5 Tips on How to Talk to Your Teens About Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Ideally, the teenage years should be a glorious time of exploration, adventure, and self-discovery.  However, according to statistics on teenage substance use, it can also be a time that is rife with complications, peer pressure, and negative temptations.  You can help your teen avoid the detours that drug and alcohol use imposes on their young lives.  In fact, parents are the first line of defense in the war against teenage substance use.  With this in mind, here are some helpful tips on how to talk to your teens about drug and alcohol abuse.

Listen First

Yes, we realize this article is about helpful ways to talk to your teens about drug and alcohol abuse, but listening to them is just as important (if not more) than talking to them.  Make time to actively listen to your teens about what’s going on in their lives.  This information can be extremely telling about what your child is going through as well as if they might be in jeopardy or tempted to start using drugs or alcohol.

Ask Questions (But Don’t Interrogate)

Asking questions is a great way to have a point of access when it comes to talking to your teen about drug and alcohol use.  By listening and observing their responses, you can get a clearer view of your teen’s disposition and stance on the subject.  Ask about who they are hanging out with, get familiar with their friends, and ask how certain things make them feel. Do this in a casual way so as to avoid coming off as an interrogator. In this way, your teen will be more receptive and willing to answer your questions.  Furthermore, your teen’s response can help you determine if he or she is in a good place or subject to criminal activity, or in a position of being pressured to use drugs or alcohol. 

Suspend Judgment

When talking about drug and alcohol abuse with teens, parents often have an “I know better” attitude, which can come off as patronizing or judgmental.  Remember that you were once your child’s age and subject to the temptations life has to offer.  Then, suspend judgments or the urge to tell your teen to “just say no.”  This type of approach is typically counterproductive.  Instead, put yourself in their shoes. Relate to their age, and the unique pressures teens go through today.  This is a far better method of communicating with kids about the risks of drugs and alcohol. 

Talk to Them With Respect

It’s true that teens are younger, and as parents, we have the benefit of experience most teens lack.  This chasm of different perspectives often causes an imbalance of energy and can lead to power struggles between parents and teens.  Consequently, teens often complain that they don’t feel valued or respected enough in their relationships with their parents. 

We know that every teen-parent relationship is unique, but if this sounds familiar, then it might be time to employ more respect when talking to your teen about drugs or alcohol abuse (or any subject, for that matter).  Realize that teens are individuals with their own specific opinions, feelings, and points of view.  Just because parents have the gift of experience doesn’t mean their teen is any less accomplished in their own right.  By recognizing this and respecting teens while talking to them, parents can make much better headway in communicating the risks involved in abusing drugs or alcohol.

Know When to Recruit Help

If you’ve tried these and other tips for talking to your teen about drugs and alcohol, yet you can’t seem to make any progress, it might be time to recruit help.  When communication is at a standstill, consider asking a trusted family member or friend to talk to your teen.  You might also consider seeking out professional mental health help for teens as an objective way to teach kids about drugs and alcohol.  

Getting extra help either through mental health professionals or through trusted family members is often a way for teens to express themselves freely.  Teens are often more likely to open up with someone other than their parents because the fear factor, or potential to disappoint, is removed from the equation.  In many ways, talking to an objective third party is the most effective way to educate teens about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.