While it is widely common for teens to experiment with drugs and alcohol, exposure to addictive substances can actually begin as early as 5 or 6 years old. That is why it is important for some parents to talk to children as soon as they enter school. Talking to them about this at a young age, however, is different from the conversations you will have with teens.
Let your children know that you will always be available to answer questions and would like for them to come to you. In dealing with pre-adolescent
Ask them about drugs and alcohol to see what they already know and believe.
Teach them what you know and help them learn more by exploring resources available to you, such as websites that discuss drug and alcohol use.
Allow them to ask about anything regarding drugs and alcohol that they are confused or curious about.
By starting the conversation at a young age, parents can make it easier to keep the communication going as children go through their teenage years.
Teens and Substance Abuse
Even though many teens experiment with drugs or alcohol, a supportive environment with open communication can play a big part in preventing them from turning to substance abuse as an outlet.
Bear in mind that they are likely to follow the examples of adults around them. Most teens will do what their parents do rather than what they are told, so telling them not to use drugs when it is part of their life at home is not going to keep them from experimenting. If you are drinking or doing drugs, your children are likely to follow suit so it is crucial that you set the right example.
Since teens are in the midst of establishing their own identities, it can be difficult to develop trust with them as they are ready to challenge rules and standards of life. During this time in their lives, remember to be patient with their process and keep working at staying in touch with who they are becoming.
To help your teen make better decisions, you have to do your own research about popular drugs and their side effects. Ask your teen what they hear from their friends. Then, conduct research together and express genuine interest in what they do or do not believe about drugs.
Many of today’s youth are curious about how it feels to drink or use drugs, but don’t automatically jump into conclusions if they express this curiosity with you. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Along with many other things they may decide to try, talk to them openly about the topic.
It is important to not exaggerate the consequences of experimenting with drugs and alcohol as this can backfire. Most teens have peers who are already drinking or using drugs, so they see individuals who are not suffering through dire consequences at this time. Telling your teen that they might overdose and die is not the best way to gain their trust or keep them from using drugs. At this age, they have no sense of vulnerability so using scare tactics like these will only make you lose your credibility with them.
Instead, talk to your teen about the pros and cons of drug use. Framing the topic in this way makes it easier for them to distinguish the consequences for themselves. Ask and answer questions about what they think about this information and see what they believe is true about drugs. This is how you can build a bridge between what they believe and what you believe. With the right approach and facts at hand, you will be able to facilitate a conversation that may make a difference for your teen.
Setting Parent-Child Boundaries
Even though you want communication lines to remain open, do not try to be a friend to your child. They have many of those already. What they need and want is a parent. Teens need and want guidelines, trust and boundaries. While these may be difficult to maintain, they are necessary parts of the parent-child relationship. You need to be honest and fair with them, and let them know that you expect the same from them in return.
As an authoritative figure, let them know that using drugs and alcohol will have consequences from you. Tell them what those consequences are and that you want to remain in the conversation. State what your expectations are as a parent and be sure to express your disappointment if they do something to disappoint you. Ask them what they think of the social and emotional consequences that drug and alcohol use will cause their lives. When they come to you with questions and problems, listen intently and allow them to express their feelings first without assuming they have already done something wrong.
Express when you are pleased with their choices and when you are not. Do not punish them for the truth, but remember that you have talked to them about consequences so stick to them. To set boundaries with this young adult, you must be firm and fair. Remember: Your teen will make mistakes, disappoint you when you expect too much from them, yet they will make you proud of the person the grow into — these are all part and parcel of parenting.