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Guide to Talking To Your Teens About Substance Use

Father sitting next to his son talking about substance use

Talking to your teens about substance use can feel scary and even overwhelming, but at the end of the day, it is a conversation you shouldn't avoid. The sooner you start regularly and normally talking to them about substance use and its adverse effects, the more you'll both feel at ease.

However, we fully appreciate how difficult it might be to make that first step and start this crucial conversation. So to help you break the ice, we've researched the ultimate parenting resource, consulted experts, and gathered tips that will help you have a productive and successful "big talk" with your teens. 

Talking to your teens about substance use - tips and advice

As a general rule, adolescence is a challenging period of life, and raising teens is not an easy task. Teenagers are still finding their footing in the world, and part of this process includes pushing the boundaries of their parent's authority. This often involves substance use, so it is crucial to talk to your teens about it as early as possible.

Research suggests that your parenting style and how you talk to your kid can influence their decision on whether or not to experiment with drugs. Establishing concrete limits on substance use gives adolescents the guidance they require to stay secure. Even though you can't ensure that your rules won't be broken, studies demonstrate that children who are provided with clear boundaries are less likely to engage in risky behaviors.

But how do you ensure you talk to your teens in a way that will inspire them to make the right decisions? Following a few simple rules will get things going in the right direction and make for a more pleasant and fruitful experience for everyone involved. Continue reading, and by the end of this article, we're sure you'll feel confident and ready to start this potentially tough conversation.

Get yourself in the right frame of mind

Before you start talking to your teens about substance use, you must be in the right frame of mind. Conversations as challenging as this can easily be misinterpreted by your teens and end up causing the opposite effect.

So here's how to prepare for this big talk:

  • Try remembering how it felt when you were a teenager and put yourself in your kids' shoes. Consider how you would like to be addressed when discussing such a sensitive issue.

  • It's essential to keep an open mind because your teens will be less receptive to your message if they feel criticized or condemned. We admit this might be difficult, but it's something you'll have to master to have a fruitful conversation with your teens.

  • Determine what you want to accomplish, keeping in mind that the objectives you set for yourself will change depending on your child's age. The reason why an underage child and an adolescent of legal age decide to ingest cannabis may be very different. 

By carefully planning this conversation and setting the right tone, you'll ensure your teens know they can trust you. Even if the worst happens and your kid ends up misusing substances, they must know you'll have their back and help them through it. Experts in addiction treatment and recovery from emphasize the importance of family support throughout this challenging process. 

Set clear rules

When talking about teen substance use with your kids, it's essential to communicate the rules you have established, along with the particular punishment for breaching them. Having clear boundaries helps your teens understand where you stand. Even studies suggest that children feel safer when their parents set clear rules. And if a child feels pressed to do something they don't want to do, knowing they can use their parents as an excuse to say no can be a relief.

Explain your reasons in detail

When trying to enforce any rule, it's essential to communicate it in a way that's easily understandable for your teens. It's not uncommon for teenagers to be told to do something without being provided a clear explanation of why they should, and that's the worst mistake you can make. Instead, invite your teens to have an open conversation and make sure to answer any questions they might have patiently.

For instance, let's say you've set a rule about not watching specific TV shows and movies that talk about drug abuse in a way that glamorizes this experience. As most of their peers are probably watching, they might feel like they're being punished and thus try to rebel. So even though you're only trying to limit exposure to negative influences, if you don't explain the reasons behind your decision in a way your teens will understand, it might backfire. 

Speak to your teens respectfully and listen to them

When talking to your teens about substance use, use the same tone you would prefer to hear from others. Teenagers are pretty sensitive to being patronized. So treat them like the responsible adults you hope they will one day become. This way, you'll set a positive example and communicate that you value excellent manners.

You must remember that they will ultimately be the ones making the decisions. That's why it's crucial to hear them during your conversation, too. Don't be the one doing all the talking. Who knows, they might have been waiting for a perfect opportunity to talk to you about this. This way, you'll increase the likelihood that your teen will feel safe opening up to you in the future.

Be careful about sharing your experiences

It's hypocritical for parents to keep their own experiences hidden. So if your teens approach you with questions about your experience with substance use, you'll have two options - you can keep this information secret or share it with your kids. If you decide to do the latter, it's essential to do it in a way that doesn't romanticize your experience. You don't want to sound like you're reminiscing.

Make talking to your teens about substance use an ongoing conversation

Talking to your teens about substance use should be an ongoing conversation, not a one-and-done. Substance use risk factors might shift and increase as your teens face the challenges and pressures of adolescence. By keeping the dialogue open, you'll be able to notice if it's time for intervention while building trust and bonding with your kids.