Talking to your teen about substance abuse is hard to approach. What have they already heard from teachers and peers? How can you make them comfortable enough to come to you if any problems come up? Is it better to do it all at once, or talk to them a little at a time? However you and your child communicate, here are a few ways you can have a constructive, helpful conversation with your teen about substance abuse.
1. Ask them about their opinions
Before you launch into a prepared speech, ask your child what they think and know about substance abuse. Do they have peers who are experimenting? What have they learned from the media? Have teachers included substance abuse issues in school curricula? Give them the opportunity to share what they have already learned with you, so you know where to begin. They may have absolutely no idea, or they may already have some familiarity with different levels of substance use. When you let them speak first, you show them that their voice is important and show them that you are safe to come to in the future. That way, if they are struggling with substance abuse or see friends making poor choices, they already have experience talking to you about it.
2. Explain the consequences of substance abuse
Although it may be easier to go with the “just say no” approach, children and teens are still learning about the world and are often very curious. If you aren’t giving them the answers, they may search elsewhere! Be honest with your children about the short-term and long-term consequences of substance abuse. Especially if your child is already at a higher risk, it is important that they are aware of what substance abuse does to people’s bodies and lives. Drug use is associated with promiscuous sexual activity, mental health disorders, and impaired school performance, all of which can have a serious long-term impact on their lives.
3. Be intentional about choosing a time and place that make them comfortable
If you have this conversation across the dining room table, your child may feel attacked or like you are blaming them for something they haven’t even done! Some recommend choosing a long walk or drive as the setting for talks like this, because there is less eye contact, making self-conscious teens feel less like they are being studied and more comfortable with opening up. Make sure you have plenty of time to start and finish the conversation, and that there aren’t any spectators who may try to join in. Overall, do whatever you can to make your teen feel safe and comfortable. A great option for this is visiting a local walking trail, forest preserve, or state park to go for a hike together! The wooded areas provide lots of privacy, and you can take as much or as little time as you need.
Now, you are better prepared to talk to your teen about substance abuse, and prevent any future risky behaviors!