Talking to Your Middle School Child

Middle school is an immensely confusing time for all children. Preteens are still trying to figure out how they fit in, and in turn, give great weight to their friend’s opinions and ideas. This is a natural shift and part of your child developing their own identity.

Below are some tips for approaching a conversation with your children in middle school.

Continue what you started while they were in grade school.

  • Be clear about your rules and expectations: Studies show that children with parents that are explicit with their expectations and rules and consistently enforce them are less likely to start using alcohol and drugs.
  • Use positive enforcement: Praise your child’s efforts, not their results. Doing so will build your child’s confidence in their own ability.
  • Work through problems together: Your preteen is going to have a good deal of new social and relationship problems to work through. Be there for them and maintain an open dialog about said problems without becoming too critical.


Zero in on certain substances.

  • Be sure to stress the risks of using not only illicit substances, but also legal ones like alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine. For more information about the risks of youth use, check out
  • Nicotine and vaping: Odds are your child will become aware of vaping and e-tobacco in middle school. Despite the recent age limits instituted in Vermont and elsewhere, youth are still using vapes, and in big numbers.
  • Alcohol: National data shows that Vermonters in all age groups drink at a statistically higher rate than the national average and even among peers in New England.
  • Marijuana: Vermont’s ongoing decisions about marijuana may send youth the wrong message about use. Be sure to talk about cannabis and its effect on the developing brain. For more see
  • Talk to your child about pop culture references to these substances. Ask questions about what they think of certain alcohol advertisements and help them parse the reality of substance use from fantasy.

Keep talking to other parents.

  • Get to know the parents of your child’s friends. Get on a first name basis and ask whether they plan on being home while your child is at their home.
  • Keep other parents informed on what messages you’re giving to your own child so that they know, and don’t give your child conflicting information.

Make time to check-in at least once every day

  • Your child is going to be exploring their own agency and independence at this time. Be sure to schedule some time every day to talk about issues and or family news.
  • Some great times to check-in are in the car on the way to school or over a meal.
  • Don’t spring the “drug talk” on your child. It won’t serve you building an open and trustful dialog between you and your child,

Talk to your preteen about their physical and hormonal changes.

  • Reassure them it’s normal.
  • Talk to them about healthy choices in regards to diet, substance use, and how both will affect their development. Try to avoid judging your child or your own body size and shape.

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Vermont Dept. of Health

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration