Studies have shown that there are things parents can do to reduce the likelihood that their children will experiment with drugs or alcohol. You may do many of these things already: Eating dinner as a family, taking an interest in what interests them, and getting to know their friends are all so-called protective factors.
Having regular conversations with your children about drugs is another protective factor. Here are some ways to make those conversations easier and more fruitful.
Meet Them Where They Are
Even if your days as a teenager are long behind you, try to remember what life was like at that age. The urge to rebel is powerful as teens work to figure out who they are. Adolescent brains are still developing and are driven to seek out new experiences, regardless of risk level. Peer pressure is also a powerful force.
Finally, being a teenager in the 2020s is a completely unique experience. Your child may have come of age in the middle of the pandemic. They’ve never known a life without the constant surveillance of social media.
Keep all of these things in mind when you talk to your child. Recognize that adolescence is a difficult time and approach the subject with empathy.
Be Open, Honest, and Calm
It’s okay to be nervous or feel uncomfortable about talking to your teen about drugs. It’s a difficult conversation to have and you may not like everything you hear from your child. You don’t have to hide or deny your feelings but staying grounded and calm is important so your child feels safe enough to be honest with you, too.
Think back to other difficult conversations you’ve had in the past. What worked and what didn’t? Use that to inform how you approach this conversation.
And remember: Just bringing it up and being honest will show your child that you care about them. That matters, too.
Acknowledge Any Family History
It might be tempting to shy away from mentions of a family history, but don’t. Lean into those stories; they can be valuable teachable moments. Children can better relate to family stories.
Maybe you struggled with substance use or have in the past. Be honest with your child and, if you are experiencing addiction, consider getting help. Working on your own recovery will make you a powerful role model.
Make It a Dialog, Not a Lecture
Maybe the most important thing to remember is to make sure your conversation isn’t one-sided. Encourage your child to talk to you about what they know. Ask them open-ended questions. If they have questions, answer them as best as you can, or look up the answers together if you don’t know.
Don’t talk down to your child and resist the urge to preach to them. Help them understand the risks without lecturing. Drugs can be more addictive for teens than adults, for example, and using them can lead to other risky behaviors.
From there, try working together to come up with possible situations where they might encounter drugs. Brainstorm ways to avoid using drugs while still maintaining their dignity in front of their peers. For example, if someone offered them drugs at a party, how can they refuse in a way that’s comfortable for them?
And finally, remember that you’re not perfect, and it’s okay for your conversation not to be perfect, too. Effort matters here; as long as you’re being honest and leading the discussion with love and understanding, you’re doing just fine.