Before you engage your teen in a conversation about drugs, you’ll need to prepare yourself.
Make a Plan
Go for a walk, sit where you can’t be disturbed, and think. Organize your thoughts. Reflect on the facts of the situation. Try to avoid negative feelings of anger and betrayal—as they won’t be useful to you in this conversation and may result in your child tuning out.
Decide what you want to say to your teen. Think about what additional resources you might need: a counselor, your faith leader, a school counselor, etc. Keep a dated journal of your feelings, discussions, and progress so that you can begin to identify a pattern of behaviour.
Present the Facts
Set the tone wisely. Open the discussion with a statement of your love and concern for your teen. You could begin with a statement of the facts as you know them: you found drug paraphernalia in their room; your teen has violated curfews; their grades have slipped; your teen has changed from being a “good kid” to someone who is getting into trouble at home, or school, or in the community; or simply, you have noticed your teen has become quiet, secretive and has changed from the kid you used to know.
After presenting the facts as you see them, ask your teen for their response to the information you’ve presented. Listen to your teen. Hear what they are saying. Try to determine if the problem is beyond your ability to help and therefore need to bring in a professional.
The next step is to discuss the shared information. This may be the most difficult part, as the tendency for both you and your teen will be to respond angrily to each other. Don’t accept flimsy excuses. Be steady and consistent in your approach. Don’t get lulled into “looking the other way” because it’s easier. Know that you are doing the right thing.
Firmly and warmly make it very clear that you will not tolerate drug or alcohol use by your teen. Identify the consequences if they do use. Some parents find it hard to set down clear rules. For these parents, it might help if they commiserate with their teen. For example, “I know it’s difficult that I have to make these rules. But I wouldn’t be a good parent to you if I didn’t take care of your safety and make them.”
Some parents find it hard to remember to be affectionate while making clear rules. This parent may want to begin by recalling with the teen a time in the past when the teen followed a rule with good results. For example, “Remember the rule we have about doing your homework before any other activity? And look how well that worked out because you did so well in school.”
Set Clear Consequences – Reward Good Behaviour
Let your teen know that you will be holding them accountable for their actions—and that there will be consequences for not following the rules such as loss of privileges or restricting their curfew. Also, consider offering incentives or rewards. “Catch them” doing something right.
Don’t be surprised if your teen gets up and walks away in anger. Let everyone cool down and prepare to have the conversation again. Some ways your teen may try to deflect the conversation are by saying: “Why are you making this such a big deal. Everybody does it.” “That’s not my stash; I was just holding it for a friend.” ”I only used once; I don’t hang out with those kids anymore.” No matter what they say, calmly remind them, that nothing excuses your teen from using drugs or alcohol.
Continue the Conversation
Talking to your kids about drugs is a continuous process—not an event. Let your teen know that you would like to have another “meeting” to check-in. However, if you find that you’re having the same conversation over and over and your message isn’t being heard, you may want to seek assistance from a health professional or coach.
Make It Safe
Teens may become defensive during your crucial conversations less because of what you’re saying than because of why they think you’re saying it.
- State what you don’t intend and what you do intend. “I want to reassure you that I have no desire to make your decisions for you or to cut you off from having a happy life. I want to be supportive of you, and I want to influence choices you might make that I believe will hurt you.
- Be flexible about when you talk, but not about whether you talk. Control is a huge issue for teens. Sometimes parents provoke unnecessary conflict by demanding conversations be on their terms. It’s best to try to engage your teen in dialogue by respecting their preferences about when to talk. For example, “I’d like to talk openly with you about your concerns and mine. I’m interested in hearing your views even if we disagree. Is now a good time to do that or would it be better later? And if later, when would be good for you?” Respecting your teen’s timetable for talking does not mean you are no longer the parent. If they don't want to talk now, show respect by being flexible—within reason. If your teen just doesn’t want to talk at all, help them understand why talking is required. For example, “I understand that you don’t want to talk right now. I also know that you intend to go to a party tonight where I have reason to believe there might be bad influences. If we can’t talk before then, I’ll need to decide how to deal with the party tonight on my own. If we can talk before then, it will give me a chance to hear your point of view. What would you prefer we do?”
- Create a “safety reserve” by creating safety even when there are no problems. Communicating respect, praising small positive signs, acknowledging when they are being good, and showing an interest in your teen’s life will help them feel safer talking to you when problems emerge.
Actively listening is a skill that requires a bit of practice, but is highly effective. Below are some examples of how you can exercise active listening with your pre-teen or teen.
Try asking open-ended questions.
These are questions that elicit more than just a “yes” or “no” response from your teen. Try: “Tell me more about it…"
Find the positives in a situation, no matter how hard it may seem.
Try: “Thank you for your honesty. I really appreciate it."
Let your teen know you hear them.
Reflect back what you are hearing from your teen—either verbatim or just the sentiment.
Try: “I’m hearing that you feel overwhelmed and that smoking pot relaxes you. Is that right?”
Sum up and ask questions.
Show them you're listening to them the entire time and ask for their input.
Try: “Did I get everything? Do you have anything more to add?”
Ask your teen if it's okay to speak with him or her about their concerns and whether it’s okay that you offer some feedback.
Try: “Are you okay with me asking you this? Do you mind if I give you some advice?”
Offer empathy and compassion.
Insert understanding and show your teen you get it.
Try: “I hear that smoking pot helps your anxiety. I’m sorry you’re feeling anxious, I know that’s a really difficult feeling. Can we think of some other activities that can help you relax?”
Discuss, agree on, and stick with boundaries
If you talk about rules around curfews, choice of friends, and your expectations of knowing where your teen is before they may be tempted to make bad choices, it is much easier to enforce them later. Then when boundaries are violated, hold your teen accountable consistently. If it’s a boundary, it should always be a boundary.
Evaluate the Dialogue
You’re aiming for a two-way, face-to-face conversation that gives your teen room to disagree with you and communicate a different point of view. After the conversation, ask yourself who did most of the talking. If your teen didn’t do at least 25 percent of it, you didn’t ask enough questions—or you didn’t create enough safety to allow your teen to participate fully.
Key Talking Points:
- We are here to make it clear that we will not tolerate any drug or alcohol use by you.
- We have rules in the family. The rules do not permit drug and alcohol use by pre-teens or teens.
- Even though you think everyone is using drugs or alcohol, it is illegal for minors and not allowable.
- You can endanger your life and the lives of others. We don’t want anything bad to happen to you. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.
- We count on you as a family member. Your brothers and sisters look up to you and care about you. What would they do if you were gone?
- Drug and alcohol use can ruin your future and chances to…graduate, go to college, get a job, and keep your driver’s license.
- We are here to support you. What can I do to help you not use drugs?
- Sometimes kids use drugs and alcohol because there are other issues going on like stress, unhappiness, and social issues. Have you thought about this? Are there other problems you want to talk about?
- Are your friends using drugs? How are you handling that? Is it hard to not use drugs in that environment?
- We won’t give up on you because we love you. We’re going to be on your case until you stop completely. If you need professional help, we will be there to support you and help make it happen.