Chris Chandler, MA, LMHC, CSAT-CAs the research continues to show increasing drug and alcohol abuse among adolescents, it is more important than ever for you to talk with your teen about these issues. Here are a few practical suggestions to help maintain an open dialogue with your teen around this topic:
1. Educate yourself on the most common substances being used by teens today and the effects they may have on your teen. Be ready to answer questions for your teen. Be ready to help them consider all sides of their decision making. Otherwise, they will get a majority of their information from using peers (who are often ill informed or biased).
2. Take a stance of curiosity rather than control. So often we try to convince, coerce, and control our teens which evokes immediate defense. Seek to ask, understand, and align with your teen’s curiosities, desires, and decisions. This does not mean you agree with them but you help them explore these life decisions with wisdom and discernment.
3. Be realistic as you seek to discuss the possible consequences of substance use with your teen. Sometimes it is tempting to try scare tactics such as telling them they will get schizophrenia if they smoke marijuana. This is absolutely a possibility but is not likely unless they have a genetic predisposition toward schizophrenia or they smoke something that is laced (such as with embalming fluid).
4. Stick with examples particular to your child. For example, if they try to argue that it is natural, you can explore with them the chemically altering process of marijuana today in order to maximize THC levels (up from 4% in the 70’s to about 20% today). Marijuana today is far from natural.
5. Suggest alternatives. For instance, if they are using the “natural” argument, ask them what other “natural” things they can find to do feel better and alleviate boredom.
6. Know who your teen’s friends are and what kinds of activities they are involved in. Playing an active role in your child’s life is a proven way to help prevent underage drinking and drug use. This does not mean you need to put an ankle bracelet on them and constantly be looking over their shoulder but rather find ways to be active in their daily lives. For example, encourage them to have friends over to your house as much as possible. One parent told me the best investment they ever made was building a skate ramp in their back yard because they always had all the kids over to their house and never had to worry about what their teen was out doing with their friends.
7. Talking with your teen early on is one of the best ways to help them avoid problems later on. Average
onset of first use is 14 years old, so if you are not having these conversations by 12 years old, you are already missing the boat.
8. Encourage (possibly require) them to talk with someone that is educated and trained in these areas so that they can talk openly and honestly about their desires, feelings, and pressures that fuel their temptation to use substances.
The goal is to help them build a sense of self-efficacy where they not only desire to be healthy but have the ability to make choices based on these desires. Contact a licensed Christian counselor to get the tools necessary to open a dialogue with your teen and to prevent them from getting involved with drugs and alcohol.
Images cc: freedigitalphotos.com -“Drug And Money In Back Pocket” by Grant Cochrane
“Wine” by Salvatore Vuono