How to Have BIG Conversations with Your Teens

August 11, 2022

By Zach Shifflett, Resident In Counseling 

There are many challenging questions a lot of parents have to face as their children grow up. In this post, I specifically want to focus on helping parents broach one of those challenging topics.

Do I talk to my kids about drugs?

When parents face that question, it is often followed by many more!

  • What do I tell them about drugs?
  • Will telling them about drugs make them more likely to use them or more curious to try them?
  • How do you start this conversation in a way that is productive?
  • How can I provide accurate information?
  • Should I or should I not use scare tactics?
  • Do I tell them about any family history with substance use?

Sometimes it seems like the list of questions about how you have the conversation with your children can be harder to conquer than having the conversation itself! Let’s start with an analogy to help consider why having this conversation is a good idea. If you haven’t already, you will one day start to teach your children to drive.

  • How do you talk with them about the dangers of speeding?
  • Will they notice that maybe you occasionally speed?
  • Do you think that not talking with them about how dangerous it is to speed recklessly will keep them from being tempted to slam on the gas?
  • Are you worried if you explain the danger, they will challenge you as being ‘too cautious’ and do it anyway?

Ultimately, we always decide to educate our children on these dangers in hopes that we can prevent the worst from happening. To do that in the most successful way, we have to be ready for them to challenge us on these topics and even question our own behaviors.

So now let’s talk about how we prepare for this conversation. It is important that when we start any conversation about a sensitive topic, we are as prepared as possible to answer questions and not afraid to admit when we do not know something. What we want to avoid is a power struggle or making broad statements that we cannot back up. Does every person who experiments or recreationally uses marijuana, alcohol, or nicotine have their life ruined? No. Does struggling with mental illness make your odds of struggling with substance misuse and abuse worse? Yes.

Are scare tactics a good way to prevent substance use? Probably not.

A few more questions along these lines might come up as well. Does having a family history of substance misuse increase the risk of future generations having difficulties with substances? Yes. Are there a lot of risks to be considered with every substance of use? Yes!

There are far more questions than I could ever reasonably answer in a short blog post, but I will conclude the post with a bit of wisdom and a suggestion of where to start to help guide you in having this important conversation. I always recommend that your plan is to be as honest as you can with your children, admit if you have limitations or are lacking in specific knowledge, express your desire to learn more together with them, and to get that information from peer-reviewed, unbiased sources.

SAMSHA is an excellent resource to start that information gathering journey. And, finally, it is important to start every challenging conversation with your child from a place of care, concern, and non-judgmental understanding. If things seem too difficult, it is never a bad time to seek the help of a trained professional to help guide you and your family.

Until next time, Be Wise!