Having to talk to your teenager about drugs is tricky, on both ends. Teenagers are learning to come into their identities, which means their evolving mindsets can clash with parental boundaries. Parents must guide their child to make good decisions, while still providing a safe place to talk about difficult topics. So how do you establish limits with your child without pushing them away, especially when it comes to drugs and alcohol?
Start an Ongoing Conversation
Talking to teens about alcohol and drugs should never be a one-and-done conversation. As your child grows up, their attitudes will change too. Having a recurring conversation with your teen can be helpful, as it will keep you updated on their ever-changing beliefs and make the “drug talk” less intimidating. Perhaps it can even build trust and comfortability around the topic, and your child will open up to you if and when they choose to partake in alcohol and/or drugs.
Starting the conversation out of nowhere can be awkward and startling, so use your environment to your advantage. The media can be a great conversation starter, as drugs and alcohol are commonly seen on TV or in the news. Be gentle in the way you start the conversation, keeping questions open and as neutral as possible.
Some examples are:
- “This article says that 88% of Americans think that marijuana should be legal. What’s your opinion on that?”
- “Are high school parties really as crazy as this movie is making it seem? Have you been to a party like that?”
- “Have you read about the fentanyl crisis in America? What do you think of that?”
- “You know, I feel like TV shows are always showing peer pressure, but I never got pressured growing up. Have you been peer pressured before?”
Plan the Talk
Casual conversations about drugs and alcohol are helpful, but having an actual talk about substance use is necessary to get everyone on the same page about your parental expectations and boundaries. Suddenly having this conversation out of nowhere can feel like an ambush, so try to plan ahead.
Let your child know that they’re not in trouble, but you’d like to have a conversation about alcohol and drugs on a specific day for their safety. This gives them time to mentally prepare to have this conversation, while also giving them time to prepare any questions or concerns they may have.
It may be helpful to brush up on your personal knowledge of drugs and alcohol as well, to prepare for the questions they may have. Education is power, so equip yourself with the knowledge you need to formulate your expectations around substances and the reasons why.
Clearly Explain your Boundaries
Make sure there is no ambiguity in your boundaries by directly explaining your rules and the consequences of breaking them. While it’s tempting to simply say “make good decisions”, this isn’t enough guidance as anyone would have different ideas of what a “good decision” is. If you do not want your child to ever drink or do drugs, tell them exactly that. Then, tell them what disciplinary measures will come from your end if they overstep your boundaries.
Teenagers are in a stage of life where they need more privacy and independence, but clearly defining your rules and disciplinary measures will allow them to know how to explore their autonomy while still being within your guidance. Actively communicating is crucial in nurturing a safe and trusting relationship between you and your child.
Open the Dialogue
Let’s be realistic. “Because I said so” isn’t going to cut it for teens. If you shut out teenagers from the conversation, they’ll shut you out as well. In order to shape them to be responsible adults, you need to be able to have a mature, adult conversation with them. This means actively listening to their side as well.
Explain your reasons for your boundaries surrounding alcohol and drugs. This can be a great opportunity to educate your children about the overall outcomes of substance use. Let them know that any type of underage drinking or substance experimentation is illegal for adolescents because of the harmful ways substances can affect a developing brain and the increased likelihood of drug addiction. Additionally, being caught with substances can lead to serious legal and academic repercussions, which can negatively impact future opportunities.
Then, open the floor and ask your teen if they have any questions or comments concerning this conversation. Try your best to ask in an inviting way, as any sign of condescension or stubbornness can turn your teenager away from you. Some ways to open the dialogue include:
- “Do you have any questions about what I said or anything to say? I want you to feel like you can talk to me about these things.”
- “I want to hear your side though, do you have any thoughts or questions about what I said?”
- “Of course, all of this being said, I want to have an honest conversation about this. So, do you have anything to add or ask?”
Remember, at the end of the day, you just want your teenager to be safe. If you sense that your child is not comfortable with talking to you about drugs and alcohol, offer to find a trusted person for them to talk to instead. Sometimes kids can be fearful of talking too freely with their parents, so giving them a trustworthy third party to talk to instead can help give them the information they need.
Or, there are various resources online that educators and parents can refer to their children. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has a page dedicated to educating youth on how to make informed decisions about drugs and their health. Teen Link Substance Use Prevention Line is a great resource for teens who have questions about drugs and alcohol, as you can use the line to call, chat, or text a substance use disorder professional.
Finally, consider having a substance use amnesty for your child. This means that if your child is ever inebriated and needs a safe way to get home, they are allowed to call you for either cab fare or for you to pick them up without the typical repercussions. This ensures that no matter what your child does, they can always turn to you when they need help. Of course, let them know that the morning after you will be having a productive discussion about drug and alcohol safety. But either way, this emphasizes that you are a safe place for your child.
Are you concerned about your teen’s substance use? Beachside Teen Treatment Center can help your child get back on track to a sober lifestyle with our evidence-based therapies and individualized programs. We aim to cater to each of our client’s needs and goals for recovery, and highly encourage family members to be involved in the process. For more information, contact a team member today.