03-19-2020 01:27 PM - last edited on 03-20-2020 10:37 AM by Jess1-RO
Ask a Child and Family Professional
Question: "How do I best tackle the conversation if my teen is taking drugs?"
It can be very confronting to learn that your teen might be starting to experiment with drugs. Our greatest drive as parents is to protect our teens from harm and often when we hear that they are using drugs we fear the worse for them. It’s only natural then that as a parent you might feel the need to give your teen strong messages about how bad drugs are and that you don’t want them using them. In fact it can even lead us to dishing out harsh rules and consequences to try to keep them safe. All of these actions come from a good place but sometimes they don’t always have the outcome that we are looking for and instead can lead to our teens shutting down all communication around drugs, and also going behind our backs and doing it anyway. Here are some different ways that you could approach the situation.
Create an environment where your teen is more likely to talk to you about drugs and in particular their drug use. What this means is showing them that you can sit and listen to what they have to say without criticising, judging or lecturing them. Show them that you can handle the truth. It helps to give them praise that they have come to you with this issue, for example, “I’m really glad that you could be honest with me about this.”
Express your worries and concerns by using “I” statements. For example, “I’m really worried about you using drugs” instead of “you make me so angry by using drugs”. Using “I” statements helps to shift the focus away from blame and instead make it about your feelings. This will help your teen to be able to hear what you have to say.
Sit and really listen to your teen before jumping in to “fix” the problem. Acknowledge what they’re saying and feeling even if you don’t agree with the content. Without interrogating them, look for opportunities to ask open-ended curious questions with the purpose of increasing your understanding of their world. For example, “What was it like for you when you used drugs?” and “Do you think you would try it again?” Without this understanding of their world it will be challenging for you to have a role in guiding them to understand the risks of drugs and also helping them to stay safe.
When it comes to talking about the risk of drug use really think about your purpose here. Is it about giving them as much information as you can with the hopes that they will never try drugs again? Or is it about helping them to think critically about the information and the choices they make? This is a bit of a tricky space because we all know that as soon as teens start to feel lectured or overloaded with information often they just glaze over and stop listening. An alternative strategy is to try to get them more engaged in the conversation and come up with their own ideas. For example, “Are you aware of the risks of using drugs?” and “How could you keep yourself safe from drugs?” Sometimes they won’t have the answer and sometimes you won’t either, this is a good opportunity to do some research together to find the answers. Another great way of getting your teens to use their brains is asking for their input around the pros and cons of drug use to help them work out the best choices themselves.
When sharing your thoughts about drugs be calm and provide them with the facts. Sometimes it can be helpful to give them small pieces of information over time so that they can digest it better. Also check in with your teen if they would like professional support around their drug use. A good place to start is with your GP. And remember if your teen is currently using drugs and you are worried about the safety of them or others then please call emergency services to assist you.
For more tips, you can check out ReachOut's article on Alcohol and Drugs
Child & Family Professional, The Benevolent Society
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