The questions are tough to hear and challenging to answer:
- “Mom, why is marijuana legal in some states and illegal in others?”
- “Dad, what should I do if all my friends are drinking at a party and pressure me to have a beer?”
- “My neck hurts. Can I take one of those Vicodins you were prescribed after your surgery last year?”
- “Mom, Dad, did you drink when you were in high school?”
These are important questions your teens might be asking. And even if they aren’t asking, the topics are still important ones to discuss with your kids. Unfortunately, these hard conversations often scare parents, who worry they might not get their point across, will sound too frantic when their teens are asking about pot or won’t know what to say beyond “just say no.”
These fears are valid, but they shouldn’t prevent you from talking with your kids about drugs. Here is a parenting class in a blog for you: how to have the hard conversations about drugs and alcohol with your teens.
Stay Calm: You Can Do This!
You likely have previously engaged in other hard conversations—a loved one dying, their schoolwork, the birds and bees, and so on—with your kids. Talking about drugs and alcohol with teens takes on added importance because their well-being is at stake, but that doesn’t mean you can’t handle it. Take a deep breath, stay calm and begin the conversation. Being nervous is OK, but you can do this—and you must do this.
Pace the Conversation
When engaging in the hard conversations about drugs and alcohol with your teens, be mindful not to throw too much information at them all at once. If you start rambling, you risk not only that your kids will tune you out, but also that they won’t fully take in all the important things you are trying to say—even if they are attentively listening. Pace yourself, be careful of information overload and, again, take a deep breath. Explaining the different ways pot can be smoked, for example, isn’t as important as imparting upon your child that any way is unhealthy.
Moreover, don’t try cramming what might be a 10-minute talk into a two-minute time frame. Set aside time—take your teen for coffee, for example—or engage your child while you are stuck in traffic. If you try rushing a hard conversation, your teen may end up more confused than before it started.
Be as Direct as Needed
Do not dance around the subject of drugs and alcohol—be as direct as possible. If you leave an opening such as, “Well, marijuana isn’t as bad as heroin,” it can create a sliver of doubt with your teen that maybe smoking pot is OK. Send clear messages so there is no doubt whatsoever: Drugs, underage drinking and tobacco are unacceptable, period.
Talk, but Also Listen
A conversation in which just one person is talking isn’t a conversation—it’s a lecture. Your teens’ opinions are important; failing to respect what they have to say will increase the likelihood they in turn won’t respect what you are saying. Hear your kids out, answer questions as thoughtfully and honestly as possible (but remember, you don’t need to volunteer too much information, particularly if they ask if you drank as a teenager), and make sure your conversation truly is a conversation. That said, the hard conversation shouldn’t be a negotiation—you are the parent and make the rules concerning drug, alcohol and tobacco use.
Don’t Try to Be an Expert
You want to be as informed as possible for the hard conversation, and plenty of resources are available to acquire that information—helpful websites, parent peer groups, parenting classes, help from teachers and school counselors, and so on. But don’t try to be a total expert (again, if you get too technical, your child may tune you out). Feel free to say “I’ll get back to you” if you don’t know the answer to a question your teen asks, but then make sure that you do follow up.
Work with Other Parents
Finding the strength to engage in hard conversations about drugs and alcohol with your teens is challenging, but fortunately, you aren’t alone. Parents throughout your community face the same challenge, so don’t hesitate to contact them for support and advice. You should make an extra effort to get to know the parents of your kids’ friends—after all, if the friend group is hanging out together, they will face similar social situations and pressure. Discuss shared values, rules and boundaries with these other parents. Knowing other parents have your back will give you confidence for starting and continuing the hard conversations with your children.
How easy or difficult is it for you to talk about drugs and alcohol with your teens?