No one really wants to have “the talk” about drugs and alcohol. But substance abuse is such a major problem in our society today that we can’t bury our heads in the sand. Our kids will encounter illicit substances in their teenage years. The question is, what will they do about it? Although the talk may feel uncomfortable. It’s important to have it.
Here’s how to talk to your teenager about the dangers of substance abuse addiction.
Pick a time and place
It’s always better to have the talk than not, but if at all possible, choose an appropriate time and place. You want to have your teenager’s undivided attention, so make sure you do not fit in a quick chat before school or between soccer games. That is, unless you’re chatting in the car on the way to an event. If this is the case, just make sure you have enough time before you reach your destination. The car is actually the perfect place to talk because you don’t have to make eye contact and your teen can’t walk away. They may feel more comfortable chatting about a sensitive topic like this when they don’t have to look you in the eye.
Keep an open mind
This should be a conversation and not a lecture. But as a conversation, the dialogue will flow both ways. Most parents are okay with this in theory, but it gets more difficult when their kids tell them something shocking. Before you go into this conversation, try to remember what it was like to be a teenager. Remember what your friends were doing and what was going through your mind the first time someone offered you drugs. Understand that your kids are human, just like you were at that time. And as you listen to what your child has to say, try to remain calm. If you overreact, your child may not feel comfortable talking to you about substance abuse in the future. And this can be a very dangerous situation. If they get into trouble, you’ll want your children to feel comfortable having the talk about treatment.
Understand your influence
As a parent of a teen, you probably are starting to feel powerless. You once had almost complete control over your child’s life, from scheduling playdates to managing screen time. And now, things are drastically different.
Still, you have a lot more power than you realize. As much as teenagers like to push their parents away, they do listen to what you have to say. You are actually the most important influence on your children’s opinions of drugs and alcohol. So even if it feels like your words are falling on deaf ears, keep talking.
Rely on facts
It’s a good idea to tell your kids to avoid drugs. But that’s what they expect you to say. They know this talk is coming, and they probably already know you don’t want them getting drunk and high. Say it anyway. But if you you’re going to have an impact, teach them something. Come to your talk armed with facts about substance abuse. If possible, use real-life examples to back up your facts. Unfortunately, in today’s opioid epidemic, most of us have a cautionary tale that hits close to home. It may be a schoolmate, a neighbor or a family member. But must of us have some connection to a person who has struggled with substance abuse and faced the consequences as a result.
Understand your teen’s brain
The teenage brain may seem like an uncrackable mystery, but there are some things we know for certain. One thing we can be sure of is that your teen’s brain is still developing. In fact, the human brain isn’t fully developed until somewhere around the age of 25. During the teenage years, your child’s prefrontal cortex is still growing, and his or her amygdala is working in overdrive.
This means that it’s natural for your child to have trouble with decision making and emotion control. This knowledge can help you sidestep some landmines when it comes to dealing with a teenager. It’s not unlike those difficult days when you were dealing with toddler tantrums. Whenever you got too frustrated, you had to remind yourself that your child’s brain is going through massive changes, and that’s why they’re behaving this way. It’s the same as a teenager. This is another period of growth, and we just have to brace ourselves to get through.
As you enter this talk, understand that you do have power. Even if you feel like you’re not getting through, keep talking. You won’t be in the driver’s seat when your kid is faced with drugs or alcohol, but you do have some influence.