Talk. They Hear You.

By FCPS and Fairfax County Government
September 28, 2021

Is your child going on a first sleepover? Heading out to hang out with friends? Feeling stressed with school or a peer group? Perhaps your family is going through a transition, and everyone may cope differently? There are many reasons why some children may experiment or be exposed to alcohol and other substances.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) "Talk. They Hear You." (TTHY) Campaign is an initiative to equip parents and caregivers with conversation tools to begin talking early with youth about alcohol and other drug use. The main goals are to help parents get informed, be prepared, and take action to help prevent underage alcohol and substance use. It is never too early to start talking with your child about alcohol and other drugs. In fact, it is important to start these talks before a child is exposed to alcohol and other drugs.

High rates of youth alcohol use, shifting state laws regarding marijuana, and the nation’s opioid crisis are health concerns that affect America’s parents and caregivers. Preventing underage alcohol and substance use is critical for the following reasons:

  • Approximately 88,000 Americans die from alcohol-attributed causes each year, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. An estimated 2.1 million people ages 12 or older had an opioid use disorder, and nearly 30% of those who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder.
  • In Fairfax County, the Youth Survey reports that one in seven students (14.9%) reported drinking alcohol in the past month, including 28% of 12th grade students.
  • One in seven (14.9%) students in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades reported drinking alcohol in the past month…that is about 4,563 students. 28% of 12th graders (2,775) reported drinking alcohol in the past month. Generally, in Fairfax we see the amount of alcohol used goes up in each grade level.
  • Nationally, about 10% of 12-year-olds say they have tried alcohol, but by age 15, that number jumps to 50%. The sooner you talk to youth about alcohol and other drugs, the greater chance you have of influencing their decisions about misusing substances.

The “Talk. They Hear You.” campaign provides parents and caregivers with the resources they need to address the issue of alcohol and other drugs with children under the age of 21. The campaign has historically equipped parents with the knowledge and skills to increase actions that reduce and prevent underage drinking.  Recently, it has expanded its messaging to include other substances such as marijuana and prescription drugs. The campaign offers resources to help parents talk to children of all ages about alcohol and other drugs.

SAMSHA’s TTHY provides parents, caregivers, and adults who interact with youth with resources and real-world examples of how to talk about alcohol and other substances. Resources include information about why a child might start drinking, how to prevent underage use, and concrete things one can say to show that you want them to make informed decisions and that you are the best source of that information. Brief video examples show parents talking to children about how to speak up when they see a problem...from alcohol, drugs, bullying, or anything they may be experiencing. You can learn how small moments and every day conversations can make a big difference in a child’s life. When the adults in a child’s life talk early and often about underage drinking and other drugs, we send important messages about our expectations, that we care, and teach refusal and other coping skills that will last a lifetime.

The best time to start having conversations with your children about alcohol and other drugs is before they are exposed to them...which can be as early as nine years old. Treating your children like a partner in these conversations will help them hear what you have to say. “Talk. They Hear You.” encourages an ongoing dialogue as they grow up. Multiple shorter conversations are more effective than just one, long talk. Caregivers have many opportunities to talk about underage drinking and drug misuse, and that takes the pressure off the idea that there is only one chance to “get it right.”

Having a prompt of how to start the conversations is helpful. “Talk. They Hear You.”  includes a mobile app to help with these prompts to turn everyday situations into opportunities to talk about your expectations, concerns, and hear a child’s opinion. It also helps caregivers to continue these conversations as their children get older. Likewise, the app is for educators to engage student assistance professionals, school leaders, and families in supporting the needs of students who may be struggling with substance use, mental health, or school-related issues.

The Fairfax Prevention Coalition (FPC) champions these early and ongoing discussions. The FPC provides a 60-minute presentation to any community group or organization that might be interested in learning more about TTHY. Request a presentation and learn how you too can share this information with your friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues. Together, we can support children and youth to make informed decisions about alcohol and other drugs. Together, we can show we care. Please contact Lori Naveda, Fairfax Prevention Coalition Coordinator, at Lori.Naveda@fairfaxcounty.gov for more information. 

If you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis, text HOME to 741741 to reach a crisis counselor, call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 911.

The Healthy Minds Blog shares information related to youth mental health and wellness for an audience of parent, educators and community-based providers. Articles include tips and strategies for increasing wellness and resiliency, as well as fostering success at home, at school and in the community.

The Healthy Minds Blog is a collaborative project between Fairfax County Public Schools and the Prevention Unit of the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services. It is part of the Healthy Minds Fairfax (see below) initiative, designed to support emotional wellness in youth and families.

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