collect information (including messages about drugs and alcohol) from lots of new places like the media and popular culture. It's very important that you continue talking to your child about a healthy drug-free lifestyle and stress that of all the voices your child hears, yours should be the guiding force.
9 tips to help you help your child live a healthy, drug-free life.

Go to:


Your Child: Grades 4-6

Preteens: They're on a quest to figure out their place in the world. When it comes to the way they view that world, they tend to give their friends' opinions a great deal of power while, at the same time, they're starting to question their parents' views and messages. Your advice may be challenged — but it will be heard and will stay with your child much more than he or she will ever admit.
8 tips to help you help your preteen live a healthy, drug-free life.

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Transitions: The First Year of Middle School

You've been anticipating this for the past few years — your child's transition from elementary school to middle school. Be warned, this is a critical time and calls for extra vigilance on your part. Your son or daughter may still seem young, but their new surroundings can put them in some mature and tempting situations. 

Go to:


Your Child: Preventing Drug Use Among Teens in Grades 7-9

For parents, this is a pivotal time in helping kids make positive choices when faced with drugs and alcohol. The average age kids try drugs for the first time is 13. If your child is 13, says Amelia Arria, senior scientist with Treatment Research Institute, you should assume that he or she has been offered drugs or alcohol. But you can help your teen stay healthy and drug-free — and beat the negative statistics about drug use among teens. Kids who learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to use (2007 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study). So, most importantly, stay involved. Young teens may say they don't need your guidance, but they're much more open to it than they'll ever let on. Make sure you talk to them about their choices of friends — drug use in teens starts as a social behavior.
5 tips to help you help your teen live a healthy, drug-free life.

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Your Child: Grades 10-12

When it comes to drugs, teens are a savvy bunch. Drugs and messages about living drug-free have been part of their lives for years. They can make distinctions not only among different drugs and their effects, but also among trial, occasional use and addiction. They've witnessed many of their peers using drugs — some without obvious or immediate consequences, others whose drug use gets out of control. By the teen years, kids have also had to make plenty of choices of their own about drug use: whether they should give in to peer pressure and experiment with drugs, or go against some of their peers and stay clean.
6 tips to help you help your teen continue to live a healthy, drug-free life. 

Go to:

Your Child: College Culture

As you preparing your child for college -- and continuing after you've dropped him off at the dorm -- you can help guide him to a healthy experience. And you don't have to tread on his independence to do it. "You don't show up every weekend and make his bed. You let him know you have his back," says Amelia Arria, Senior Scientist at Treatment Research Institute.

Go to:

2009 Partnership for a Drug Free America