“How Do I Talk to My Teen about Drugs and Alcohol?”
Whether you steered clear of drugs when you were younger, experimented a bit, or fell into the grasp of addiction, it can be hard to know how to discuss substance abuse with your teen. Do you admit that you got wasted at prom, or will that make them think it’s ok? Do you tell them you never tried anything or will that make them think you’re out of touch? When your teen seems like they’d rather watch paint dry than talk to you, how can you even get through to them?
If you’re wondering how to talk to your teen about drugs and alcohol, here are 9 things you should know:
1. Permissive parents pay a price
Some parents take the approach of allowing their teens to drink or smoke under their supervision, assuming it’s safer and that their kid won’t have anything to hide. Unfortunately, this approach tends to reinforce the message that substance abuse is ok, and teens with permissive parents tend to drink more often and in larger amounts.
2. You gotta get your facts straight
Your kids are going to be exposed to many different opinions about e-cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol, prescription pills, and other narcotics. Before you talk to your teen, familiarize yourself with the facts of each drug so that you can give accurate info and address any objections your teen has. Check out these fact sheets for quick reads on the dangers of teens using e-cigarettes, alcohol, prescription pills, and marijuana.
3. The tone of the talk matters
When you talk to your teen about drugs or alcohol, you want to be honest about potential dangers, but avoid using threats or scare tactics that will make your teen feel like they can’t openly talk to you. Be the “cool parent” by making it a conversation. Start by asking your teen their beliefs about substance use and thank them for being honest with you. Calmly correct any misconceptions they may have and share your family values regarding substance use.
4. 21 is worth the wait
“I can join the military before 21 but I can’t buy a beer!?” That argument may make sense to your teen, but the 21-year-old drinking age was not chosen arbitrarily. Key areas of the brain are underdeveloped until their mid to late 20’s, making teen years an especially vulnerable time in which their brain is more susceptible to addiction.
5. It’s all about expectations
It’s often said that kids live up to what their parents expect of them, and if you expect your teen to make healthy choices, they’ll be more likely to do so. Be positive and express that you trust your teen to make good decisions, but also set clear rules and consequences to guide them. Teens whose parents set and enforce expectations regarding substances are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.
6. They need healthy ways to cope
It’s not enough to tell your teens that drugs are the wrong way to go; you also need to empower them with healthy coping strategies to deal with stress, temptation, comparisons, and heartache that can lead teens to resort to drugs. Tell your kid you understand how stressful and challenging teen years can be, and teach them healthy ways to cope such as working out, breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, fulfilling work, fun hobbies, and proper nutrition.
7. You can be the “bad guy”
Talk to your teen about ways to get out of situations where they feel pressured or tempted to drink or use drugs. Come up with a code phrase they can text for you to make an excuse to come pick them up right away. Role play different scenarios and let them know they can always use you as the bad guy to get out of the situation.
Example: “No thanks, my parents make me take random drug tests.”
8. Family history is fair game
There are many factors that contribute to addiction, but we know that it often runs in families. Many times, parents think its best to not let their kids know that Uncle Frank had 3 DUI’s or Grandma Sue drank one too many martinis and ruined her daughter’s wedding. In reality, being transparent about your family history can help your teen realize if they are at an increased risk for addiction.
9. Your past shouldn’t be sugarcoated
So now that you’ve thrown Uncle Frank and Grandma Sue under the bus, know that it’s also ok to own up to your own past mistakes. You don’t need to divulge about each time you ditched class to drop acid, but be transparent about making decisions you regret, and express your hope that your teen won’t repeat the same mistakes. Similarly, if you didn’t experiment with drugs or alcohol, share that with your teen. Tell them how you handled the temptations and explain the values that helped you stick with sobriety.
10. What if my teen doesn’t want to hear it?
Teens are famous for their one-word-answers and eye rolls, so it can be tough for parents to know whether their wisdom is going in one ear and out the other. A specialist in Child Psychology can support you in setting effective expectations and having meaningful conversations with your teen.
Dr. Christopher J. Sample, Psy.D. specializes in supporting teenage boys through life’s transitions. If you need support in discussing substance abuse with your son, or if you are concerned that your son has already abused drugs or alcohol, Dr. Sample can help. Dr. Sample is now accepting Aetna Insurance.
Dr. Elsa Torres, Psy.D. specializes in Diagnostic Testing and Counseling. Dr. Torres is experienced in helping children, teens, and adults to discover the root causes of their challenges and finding healthy ways to cope.
Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in Child and Educational psychology. If you are concerned that substance abuse is impacting your teen’s school performance or peer relationships, Dr. Shinn can recommend support to guide your teen on a path toward success.
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How to Cite This Blog Article:
Shinn. M.M. (2019). How Do I Talk to My Teen About Drugs and Alcohol? Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from: https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/how-do-i-talk-to-my-teen-about-drugs-and-alcohol