Is it Time to Talk with Your Teen About Substance Abuse?

There are conversations which parents know they should have with their teen but they’re intimidated nonetheless, and bringing up the subject of alcohol and drugs can be the hardest. It doesn’t have to be like that, however. Healthy discussions on the issue of substance abuse hinge on just a couple of things: information and attitude.

Most parents have only the example of their own mother and father to use as a template for navigating difficult subjects with their teens. Parental role models may not be ideal or your own parents may have avoided direct confrontation altogether. With that in mind, here are some helpful suggestions about having this all-important conversation with your teen.

Find an Opportune Time

After dinner can work well. Be sure that you pick a time when there is not homework waiting to be done or something else that will be a distraction. Car rides often provide an excellent opportunity to have meaningful conversations as  you’re both free from outside distractions and have a definite end-time. If a movie depicted drug or alcohol use, go get an ice cream after the show and talk about what you both observed. Working together outside, taking a walk or even saying “good night” at bedtime can all be opportune times to engage your teen in serious discussion.

Use Teachable Moments

Choosing an opportune time works well, but so does grabbing hold of teachable moments that come along in the course of the day. One psychologist said that he frequently commented on the dangers of substance abuse whenever the family happened to pass an ambulance on the road.

Alcohol and drugs appear in television ads, movies and daily news reports. These make natural springboards to conversations about substance use. For example, after seeing an ad for alcohol, ask your teen how they felt the ad presented alcohol use. Did the ad seem realistic? Did it reveal any of the negative consequences of drinking? Who was the ad’s target?

If there is a news story about drug use, take the chance to start a conversation. Help your teen think about some of the choices and some of the consequences involved. For example, what happens to the family of a person arrested on drug charges? How do parents and siblings feel when a family member dies from drug use? Explore how individual choices have extended consequences.

If you and your teen observe kids smoking, use that as an opportunity to talk about the health risks of nicotine addiction.

Share Real Life Stories, Not Your Own

Perhaps you know someone whose life has been impacted by drug or alcohol abuse. Talk about their story with your teen. Conversely, if you have personally abused these substances, keep it to yourself. Studies show that teens whose parents share their own experiences feel they have permission to experiment themselves. Instead, share the stories of others. It’s not being hypocritical — you are doing for your child what someone ought to have done for you.

Check Out

Use the Drug Guide to learn about what’s being offered to teens today. Discuss what they know and what the information has to say. Do your best to keep the conversation factual.

One reason parents shy away from these conversations is fear that the conversation will turn into an argument. This is where attitude comes in. By keeping your own attitude positive you can help control the atmosphere surrounding the conversation.

Be sure to maintain an attitude of respect for your child’s thoughts and ideas. Keep eye contact whenever possible. Pause before responding to what they’ve had to say so they don’t feel as if you are just waiting to unload information. Express sadness rather than judgment or condemnation over others’ poor choices.

Sometimes it helps to listen to your teen and not give too much immediate feedback. Instead, come back hours or days later to let them know what you’ve been thinking about.

It’s important to have an informed conversation while keeping a positive attitude. But the most important thing is to make the effort and open that dialogue.