Tips for Talking with Teens about Drugs and Alcohol

Your teen won’t always behave as you expect. Learn what messages are important … before they make the important choices for themselves.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Your teen won’t always behave as you expect. Learn what messages are important … before they choose to experiment. This article helps prepare you for that conversation.


The Main Goal

Raising children is not always easy, and you face a new set of challenges once they grow into teenagers. Remember, your teen is only human and will make mistakes. So, what should be your goal?

Your #1 goal should be to help your teen understand the risks of drugs and alcohol so that they can make the right choices for themselves.

Still, it’s important to be realistic. You’ll have to accept that your teen won’t always behave as you expect. But we believe that you can best influence your child BEFORE ALCOHOL OR DRUGS are even an option. How? Through prevention.

Many parents overlook the risk of drugs and alcohol because they don’t believe their teens would ever make poor choices. A series of conversations can be just the thing to prevent those poor choices. If you need a little nudge in the right direction, this guide will help.

TIP 1: Choose the Right Place and Time

Choosing the right time and place to talk with your teen about drugs and alcohol is vital. You want to find a time and place where your teen will feel comfortable discussing the subject and opening up about any experiences they’ve had. Here are a few things to consider that will help you determine when to talk to your teen:

  1. Privacy. Make sure you approach your teen when the two of you are alone. Avoid trying to start the conversation in public or when friends and family are present.
  2. Distraction. Select a comfortable room in your home or take a walk with your teen. Put away the devices and focus on the conversation.
  3. Mood. You and your teen should both be in a calm mood before starting the discussion. Avoid trying to talk to your teen when either of you are in a bad mood or if emotions are running hot.

TIP 2: Have an Open Mind

No matter how close you and your teen are, you will have to break through a generation gap to make noticeable progress. This requires you to take a few steps back and make an ongoing effort to keep an open mind. Your fears and concerns may be palpable. But put them on the side for this conversation.

Instead, try putting yourself in your teen’s position and think back to when you were in middle or high school. Remember what dealing with the stress and peer pressure was like?

It’s also important to remind yourself that you are speaking with your teen, not to your teen. The difference is that you must know when to stop talking and simply listen to what your teen has to say. Each time you speak or make a point, you should pause and give your teen time to respond.

TIP 3: Offer Reasons for the Rules You Impose

Parents will often tell teens not to drink or do drugs, but then fail to list reasons that support their stance. Most teens are at the point in which they are feeling independent and ready to choose how their life will play out. The last thing you want is your teen trying to rebel against everything you say.

One of the best ways to stay on the same page is with communication. Discuss the rules and boundaries you are setting and be sure to explain your reasons why. Try getting your teen to think of the ways the choices they make now can impact their future and the goals they would like to achieve in the coming years.

TIP 4: Show Your Teen You Care

The way you interact with your teen plays a big role in the way your conversation will unfold. It’s important you show your teen that you care for them above all.

The message is that you are doing what you feel is best for them.

Doing so won’t always be easy, but you must give it your best shot.

Some teens might feel the boundaries and limits are a strangle-hold on their independence. On the contrary, let your teen know you want them to stay away from drugs because it could prevent them from living the life they want.

Teens often feel as though their parents can never understand the things they go through each day. It’s difficult for them to imagine their parents as teens trying to make their way through high school. This disconnect can make it hard to reach a common ground. Another way that you can let them know you care is to remind your teen that you were once in their shoes. You’ve faced the same problems they are facing now…and this can show that you truly have their best interest in mind.

TIP 5: Give Examples of Problems Caused by Drugs and Drinking

Rather than telling your teen that drugs and alcohol can make trouble in her life, think of real-life examples you can use. Perhaps you have a family member or friend in recovery. S/He might be willing to share a little of their experience, strength, and hope. Personal testimonials go a long way.

Or, look to a role model. Many celebrities today have chosen to be open about their addiction recovery with the public. There are plenty of interviews in which celebrities discuss the negative affects drugs had on their life and how much better their lives are now that they are sober. Share these stories with your teen as real-life examples.

TIP 6: Let Your Teen Know S/He Does Not Have to Follow the Crowd

The teenage years are some of the most stressful and complicated years in a person’s life. Teens deal with shifting hormones and a desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They feel a need to fit in and belong.

Although the temptation to be part of a group is wired into our brains, it’s not always a positive force in our lives. Help your teen build their self-confidence and remind them that they do not have to follow the crowd. If you can help your teen overcome peer pressure, you will go a long way toward keeping them drug-free.

TIP 7: Let Your Teen Know They Can Come to You for Help

One of the worst mistakes that parents make when talking to teens about drugs and alcohol is showing too much anger. You must remain in control of your emotions and let your teen know they can come to you if they need help.

If your teen thinks you will overreact, they will be too afraid to call for help if they find themselves in a bad situation with no other way out. You must impose discipline if necessary, but do so with as much compassion as possible.

Final Thoughts

Helping teens stay away from drugs and alcohol is not always easy, and some teens will still go down that path no matter what you do. As a parent, your goal is to guide them in the right direction and help them make smarter choices in the future. Nothing will guarantee your success, but the tips discussed above will give you a much better chance at your teen living a life free of addiction.

Got questions?

Please ask them in the section below. We’ll do our best to answer each real-life parenting question with a personal and prompt reply.

About the author
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY17766), a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist and a Certified Youth Residential Treatment Administrator. Dr. Nalin is the Founder and Clinical Director of Paradigm Malibu and Paradigm San Francisco Adolescent Treatment Centers. He has been responsible for the direct care of young people at multiple institutions of learning including; The Los Angeles Unified School District, the University of California at San Diego, Santa Monica College, and Pacific University. He was instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
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