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Real Talk: Start the conversation about drugs and alcohol

A professional's perspective

real talk, drugs, alcohol, raising teens, parents of teens

GET THE OTHER PERSPECTIVE: Click here to see how a mom of teens answers the same question!

Parents, if you think your teen isn’t using, or at least experimenting with drugs, you need to wake up. According to most research studies, the majority of adolescents have tried addictive substances. Drugs are easy to come by, with half of high school students saying they know a classmate who sells drugs. 

This is just what they admit to researchers - how many truly have had access to and potentially tried something without your knowledge?

In 2018 alcohol remains the most common substance abused among adolescents, just as it is among adults. Marijuana comes next and then prescription drugs.

Parents matter. You are your child's most important role model and their best defense against drug use.

It used to be easy to help your child understand that certain things they do may be dangerous or harmful to them. They used to listen so attentively and tell us everything. This is not the case with adolescents!

Parents I talk with are often confused as to why communication with their adolescent has become so difficult, strained, and filled with sarcasm and often antagonism. Just as toddlers learn to say "NO!" and claim some independence, adolescents have been reintroduced to a different level of the same goal; developing independence and identifying themselves as separate and unique individuals. Remember, this strive for independence is combined with peer pressure, academic/school performance pressure, in addition to processing the many layers of an adolescent's daily life, including the social media trends. As much as our teens caustically tell us to leave them alone, underneath the shell we may seldom recognize, behind the voice telling us to get out - is the child that still needs guidance, love and compassion. We started as their number one fans; this is no time to back down!    

By talking openly with your teen about drugs, you can strengthen your relationship with them. Once you have built a strong relationship, communication will be easier.

When parents and teens disagree they sometimes drift away from each other. As hard as it may be, it is very important that you keep the lines of communication open.

Remember that when your teen talks back and argues with you, it does not mean they are rejecting you. In fact, the opposite may actually be true. By asserting their independence, your teen is building a stronger and more positive relationship with you. Arguing is really a sign that they respect the strength of your relationship.

What then can parents do when their help and attempt at communication is rejected and seen as interference, when parental concern is dismissed as babying, when advice is misconstrued as bossing, and when opinions offered are processed as criticism? It seems that we parents are caught in a perpetual negative cycle with our adolescents. Is it possible to communicate effectively and even pleasantly with our adolescent? One of the key factors that can help your teen make the right choices instead of the wrong ones is a strong family attachment!

Many parents have found the following suggestions extremely helpful in successfully establishing effective lines of communication with their adolescents and talking about alcohol and drugs.

Understand the adolescent brain

Adolescents are wired to take risks and experiment. Their brain at that age makes them impulsive and more likely to make risky decisions.

Telling your kid that they’re grounded and forbidden to do anything will ONLY ensure your disconnection from them and you’ll lose the ability to have any positive impact on their decision making process. Learn to set fair boundaries without pushing them away.

Here are the top six reasons that kids take drugs. I’ve also listed them in order from least concerning to most concerning.

  1. They’re fun! – Like it or not mom and dad, some drugs are just fun.

  2. Curiosity – Society has made such a big deal out of drugs that eventually some kids will just want to try them to see what all the fuss is about.

  3. Peers – As our kids get older, they’re going to go through the party phase in one way or another. Drugs and alcohol are one of the main reasons they get together at most parties.

  4. Boredom – Kids who have nothing better to do start to tinker with all kinds of things, especially drugs.  BOREDOM is a precursor to look for something exciting or risky to do.

  5. Depression – If someone has some emotional issues that they’re not looking at, drugs are a great way to suppress these emotions so that they don’t have to deal with them.

  6. Rebellion – When parents and society don’t accept kids as they are, a sure fire way to get back at them is to take lots of drugs and piss them off.

Avoid accusations

Unless parents have hard evidence that their children are drinking or abusing drugs, doing accuse them.  Instead, you should start the conversation early by asking your 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.  Talk regularly and talk often. Many "mini-conversations" about drugs are better than long boring lectures.

Model what you are trying to teach

Show your kids that you practice what you preach. Avoid drinking excessively if you want them to be responsible drinkers. Unfortunately, kids don't do as we say; they will invariably do as we do.

Stop being critical

The surest communication-killer between parents and their adolescents is CRITICISM!  No one enjoys being confronted with their own deficiencies or mistakes—least of all adolescents. LISTEN with an open mind, and RESPECT their opinions no matter how ludicrous they may seem.

Listen to your adolescent's ideas

The rallying cry of most adolescents is “my parents don’t listen to me" and “my parents don’t understand me.” Adolescents need to feel that their opinions and input are important, valued, and listened to. Adolescents want parents that talk with them not at them.

Another common complaint frequently voiced by adolescents is the use of the “in my day” ploy. This maneuver goes as follows: Rather than listening to and discussing the adolescent’s problem or situation, a parent will reverse roles and tell their adolescent how easy they have it now compared to what life was like when they were younger.

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