5 Tips for Talking to Teens About Drugs and Alcohol

February 25, 2014

Some parents feel uncomfortable when it comes to discussing more sensitive subjects with their teens. As intimidating as it may be, the topic of drug and alcohol use should not be avoided. Long before parents suspect their children may be abusing substances, they should talk with them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol—a conversation that could indeed decrease the chances of having to talk with them about seeking help for a problem down the road.

Here are some tips to help parents talk to their teens about drugs and alcohol:

1. Set your terms

Before even having the discussion, parents should tell their teens that they have something important they would like to talk to them about, and ask them when they would like to have this conversation. The last thing parents want to do is catch their children off-guard when they are busy and are less likely to want to have this important talk. If teens set the time and place for the discussion, there’s a good chance they’ll be more actively engaged.

2. Avoid accusations

Unless parents have hard evidence that their children are drinking or abusing drugs, they should not start the conversation by confronting them with demands, assumptions and accusations. Instead, they should start by asking their kids what they know about drugs and what may be happening in their schools and social circles. Coming from a place of inquisitiveness may make it less likely for teens to be defensive or lie. If parents seem open and comfortable, so will their children.

3. Act early

Live Science explains that 62 percent of teens who said that they drank reported they had their first drink before the age of 15 – not including simply taking a sip. This is why it is best for parents to talk to their kids about drugs and drinking around age 12, 13 or 14, since it is likely they will already have been offered substances by then.

4. Don’t use scare tactics

While it is important for parents to tell children that drug and alcohol use can come with dire consequences, it may be a good idea to focus on the positives, too. For example, they can explain that by avoiding substances and effectively managing issues such as peer pressure, it might make it easier for them to benefit from more important things like getting into a good college or performing well in sports and other extracurricular activities. CAMH recommends that if parents do have very serious fears about their children using drugs and alcohol, such as overdosing or dying in a car crash, they may want to share those with a friend or therapist before they frighten their teen.

5. Call a professional

If parents truly find that they cannot have this conversation with their children themselves, it’s best to call a professional. A family counselor can sit with parents and children and make sure they are having heartfelt and productive discussions, rather than just sitting in awkward silences or getting into a fight that will cause more harm to their relationship than good.

How have you navigated the drug talk with your child?

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