How parents and teens use code words to fight drugs and alcohol

DENVER, Colo. - Talking with teens about drugs and alcohol may not be the easiest thing. But research shows kids whose parents do, are 50 percent less likely to abuse those substances. One family is going beyond the talk, and developing a plan we can all learn from.

Snack time at the Wardell house is more than a time to eat. It's also a chance for Karla Wardell to check in with her kids. And while these topics may be light ones, conversations on heavier topics don't look much different.  

Wardell says she started talking with her teenage children, Brandon and Elissa, about drugs and alcohol when they were young. She says she's honest with them about the reality of drugs and alcohol, and pushes them to think about how they might react if around them. And if there's a situation her kids can't get themselves out of, the Wardell's have developed a plan for that.  

"We have a little code word they can text or a call," Karla Wardell says. "And if they text and they write something like what time do you want me home but if home is all capitalized that is their SOS to me like I want to come home."  

Elissa Wardell has had to send her mom a text like that, and even uses a way to delete it to be even more discreet.  

"Your friends won't be able to see that you have said I want to go home," Elissa Wardell says. "They will just think that your parents are being mean and you can go home."  

Steve Martinez works with Speak Now, a campaign that encourages parents to have conversations with young ones about the dangers of substance use.  

"If a parent feels that it is wrong for example to binge drink or use substances, that teens are three times less likely to use," Martinez says.  

Martinez says conversations can happen anywhere, and can start when a child is as young as nine. He says approach matters, and scare tactics don't work.  

What does work? Building trust. One conversation at a time.

"The bond that parents have with their kids is it's really special," Karla Wardell says. "And we need to recognize that and our kids will listen to us if we have the courage to talk with them."

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