It may be that you suspect your teen is using alcohol or drugs. You want to open up the conversation because you’re concerned. But you don’t want to put your teen on the defensive.
Some parents avoid the issue because it’s uncomfortable. That’s a mistake. According to Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, teens say their parents are the most important influence in their lives when it comes to this big issue and the best outcomes happen when parents intervene early and take action. So you can play a huge role in guiding your teens, even if it may seem like they aren’t listening.
The key is to focus on fostering open communication. Teens don’t listen when you just flat out tell them what to do. Instead, you need to talk openly and often, allowing them to express themselves.
Get Curious About Your Teen’s Point of View
These conversations shouldn’t just be about what you think is right and wrong. Instead, they should provide teens with an opportunity to really open up to you. The best way to nurture that is to approach the conversations with true curiosity.
What does your teen think about drugs? What experiences have they had? Whose opinions do they care about? Do they have questions about substance use?
There are so many things in your teen’s mind that you just don’t know. However, if you’re curious about those things then you’re halfway there.
Curiosity means that you:
- genuinely want to know what your teen thinks
- respect your teen’s point of view even if you disagree
- wonder about the logic and emotion behind your teen’s choices
- can listen with compassion, empathy, and non-judgment
- ask open-ended questions and really hear the answers by practicing active listening
Understand and Practice Empathy
Create a connection with your teen through empathy. This means that you try to put yourself in their shoes, but you don’t get enmeshed with their feelings.
For example, you may be able to detect that your teen feels a lot of fear around drug use, but this doesn’t mean you start taking on that fear as your own.
Showing your teen empathy can include:
- Use reflective listening to let them know you hear what they’re saying.
- Share your own experiences and emotions. But be clear that you understand your teen may or may not feel the same.
- Take the time to have these conversations without other distractions.
- Make use of non-verbal language, such as a pat on the back while your teen talks.
- Don’t label or judge what your teen shares. Look for the grays instead of seeing this as a black and white issue.
- Work hard to put yourself in your teen’s shoes. Let them show you what it’s like to be them.
- Avoid all statements that put down your teen. Use positive language.
- Stay calm, regardless of how your teen reacts.
- If they open up about drug use, let them know that this concerns you, then ask them how you can help.
It can be challenging to empathize with teens. Their behavior can trigger parents. Furthermore, teens themselves often appear to lack empathy, which natural causes parents to feel less empathetic.
However, demonstrating empathy will help your teen open up to have these difficult conversations. Moreover, it will model an important skill for them to develop as they grow.
Additional Tips for Talking to Teens About Drugs and Alcohol
Open up the conversation. Continue it without judgment. Focus on empathy and listening. The safer your teen feels coming to you, the more helpful these talks will be.
Some additional tips for parents who want to talk to their teens about substance use:
- Bring up the topic regularly so there isn’t a lot of pressure to make one single conversation go well.
- Express your own feelings about the situation. For example, “I feel left out of your life and would like to be able to talk about these things.”
- Share your own point of view on drugs without insisting that your teen feel the same way. You can set family rules and boundaries while still respecting that your teen may view things differently.
- Be honest. If you want your teen to be honest with you then you must expect to do the same.
- Provide brief factual information about the risks and concerns of drug use. Don’t lecture, but do make that information available.
- Educate yourself about the signs of teen drug use. Use concrete examples when talking with teens.
- Ask questions that allow your teens to think about the bigger picture. Let them come to some answers on their own.
- Use media, literature, and stories from your own lives as opportunities to talk about substance use.
Teen Therapy in Columbus, OH
Parenting a teen who uses or is considering using drugs and alcohol can be a challenge. Teen counseling can help support you during this time. If you feel like your family could benefit from teen therapy and are looking for a practice that offers teen counseling in Columbus, OH, please reach out and contact Blue Boat Counseling today. Our teen therapists are trained to help with these tough conversations and can provide anxiety counseling and teen depression treatment. You’re not alone. We can help.