Updated on October 2, 2020
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), nearly one in three teens currently engages in activities that put them at risk for developing a drug problem. Often, there are warning signs: binge drinking, an obsession with others’ approval, a social life that revolves around illicit revelry.
As parents, it’s important to intervene—ideally before these behaviors have a chance to develop—and have a frank but calm conversation with your teen about drug use and abuse.
Start out by asking your teen what she knows about drugs, what she’s seen, and how she feels about drug use. Use her answers to guide your own approach: someone with a strongly negative view of drugs probably doesn’t need a lengthy speech about the dangers of using.
Avoid taking over the conversation: arm yourself with simple questions like, “I’m interested. What’s your opinion of marijuana?” that will help your teen feel included in the conversation.
Be Available if They Have Questions
General curiosity about drugs is normal for most teens. Before even sitting down with your teen, familiarize yourself with the drugs that are most common in your community, and learn how they’re made, sold, and what affect they have on the body.
Your first responsibility to your teen is to be a source of solid information and advice—and that includes information about drugs. Though it may feel “taboo” to talk about drugs, stay open to whatever questions they may have, and give them straight, honest answers. This may keep them from going off to find out about drugs on their own.
Address the presence of drugs—including alcohol and tobacco—in movies, advertisements, and television. Bring up a specific scene from their favorite show, and ask their opinion. Was it realistic? Were there consequences? How would your teen feel if a friend was in a similar situation?
Acknowledge that your teen is probably swamped with advertising from many angles, and admit that it can be difficult to resist their message. Come up with smart comebacks for the people in beer and tobacco ads—this exercise can help prepare your teen for dealing with peer pressure.
Avoid general, vague language when talking to your teen about drugs. Use what you learned in Tip #1 to help you here. Address the issues that are likely to be relevant to his life: use an article from your local paper to springboard into a discussion about a particular drug or incident. Calmly talk about the story: what happened and why, and how it will affect the future plans of those involved.
Address Peer Pressure
Explain that turning down drugs offered by a friend or a classmate can be very difficult. Empathize with your teen’s desire to fit in or be accepted, but reiterate the real dangers that can come from giving in to peer pressure. Brainstorm graceful ways to turn down such an offer, and try playing out a scenario in which your teen resists pressure from friends to try drugs.