For most parents of preteens and teens, drug use is a persistently lurking threat. This fear isn't without warrant, of course; by age 18, at least 60% of teens have had at least one drink and 22.5% of 12th graders use marijuana. It's easy to think that your teen will be one of the ones who abstains, but even the best parenting in the world can't prevent the allure of experimentation, especially for impressionable youths with pushy friends. In some cases, a few sips of a beer at a party isn't the end of the world, but in others, early use can be the start of a lifelong struggle with addiction.
Rather than sitting back and waiting for the inevitable, there are steps you can take today to delay or prevent that first sip or inhale. Here's how to talk to your teen before they've used drugs.
Only you can judge the maturity and knowledge level of your child – after all, there's no reason to discuss drug use with your teen if drugs are years away from being on the radar – but it's okay to start talking about drug use with your younger teen before the risks of use are imminent.
Around the time your teen finishes middle school or enters high school, it's likely appropriate to start discussing drug use. Some adolescents do begin using at this age, although it's less common, so your goal as a parent will be to set an educational framework before an opportunity for use arises. The earlier you speak openly and honestly to your teen, the more likely you will be to effectively drive home the risks of abuse and addiction before it's too late. Additionally, the earlier you bring up drug use and show that you are willing to hold adult conversations with your child, the more likely he will be to come to you should issues actually arise.
A serious conversation isn't something that should be pursued lightly, especially about a topic like drug abuse. Instead of jumping in and assuming everything will work out, take some time to plan out what you want to say and how you want to say it. Conversations about drug use should be critical moments between you and your teen, and finding the right way to frame your talk can truly make a difference.
Consider using a media or pop culture story to begin, finding a relatable way to bring up the topic without making it sound awkward or forced. Let your teen know that you understand the presence of peer pressure and the temptation to try new things, but that you want to discuss the seriousness of a drug habit. If possible, offer anecdotes or statistics addressing the dangers of what can happen when simple experimentation extends to continuous abuse.
Set Ground Rules
Talking to your teen about drugs is a good start, but setting rules about substance use is equally important. There's a difference between understanding the dangers and knowing such behavior isn't acceptable, especially for teens with a bright future ahead.
When discussing drug use, make your expectations clear surrounding possession, use, and parties under your roof. How you choose to impose rules is up to you – all parents have different expectations – but be sure your child knows how you plan to enforce drug policies within your home. While this may seem a little strict, and for some households, it may be, research actually indicates that teens who have clear rules are less likely to get into serious trouble than those who do not have set in stone policies to follow.
In setting ground rules, be sure to remain compassionate as well. Let your teen know that if a situation spirals out of hand, you will always be there to assist, even if rules have been violated, and that his safety comes before anything else.
Provide Sound Explanations
As a parent, "because I said so" is often a convenient way to exercise your authority in any way you choose, but the older your child gets, the less likely he is to accept this. Teens see themselves as adults, so it will behoove you to entertain this notion, especially when talking about serious subjects that require a grown up conversation.
Instead of setting rules and telling your teen to obey them or else, talk about why you feel the way you do. Perhaps there's a history of substance abuse in the family, or a close friend passed away from an overdose. Maybe your town is caught up in the heroin epidemic. No matter your justification, be sure to explain that you want the best for your teen rather than simply laying down the law.
Speak With Respect
If your teen is on the cusp of mature decisions and independent actions, it's important to let him know that you respect the transitions to come in his progression from child to adult. As such, when you speak to your child about any subject, including drug use, always speak with respect, as if you are talking to your equal. Teenagers are especially sensitive to condescension and judgment, so keep your tone level and your words passive and non-combative. In doing so, you can communicate your expectations for responsible, adult-like behavior without ever saying a word.
Respect is a two-way street, so this also includes letting your teen talk, too. If he has questions, comments, or his own opinions, give him time to share as appropriate. It's okay if you disagree, but every good conversation has two distinct sides, and this one should be no different.
Most teens, especially those who are in the process of being told to stay away from drugs, may express curiosity about their parents' habits as teens. As such, it's not uncommon to face questions regarding your own drug use, like if you ever drank alcohol in high school, or if you tried marijuana or LSD in college.
If your teen asks you these questions, do not get angry, defensive, or irritated. Instead, be honest. If you drank a little in high school or did drugs in your early twenties, it's okay to admit this, especially if any experimentation or use was minor or short-lived. If you had a substance abuse issue, it's okay to mention this, too. Your personal learning experiences will shape your child and his world views, and that includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. In recounting your own experiences, be sure not to glamorize drug use for any reason, and keep any lascivious details to a minimum.
Keep the Conversation Going
A first conversation is an excellent step forward, but parenting your child requires a consistent forward trajectory. Instead of patting yourself on the back for a job well done, stay vigilant. Make speaking with your teen about drug use a regular occurrence, checking in every few months to make sure there are no changes to the status quo. This can also help you keep communication channels open in general, reassuring your teen that he can always come to you when he needs advice, support, or guidance.
Teen drug use is an unfortunately common part of growing up, but starting the conversation early and keeping it going can help your child make the best possible choices before it's too late. By providing education and an outlet for shared information, you can help your teen stay away from drugs and alcohol for as long as possible.
If you see signs of addiction in your child, it's never too soon to get help. Contact Teen Treatment Center today for a confidential consultation!