Most parents feel like their words fall on deaf ears sometimes, but teenagers really will internalize a message if it’s presented often and clearly. This is particularly true when it comes to talking to your teens about drugs, drug abuse and addiction. Research shows that the number one reason teens refrain from using drugs is because of their parents, either due to their positive influence or the fear of disappointing them.
The Importance of Educating Yourself About Drugs
Unless you understand drug abuse and addiction, you won’t be as effective as you’d like at getting through to your teen about these topics. Since these matters can be very complicated and convoluted, turning to knowledgeable and trustworthy sources is essential for arming your teen with accurate information. Two good places to start are the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Both are great resources for learning the basics about drug abuse, addiction and specific drugs; the signs and symptoms of abuse and addiction; and where to turn for help if you learn your teen is abusing drugs.
The Earlier You Start, the Better
Ideally, education about drugs should start in preschool. That might sound like overkill, but talking to your preschooler about healthy habits and certain potentially harmful substances—such as cleaning chemicals and prescription medications—sets the stage for more in-depth conversations later on.
In elementary school, have discussions about the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol on a developing brain and praise them for making healthy choices.
Once they are out of elementary school, they should be crystal clear about your expectations concerning drug abuse, and there should be definitive boundaries in place. These expectations and boundaries should be reiterated repeatedly throughout the middle school and high school years.
How to Talk with Your Teen About Drugs
Rather than lecturing your teen about drugs, take advantage of opportunities that lend themselves to a meaningful two-way conversation. For example, if someone your teen knows is caught using drugs, use that opportunity to discuss the far-reaching consequences of drug abuse.
If a movie portrays drug use, discuss with your teen whether he thinks the movie portrays it realistically, and why or why not. These types of conversations can clue you in to his attitudes toward drugs and his level of knowledge about them, and they give you the opportunity to impart important information to your teen without the risk of sounding like you’re lecturing.
Use these conversations to restate your expectations about drug use and express hope that your teen will make good choices for himself.
Other Things You Can Do
It’s not just in the talking about drugs that your child learns and develops healthy habits. It’s also in how you model the behaviors you’re espousing. Show him how to handle stressful situations without drugs. If you drink, do it responsibly, and if you smoke, make an effort to quit and let your teen know why you’re doing so.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse offers some tips for other things you can do to help keep your teen off drugs:
- Work with your teen to develop a toolkit of strategies for refusing drugs if they’re offered, and have fun practicing them with role-playing exercises.
- Spend quality time with your teen. Even if you’re not talking about drug abuse, spending time enjoying each other’s company strengthens your bond and keeps the lines of communication open.
- Know where your teen is and who he’s with. Don’t be afraid to call other parents to confirm that they will be home while your teen is visiting, and make an effort to get to know his friends and their parents. The more connected you are to his social life—without going overboard, of course—the more present you’ll be even when you aren’t with him.