Talking with your teen about how to handle the pressures of drug and alcohol use isn’t always easy, but it is important. William Goldman, DO, medical director of the Addiction Services Program at Akron Children’s Hospital says it’s not about having one good conversation, rather it’s best to have frequent and on-going dialogue.
“Adolescents are developmentally primed for high-risk behavior so it’s important to check in with them often and ask how they’re handling things,” said Dr. Goldman. “Parents shouldn’t just focus on teaching kids that drugs and alcohol are bad, but more broadly teach them skills about self-control, emotional awareness, problem solving and peer relationships, which will help support teens when faced with difficult or risky situations.”
Honesty is the best policy
The best approach is to be honest when talking with your teen. It’s okay to respectfully share your concerns about exposure to substances, your expectations for college and even your own history of substance use or pressures you faced. It’s important to explain that while you are safe now, your behavior or decisions in the past may not have been a good idea and could have ended badly.
“Encourage teens to be honest about any substance use and try not to be judgmental when they share their own concerns,” said Dr. Goldman. “As a parent, we try to help steer our children to solutions, but it can be just as important to share with your child that you are open to listening about concerns and ask for clarification when your child is asking you to listen or help with solutions.”
One technique Dr. Goldman recommends parents try is asking questions with permission, which allows kids to share what they know without lecturing. When parents share comments without permission, that’s when teens might shut down and stop listening.
Some conversation starters to try include:
- As a parent, I am concerned about things like drugs and alcohol. Do you have concerns about drugs and alcohol, as well?
- Do you feel like people are placing pressure on you to try drugs and alcohol?
- How are you handling peer pressure? Is there anything I can do to support you?
- Can I share something about me that may help you?
Signs your teen needs help
While talking can help your teen navigate peer pressure, it’s also a good idea to look for signs your teen is already struggling with substance, including worsening depression and anxiety over time, change in personality, behavior or mood, academic decline, loss of interest in usual/former activities, secretiveness/lying, as well as emotional or behavioral instability. Often there can be physical findings too such as red eyes, odd smells on clothing or getting the “flu” multiple times per year.
Remember that substance use disorders thrive in silence so if you notice changes or are struggling to find common ground with your teen, speak with a physician, spiritual leader, counselor, family member or other trusted source for guidance.
Akron Children’s Addiction Services Program can directly assist those who are 18 years old and younger or still in high school. The program can also connect families with community agencies that can help a loved one of any age. For more information or for a referral, call 330-543-5015, option 1.