Just getting your teen to sit down for dinner, engage in small talk or tell you about what happened at school that day can be tough, so it's not surprising that many parents struggle to consistently initiate conversations about drugs or alcohol. Communicating early and often about the things that matter is a proven way to help adolescents navigate stressful teen years without giving in to peer pressure or addictions, though, so it's important to have such conversations.
Even in families that do communicate and support each other, teens can become involved in alcohol and drug use due to a variety of factors. Talking about issues regularly helps you, as a parent, know where your teen stands on such matters and if they need help.
1. Never start with or include accusations.
Even an innocent question such as "have you ever tried drugs or alcohol with your friends?" can set teens on edge. Unless you have strong reason to believe your teen is dealing with a substance abuse issue now, try to engage in a more natural, two-sided conversation. Instead of putting your child immediately at the center of the talk, put drugs and alcohol on stage: ask them what they know about it or how they perceive it impacting their friends or community.
2. Start conversations when kids are young.
Don't wait until teenagers can drive to start talking about drugs and alcohol. By that age, it's too late for you to have any control in shaping the message, as they would have already heard about it from television, friends and school. You can actually start promoting health-conscious decision-making as soon as children can understand basic logic and reasoning — usually during the preschool years.
3. Keep talking about drugs and alcohol through the years.
Start with conversations about how health is important and how what we put in our bodies has a big impact on things. When kids are little, this usually results in conversations about why things like vegetables and fruit are important and how you should never accept anything from strangers. As kids grow, introduce the concept of drugs and alcohol within this context. For older kids, talk about moderation, the difference between illegal substances and things like alcohol when you're an adult, peer pressure and being confident in yourself so you can make your own decisions.
4. Educate yourself on teen drug use.
If you don't know the facts, then it's harder to answer questions on the rare occasions that your teenager does ask them. Read about teen drug use statistics and understand what types of problems and substances teens in your area are likely to deal with. See our Parent Resources pages for more tools
5. Don't assume you know more than your teenager about drugs or alcohol.
Always try to avoid sounding condescending. In reality, your teenager may know a lot more about drugs and alcohol than you realize — maybe even more than you know yourself. Teens today have learned about drugs via television series and internet connections that didn't exist decades ago, and they likely talk about these issues with their friends. Your high schooler, for example, probably knows where to score drugs — or at least who to ask about it — even if they've never involved themselves with drugs to this point.
6. Avoid drama or scare tactics.
Teens have enough drama in their lives, so the last thing they need is more from parents. Don't try to scare your teen away from drugs using scare tactics or dramatic stories. First, you can be sure that teens have already heard those stories. Second, teens are less apt to respond to discussions about the future than they are to present-tense verbiage. Even teens who really do care about their future don't always make decisions based on getting into college or landing a good job. If you are worried that your own fears might come out in a conversation with your teen, talk to a friend or therapist about the issues first so you can concentrate on your child's needs instead.
7. Provide healthy alternatives.
Finally, during discussions about substance abuse with kids of all ages, consider talking about what choices can be made instead and how you can help make those choices more possible. Sometimes, if a teen knows that you're willing to support them, they'll engage in healthier activities or turn down an invite to an event with alcohol in favor of hanging out with friends somewhere else.
What if your teen admits to drug or alcohol use?
If at anytime when talking to your teen they admit to using drugs or alcohol, remain calm and don't accuse them of anything. Instead, delve into the situation. Was it a one-time, experimental incident, or are they struggling with an addiction or substance use disorder? If the latter, consider calling The Teen Treatment Center to speak with professionals about rehab and recovery options at (844)319-5239.