It’s a conversation that might seem daunting, uncomfortable, and scary- and that’s just for you as the parent. But talking to your teenager about drugs is one of the best things you can do for them. In fact, it’s a conversation that no parent should avoid. Whether drug use is already suspected or seems as unlikely as ever for your teen, talking to them about drugs will lay the groundwork for how they view drugs and the decisions they make about drugs both now and later on.
So, once you’ve decided to have this conversation, how do you talk to your teen about drugs? We are sharing five effective ways to approach the topic from a place of honesty and love.
Recognize ongoing opportunities. Let’s be honest - there is no “perfect time” to talk about drugs. And waiting for that perfect moment may in turn lead to putting off the conversation. Rather than looking for the best time, look for opportunities to introduce the conversation with your teen. A recent incident involving a family member or friend could be an easy conversation starter. Or, ask your teen about their friends and peers. You will pick up insight on how they talk about their friends and they might open up about peers who have struggled with drug use. Talking to your child about drugs should also play out over several conversations as different opportunities arise. Keep the message age-appropriate, keep repeating it to them, and keep reinforcing that you are there for them, no matter what. This conversation should be ongoing so they feel comfortable talking to you anytime without judgement.
Listen to your teen. Ask questions and listen to their answers, their stressors and situations in their life that are weighing on them. Recognize the role that mental health can play in substance abuse. Since drug use often goes hand-in-hand with an underlying issue like depression, eating disorders, or not fitting in, asking your teen about their life, friends, and how they’re feeling can uncover a lot. Knowing what your teen is going through can help you guide them through these issues in a safe and healthy way, which might prevent them from turning to drugs or help you understand what led them to using in the first place.
Draw clear boundaries. Where do you stand on drugs? What are your family’s rules? When discussing this topic with your teen, it’s important to be clear about boundaries and eliminate any ambiguity. Stay calm, but be firm and ask questions to make sure your teen understands the rules.
Be honest about your own experiences. If you have used drugs in the past, don’t be afraid to admit this to your teen. In the same way that a recent incident can help start the conversation, so can your own personal experience. Sharing with your teen why you used and why you don’t anymore will help you connect with them and might encourage them to be more open with you. And don’t worry- admitting your own experiences won’t glorify drug use or give your child permission. Instead, your honesty may encourage them to be honest too.
Respond to your teen with love. Remain calm, ask questions (remember, it’s a conversation) and make sure your teen knows you’re there to listen to them. Don’t judge them, but instead, listen and respond to your teen with love. That doesn’t mean enabling them or supporting every single choice they’ve made. But it does mean letting your child know that you are fighting for them, not against them. They should know you love them unconditionally and that you will always be there to help them.
We know that every situation will be different. Maybe you already suspect your teen is abusing drugs. Or maybe you’re worried because you think your child might be susceptible to peer pressure that could lead them to experimenting with drugs. Whatever the situation is, it’s important to keep in mind that there are many community resources available to you and your teen, including our staff here at Juneau Youth Services.
If your teen is already using drugs, we want you to know that you shouldn’t let fear or embarrassment dissuade you from reaching out. We have helped many families walk through this by offering support and guidance, free of judgement. It’s not a path that a family should walk alone. Bring in backup in the form of family members, school counselors or professionals. Give us a call to learn how we can support you.
While we are here to help, the first step you can take is to talk to your teen. We hope these approaches will help you start this important conversation and offer some guidance as you continue to talk to your child.