How to Talk to Your 12-Year-Old About Drugs & Sex

By Maria Magher
Take advantage of teachable moments to discuss uncomfortable subjects.
Take advantage of teachable moments to discuss uncomfortable subjects.

Talking about drug use and sex is often uncomfortable for both parents and children. However, children ages 10 to 12 want to learn more about these and other topics. According to 2013 information provided by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 66 percent of kids in this age group want to know more about sexually transmitted diseases, 58 percent want to know how to deal with peer pressure to have sex, and 54 percent want guidance on how to know when they are ready to have sex. If you take the right approach and start early, discussing these topics should not intimidate you.

Talk during casual moments. The too-direct approach, like saying "We need to talk" or "There are some things we should talk about," can put kids on the defensive, according to the GreatSchools website. Instead, make a habit of spending quality time together and work these topics into your conversation.

Initiate a conversation about sex and drugs when you and your 12-year-old have time to talk. It's important to have these talks when you are both feeling relaxed and are not rushed. Don't wait until one of you has to run out to work, school or soccer practice. Don't bring it up when you are angry or your child is in trouble. Wait until you are both calm and have enough time to talk.

Take advantage of the media and other forms of entertainment to initiate a conversation about sex and drug use. Television shows, movies, video games and music are often sexual in nature or include references to drug use. Use these avenues as an opportunity to start a dialogue about such issues. For example, if you happen to hear your 12-year-old listening to music that is sexually implicit, you might want to ask him why he likes the music; however, keep in mind that you should do so in a nonjudgmental way. Show a sincere interest in the music -- and hear him out.

Take advantage of teachable moments. Take advantage of the things your 12-year-old says to start a larger dialogue, suggests WebMD. For example, if your child says that he heard that smoking pot can cure cancer, you can talk about medicinal uses for drugs and distinguish that from recreational use, as well as the dangers of using illegal drugs.

Listen. Your 12-year-old may know much more than you think she knows. Before you jump in with a lecture, find out what she knows. Once you initiate the conversation, let her talk. Ask her what she knows about sex or drug use, or what questions she has. Let her questions guide the conversation. Be patient and don't try to rush the conversation. You never know what important information she might reveal, such as dangerous misconceptions, or even her own past experiences.

Be honest and avoid scare tactics, such as telling your 12-year-old that if she tries drugs, she will die, notes the National Health Service website. Kids are likely to tune out when you make such statements -- and you will lose the opportunity to teach them important information. Instead, take a more practical approach, perhaps explaining that smoking pot might affect motivation and lead to poor grades. Similarly, avoid telling your child things like only married people have sex. Have an honest dialogue about the reality of sex and what the risks are, especially for young people.

Role-play with your children. Talk to your 12-year-old, specifically, about what she can do in certain situations, such as if someone offers her drugs or tries to pressure her to have sex, advises the Newfoundland Department of Education website. Take turns playing the different roles, going through specific dialogue that your child can use to handle the situation. Make sure all your children know that they can always call you for help in any situation.

Be clear about your views. Make sure your 12-year-old understands how you feel about sex and drugs, such as that recreational drug use is unacceptable or that you don't approve of having sex at a young age. Set rules early on -- such as no members of the opposite sex in their rooms -- to establish expectations about responsible and healthy behavior.


Be persistent. Your 12-year-old may become angry or embarrassed or even walk away when you try to have these tough conversations. Don't give up. Keep trying to have the conversation, and you will eventually open a dialogue.


Don't be dismissive of your 12-year-old's feelings or thoughts about sex or drugs. You may think he is too young or immature to deal with these issues, but he will likely feel differently. If you dismiss these feelings, you risk alienating him and shutting down future conversation.

About the Author

Maria Magher has been working as a professional writer since 2001. She has worked as an ESL teacher, a freshman composition teacher and an education reporter, writing for regional newspapers and online publications. She has written about parenting for Pampers and other websites. She has a Master's degree in English and creative writing.