How to Talk to Your Teen about Drugs

Young Lions Youth Organization is dedicated to its juvenile delinquency prevention mission.  Communicating with your children, especially as they grow into adolescence, is key to keeping them from falling into negative behaviors. One of the most critical topics to talk to teenagers about is drugs and alcohol. Teens require structure to stay safe. Having clear drug and alcohol policies can be beneficial. You cannot ensure that your rules will not be broken. However, studies show that children, who have clear rules, even if they are broken, are less likely to get into serious trouble than children who do not.

Having the “Drug Talk” with your teen about drugs is not easy. And, it must not be a single “big talk.” The sooner you start talking to them about drugs regularly – and in small doses – the more at ease both of you will be.

Research has shown that your parenting style and how you communicate with your teen can have a heavy influence their decision to try drugs or not.


How Should I Approach the Subject of Drugs with My Young Child?

Make the most of “teachable moments” early on with your child. If you see a character smoking in a movie or on TV, talk about what smoking does to a person’s body. This can lead to a discussion about other drugs and their potential harm.

Maintain a calm tone and use terms that your child can understand. Explain that drugs are dangerous and can cause a variety of health problems. Teach children from a young age how to say no when they are offered something they know is dangerous.

Begin by having general conversations with your teen about drugs. Bring up current events. Inquire if they have any concerns about them. Listen to what they have to say without making any assumptions. Here are a few things to remember:

  • Scare tactics may backfire, making your teen less likely to believe or trust you.
  • Be forthright about the actual dangers.
  • Avoid directly accusing them of drug use whenever possible.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong – it creates an opportunity to learn together.


A few tips

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to successful substance-use dialogue with teens, but the following principles may be helpful:

  • Avoid lecturing

As adults, we want to impart as much wisdom as we can to help young people avoid making the same mistakes we did. However, it is probably more beneficial to stimulate their natural curiosity and encourage them to seek answers independently. Consider asking, “Tell me, what do you know about marijuana?”

Teens who believe their opinions are valued may be more willing to participate in conversations. Use nonjudgmental reflective statements in response to your child’s words to ensure she feels heard, then follow up with a question.

  • Take into account any family history of substance abuse disorders.

Much of the underlying susceptibility to developing substance use disorders are inherited. Substance abuse in the home is also a significant risk factor. Both can impact children with a first- or second-degree relative with a substance use disorder (such as a parent, grandparent, aunt, or uncle).

While studies show that addiction has a substantial genetic heritability, it is also complex, passed down through a series of genes, and generally not limited to a single substance. In other words, children who have a relative who uses opioids may develop an alcohol or sedative use disorder.

  • Follow the golden rule.

Speak to your children in the manner in which you would like to be spoken to. Teenagers are acutely sensitive to condescension, and it is critical to remember that they are the ones who will make the final decisions. Treat them as if they are the adults you want them to be. By demonstrating respect, you are modelling good behavior and informing them that you expect them to act responsibly, not just for your sake but for their own.

  • If your child has used substances, try to find out why.

Teens may use substances to cope with anxiety or boredom, relieve stress, distract themselves from unpleasant emotions, or simply to fit in with their peers. If you ask with genuine interest about those reasons, your child will feel less judged. It may also provide insight into your teen’s underlying struggles, assist him in developing insight into his behavior, and point to problems that may require professional help.

Admittedly, these conversations with a child can be difficult for parents, and some young people have limited self-awareness, truly not understanding why they use substances. Adolescents who abuse substances regularly should be evaluated by a professional who can help them identify root causes and change their behavior.


How Can You Keep Your Children Drug-Free?

Any family can be affected by drugs. But, by communicating with your children and remaining involved in their lives, you can help keep them safe.

Encourage your children to participate in hobbies, sports, and clubs they are interested in. Positive interactions and self-esteem can benefit from this. Learn about their friends and where they spend their time. Kids who have drug-using friends are more likely to experiment with drugs themselves.

Teach children how to refuse drugs if they are offered them. Tell them they can always text or call to leave a situation, and you will come to get them. In a warm, open family environment where children can express their feelings, their accomplishments are praised, and their self-esteem is boosted, they are more likely to come forward with their questions and concerns.


It Doesn’t Happen Overnight

Talking to your teen about substance abuse should be a continuous process rather than a one-time event. As teenagers face the trials and pressures of adolescence, risk factors for substance use can shift and multiply. Keep an eye out for changes in your child’s mood and demeanor, changes in peer groups, and other indicators that it’s time to check in on their safety and your expectations.

Make it clear that your conversation is ongoing and two-way — “I’m going to check in with you about this occasionally, and if you have any questions or concerns, you can always ask me, too.” Maintaining open lines of communication will help you and your adolescent feel engaged and safe during a potentially stressful time.

Car Credit is proud to support the juvenile delinquency prevention programs of Young Lions Youth Organization in Tampa’s low income neighborhoods. Working together, we can help keep all of our community’s children safe.

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