Many parents are unsure if, when and how to talk to their teenager about drugs and alcohol. Adolescence is a tricky time for both parents and teens, who are testing boundaries and likely, their parents’ patience. However, it’s imperative to talk to your child about drugs early and often. Live Science reports that 62 percent of teens who drink had their first drink before the age of 15.
According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 75 percent of high school students surveyed have used addictive substances, and roughly 16 percent of the U.S. population ages 12 and older meet clinical diagnostic criteria for nicotine, alcohol and other drugs. Nearly half of high school students surveyed said they know a classmate who sells drugs. Therefore, it’s best for parents to talk to their kids about drugs and alcohol around age 12, 13 or 14.
So, how to talk to your teenager about drugs? There is no magic bullet to prevent them from experimenting, of course, but the research shows that parents have a heavy influence in their children’s decisions, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. When parents set clear boundaries, kids are less likely to experiment, and when they do, they make safer choices. Here are six guidelines for how to talk to your teenager about drugs and alcohol:
- Plan ahead. Give your child a heads up that you’d like to have an important conversation before breaching the subject. On a similar note, do not discuss if you suspect your teen is drunk or high. It may be tempting to address the issue at the moment, but the conversation will be far more productive if you wait.
- Clearly spell out the rules. It’s crucial to set the expectation that drugs and alcohol are unacceptable. If a teen believes their parents disapprove of drug and alcohol use, they are less likely to use. On the other hand, if the teen feels that their parents are okay with drug use, they’re more likely to use. Additionally, unless you are 100 percent sure your teen is drinking or abusing drugs, do not open the conversation with accusations, demands or assumptions.
- Explain your rationale. Your teen or preteen is more likely to listen to you if they understand why drugs and alcohol are so detrimental to them. This helps the conversation feel more like an adult discussion, and less like a lecture for them to rebel against. Drug and alcohol experimentation has real and serious consequences, and it’s important for them to understand this.
- Hear their side. Give your child the opportunity to share what they know about drugs, so they know that you value their input and experiences. This helps ensure the lines of communication stay open, and go both ways, which is a huge drug use deterrent for teens.
- Give them an out. An amnesty policy helps keep kids safe and ensures open dialogue, while giving them a way out of a risky situation. Let them know they can call/text you for a ride anytime, with no questions asked. Of course, you can decide how to have the conversation with them about safety in the morning.
- Keep lines of communication open. Let your teen know that they can come to you anytime with questions and that you’ll be checking in periodically as well. This conversation should be an ongoing process, not a one-time event.
As a parent, your children are looking to you for help and guidance in making decisions, including the decision of whether to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Even if you drink or have used drugs in the past, you can still have an open conversation. It’s imperative to open up the dialogue early on, and remain involved. Finally, if you suspect your child is abusing drugs or alcohol, seek professional help, such as the support team at United Recovery Project.