Speak Now, Here’s How
As kids enter high school their chances of encountering alcohol and drugs increase, and so does the need for frequent conversations about this topic. If you don't feel comfortable or confident with these conversations you certainly are not alone. Parents of teens often ask themselves … How do I know what to tell them? What do I do if they don't even talk to me? How do I get them to care; to be responsible?
Here are some important techniques to remember when speaking with teens about alcohol and drugs.
Understand Your Approach
- Your personal point of view. What do YOU really think about underage alcohol and drug use? Could your own experiences get in the way? Are you prepared to listen to your teen's point of view?
- Your motives. What are you really trying to achieve? Are you trying to protect your kids from what's out there or give them the skills they need to make smart decisions?
- Your fears or concerns. Are you focused on reacting to one incident or creating a lasting solution?
- Your ability to be a role model. Will your personal actions reinforce the messages you're giving your teen?
Your Influence Matters
- Minimize exposure at home. Even though they're teens, you should stop to consider what message you are giving your teen if you offer your kids a drink or other type of drug to use recreationally. Will they think it is OK to drink and do drugs beyond the home? Teens who are exposed to alcohol and drugs in the home are more likely to continue using them.
- You're being heard. Eye-rolling and heavy sighs aside, teens are still listening to you, watching you, and learning from you. What you say still matters a great deal.
Get to know other influencers in your teen’s life, including:
- Their friends and other peers. Know who your teen hangs out with, and what they do together. If you suspect a negative influence, limit the time your teen spends with those people. Look for ways to get your teen involved in activities that will occupy their time rather than “just hanging out” with friends.
- Older siblings. Remind older siblings they serve as important role models. If they are 21 or older, encourage them to not expose younger siblings to alcohol or other types of drugs.
- Relatives. Teens may consider an aunt or uncle to be “cool” – often because they don’t have to set or enforce rules for your teen. Make sure relatives know your rules and expectations for your teen, and uphold them.
- Community leaders. Enlist teachers, coaches and clergy who are around your child on a regular basis. They can help reinforce your rules regarding alcohol and drugs.
- Other parents. Get to know the parents of your child’s friends – and their views on alcohol and drugs. While they might have different rules for their own children, make it clear what your rules are for your child.
Coaching to Stay Connected
By the time your child becomes a teen you’re not just a parent but also a coach. Effective coaching means listening first. Are you:
Allowing your teen to speak about ideas or concerns?
Making an effort to understand how your teen feels?
Giving your teen an opportunity to express what he or she is thinking?
Demonstrate you are ready to listen to your teens—even if they may not always be interested in talking—help them understand your rules and advice, and take their thoughts and feelings into account.
Moving Conversations Forward
Once you start the conversation about alcohol and drugs, it’s important to keep it going.
Here are Some Ways to Keep Teens Talking.
Listen with an open mind
A teen’s ideas and opinions deserve consideration. Embracing your child’s point of view and taking it seriously encourages them to see that your advice is based on true understanding.
Respond to the present moment
Focus on what your child is saying now, not what they’ve said in the past, what you think he or she should be saying, or what you believe.
Keep it informal
Meal times, in the car doing errands, or other activities you may do with your teen are great times to talk.
Ask open-ended questions
Get teens thinking and talking rather than giving them opportunities for a simple yes or no.
Communication Stopper Alert!
“I know you’re drinking.”
“I don’t want to hear your excuses.”
“I want to get to the bottom of your lies.”
(Deciding what’s going to be discussed before your child has a chance to talk)
“Remember, no alcohol or drugs. Have a good time at the party.”
“Will there be drinking at the party?”
“If there’s drinking at the party, what will you do?”
“Have you ever tried marijuana?”
“What do you think about marijuana and kids who use it?”
“Do any of your friends do drugs?”
“If your friends wanted to try a drug, how would you handle that?”
“Will his/her parents be home?”
“Tell me about his/her parents.”
“Have any of your friends been caught with alcohol or drugs?”
“What are you and your friends looking forward to this year? How would getting into trouble for alcohol or drugs change those plans?”
“I was your age once, I know what you’re going through.”
“We didn’t have social media when I was your age. How does that factor into your social life?”
“You need to think for yourself.”
“What’s the hardest thing you deal with when it comes to just being yourself around your friends?”
Recognize the importance of follow-up questions
Kids have a lot on their minds. Asking follow-up questions helps your message stick. Things like …. “Now tell me again what you do if you go to a party where a lot of people are using drugs?” Follow-up questions are important because they:
- Help create accountability
- Show you have a genuine concern for the end result
- Create opportunities to extend your conversation
- Offer another way to check in and stay connected
Answering Tough Questions
Questions about your own alcohol or drug use, either past or present, can be difficult to answer. Sharing your past experience with teens can be helpful, but it’s important to have a plan for these questions should they come up.
Did you drink or try drugs when you were a teenager?
If you did, experts recommend that you give an honest answer. Explain why you were tempted to try drugs but also why it was a poor decision in hindsight. If your experience involved a negative consequence that is also something you may want to share.
Why do you drink?
- Explain your reasons for drinking – whether it’s to enhance a meal, share good times with friends, or celebrate a special occasion.
- Point out that if you choose to drink, it’s always in moderation.
- Talk about the fact that some people shouldn’t drink at all, including people who are underage.
Sometimes you take leftover prescription pain medicine when you have a headache, it can’t be that bad right?
- Acknowledge that your teen makes a good point, and that you may have set a bad example, BUT…
- Explain that any type of prescription drug should only be taken as directed by a doctor, and that people should only take drugs prescribed to them.
Making Views and Rules Clear
When you talk about alcohol and drugs, make your views and rules clear. Take the time to discuss why you have those views, and be sure to enforce the rules you set.
“You know the right thing to do.”
“If you ever have a question about alcohol or drugs, you can count on me to listen and answer honestly.”
“You know what I expect.”
“I expect you to try your best in school. Using alcohol or drugs can prevent your brain from functioning at its best.”
“Never get in a car with someone who is drunk or high.”
“If you’re ever in a situation where you have to choose between getting in a car with someone who has been drinking or using drugs, and calling me, I want you to know you can call me and I’ll come get you with no questions asked.”
Keeping the Conversations Going
Your conversation with your teen is not a five minute discussion and it’s not a one time “talk.” Look for windows of opportunity for these conversations.
- You’re watching TV with your teen and a character references drug use.
- Prom is approaching or your son or daughter is invited to a “big” party.
- You may be driving home after a family dinner at which an aunt or uncle had too much to drink.
- You hear news stories about marijuana when you are at home or in the car.
- A star athlete on your teen’s favorite team is in trouble for drug use.
- Your teen’s music may be playing lyrics that make drugs and alcohol seem cool.
These are the moments for you to expand and build on those important life lines of communication that can keep a parent/ teen relationship alive.