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Talking to teens about drugs

Abbi Perets lives in Houston, TX, with her husband and five children.






Keeping teens drug free

What is the best way to talk to your kids about drugs? It's a scary world out there. Your teen is exposed to all kinds of opportunities to wreck his life -- drugs, alcohol, fast cars, bad choices. Do you have to stand by helplessly and hope for the best? Or are there actions you can take today to help your teen have many more tomorrows?

Mother and Teenage Daughter

We all want our kids to be safe. When they're small, we padlock cabinets and put gates at the bottom of the stairs. As they get older, though, their world expands beyond the walls of the house -- and suddenly, keeping our kids safe is next to impossible.

Many of today's teens are exposed to dangerous situations on a daily basis. Schools -- even expensive private ones -- provide ample ways for kids to find, purchase and try drugs and alcohol. Unless you spend every waking moment at your teen's side, he undoubtedly has a life outside of you. He experiences things of which you're unaware -- and though it's unpleasant, this means you have to be open to the possibility that someone in your child's life wants him to try drugs.

defensive strategies

"Make a deal with your kids that they can always use you as an excuse." encourages Vanessa Van Petten, youthologist and teen author of the parenting book You're Grounded! "Tell your kids, 'If you ever do not want to do something, blame it on me. Tell [your friends] you have the strictest parents in the world who randomly drug-test you and wait up until you get home to smell your clothes.'" Make it clear that your teen can use this excuse even if you aren't actually doing these things. "This gives kids freedom and an easy way out of a peer pressure situation -- and puts kids and parents on the same side," explains Van Petten.

She adds, "One of the major reasons kids try, or more often, use drugs socially and consistently is because, in their own words, 'they have nothing better to do.'" She encourages parents to try various (sober) activities with their kids. For a true teen perspective, take a look at Van Petten's Radical Parenting, a blog written by 60 teen writers aged 12 to 20; you'll get an honest and open view into the world and mind of youth.

Encourage open communication

One of the most important things you can do to keep your teen off drugs is to talk to her. All the time. Even when she thinks you're annoying, even when you'd rather be reading a book, even when you don't want to talk -- you must.

Consider this conversation:

Your 15-year-old son: Hey, Mom, can the guys come over here on Saturday night and you give us a couple of beers?

You, horrified: Absolutely not! I can't believe you would suggest such a thing!

Guess what? You totally failed that test, and you've just ensured that your child will never willingly talk to you about drugs and alcohol again. Here's another version.

Your 15-year-old son: Hey, Mom, can the guys come over here on Saturday night and you give us a couple of beers?

You: Well, that's a pretty interesting request. Want to tell me where that came from?

Y15YOS: I want to know what it feels like to be drunk. And I'd rather be here, where I don't have to worry about OD'ing or riding home with someone who's been drinking or whatever. So I thought maybe this was a good way to try it, to see what the big deal is.

Note that you haven't committed to anything, but now you have an incredible wealth of information. If your child ever comes to you with such a request, please, please realize how incredibly lucky you are and respond accordingly.

Seize teachable moments

"I think that there are many teachable moments that parents miss," says Van Petten. "They often think that having a 'drug talk' is the best way to talk to their kids about drugs, and this is fine -- but it is not enough." Rather, she says, let the conversation come up naturally. "You're watching TV with your kids, and a character on their favorite show overdoses. That is a good moment to softly talk, not lecture, about what happened and their thoughts."

Spend time together

Open communication can happen only if you regularly spend time with your teen. Insist on a daily family meal -- dinner is traditional, but breakfast can work just as well -- and do not let anyone make excuses for missing it. (This includes you and your spouse. Let your kids know they are a priority in your life.)

Talking won't solve every problem in the world. But open communication might just be enough to keep your kid safe from drugs.

For more tips on keeping kids off drugs:

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