Talking With Your Teen About Drugs

by Glenn Williams

I'd be a wealthy man if I had a dollar every time somebody asked me, "How do I talk to my teenager about drugs?" The problem is, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. How you talk to your teenager about drugs will depend on:

  • the nature of your relationship with him
  • how well the two of you communicate
  • how well you respect each other
  • whether he is used to having you provide input into his decisions
  • how he handles pressure from his peers
  • how confident you are in talking to him about drugs
  • the presence of risk and protective factors in his life

Spend time assessing your relationship with your teen and planning an approach that works for you.

Having put the burden on you like that, however, I can offer you some practical tips to help you with your adolescent.

Stay involved in your teen's world. When a teenager expresses a desire for greater independence, many parents get the message and decide to accommodate the desire ... to an extreme. Out of a sense of "respect," they disengage from their child's world.

This is a mistake and can be damaging to your child. You may need to shift to a coaching relationship, but make sure you don't withdraw completely. Your teen still needs to be affirmed and loved, and he needs to know that home is a safe haven where he can return even when he has made mistakes and has disappointed you.

Get past the resistance. Your teen may be seeking your help or advice but feels too proud or embarrassed to admit that he needs it. So listen not only with your ears but also with your eyes and heart.

Be honest with your views. It's important that your child knows how you feel about him, about his friends and about substance abuse. Look for opportunities to give positive (and genuine) input. He may also want to know why you feel the way you do.

Give your teen a network. When we hear someone mention peer pressure, we immediately think of it in a negative way. However, peer pressure can also be a positive influence if you have helped your child know what characteristics to look for in a friend. Furthermore, mentors whom your child can respect and receive feedback from as he journeys through the teenage years can be a lifesaver. Look for ways to expand his network of support through relationships you have developed at church, with other parents at school or with neighbors.

Attack the issue, not your teen. It is inevitable that your child will sometimes (or even frequently) disappoint you and place herself in situations where she is at risk. As a parent, it is only natural to want to jump in and do all you can to prevent that from happening. Unfortunately, if you believe that your child has not taken your advice, you may sense the urge to attack your child with emotionally charged words. If you feel that you cannot successfully address the issue without getting angry or exasperated, then address it at another time when you are more in control of your emotions. Or find someone your teen respects and ask that person to help you.

Why you should talk to your teens about drugs and alcohol

  • Your fears about discussing drugs and alcohol are not as important as the threat those substances represent.
  • If you don't talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol, someone else will.
  • Drugs and alcohol are part of our culture — your kids will be affected by them.
  • Even if you're a great parent, your children still might use drugs or alcohol.

Listen to this Focus on the Family broadcast as Glenn Williams discusses how parents can help their kids stay away from substance abuse.

Why teens use drugs and alcohol ... and how you can respond

  • Reason 1: To be liked by their peers. Your response: Stay involved in your kids' lives.
  • Reason 2: To escape from unwanted situations or transitions. Your response: Take time to listen and learn about your children's world — their challenges and needs — without being judgmental.
  • Reason 3: Because these substances seem fun and helpful. Your response: Be a reliable source of information for your children so you can speak responsibly and truthfully to them.
  • Reason 4: Because they see this kind of behavior modeled. Your response: Model a respect for your body through your lifestyle. Send the right message about substance abuse.
Listen to the Focus on the Family broadcast, Part 1 and Part 2, as Charles and Janet Morris share the story of their son's tragic death and how God's grace has sustained them.

Focus on the Family has resources and counseling to help you and your family. You can contact us during normal business hours at:

(800) A-FAMILY (232-6459)

Or you can find resources, referrals and articles to help you right now.

This article first appeared in the July/August, 2010 issue of Thriving Family magazine. Taken from Talking Smack by Glenn Williams. Copyright © 2010 by Glenn Williams. Used by permission of Biblica/Authentic Publishing.

~ See more articles for parents of teens. ~


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