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Some parents feel uncomfortable when it comes to discussing more sensitive subjects with their teens. As intimidating as it may be, the topic of drug and alcohol use should not be avoided. Long before parents suspect their children may be using drugs or alcohol, they should talk with them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol―a conversation that could indeed decrease the chances of having to talk with them about seeking help for a problem down the road.

Here are some tips to help parents talk to their teens about drugs and alcohol:

Before even having the discussion, parents should tell their teens that they have something important they would like to talk to them about, and ask them when they would like to have this conversation. The last thing parents want to do is catch their children off-guard when they are busy and are less likely to want to have this important talk. If teens set the time and place for the discussion, there’s a good chance they’ll be more actively engaged.

Unless parents have hard evidence that their children are drinking or abusing drugs, they should not start the conversation by confronting them with demands, assumptions and accusations. Instead, they should start by asking their kids what they know about drugs and what may be happening in their schools and social circles. Coming from a place of inquisitiveness may make it less likely for teens to be defensive or lie. If parents seem open and comfortable, so will their children.

Research shows that increasing fear about drugs and alcohol without providing clear action steps can actually increase use. This happens when we arouse too much fear and provide too simple of an action message (RSAC Issue Brief 1: Use of Scare Tactics in Prevention Messaging, March 3, 2016). While it is important for parents to tell children that drug and alcohol use can come with dire consequences, it may be a good idea to focus on the positives, too. For example, they can explain that by avoiding substances and effectively managing issues such as peer pressure, it might make it easier for them to benefit from more important things like getting into a good college or performing well in sports and other extracurricular activities.

If parents truly find that they cannot have this conversation with their children themselves, it’s best to call a professional. A family counselor can sit with parents and children and make sure they are having heartfelt and productive discussions

  • Set a reasonable time for your child to be home.
  • Be awake and interact with them when they come home.
  • Be clear with your children and remind them often about your expectations that they not use drugs or alcohol.
  • Talk with them in advance about situations that may arise around alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
  • Discuss together ways to avoid uncomfortable situations.
  • Tell them why you make the decisions you do about chemicals, including medications.
  • Offer your children a safe ride home if they call. (That means you have to be available.)


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