The Importance of Communication

Talking with your kids about substance use is not a one-time event.

Even if you feel you don’t have all the answers, frequent, open, and age-appropriate conversations about drugs and alcohol should start as early as possible so that your kids will understand the health consequences of using substances when they’re young.

Get informed about some of the substances your kids might encounter and share the facts about the drugs, as well as the potential impacts on mental and physical health they have on young people can do a lot to prevent or delay experimentation.

Make it a relaxed two-way discussion, not a lecture. Discuss your feelings about substance use calmly and listen to what they have to say. Ask them what they’ve heard at school about cannabis, for example. They may have a very different understanding or perception and chances are, they have already heard things from their peers that are misleading or do not align with your feelings. Try not to dismiss their input, but listen with an open and calm mind.

If you don’t feel like you know enough about a particular substance, use the opportunity to say so – and invite your child to research it online with you.

Set clear boundaries about substance use. If underage drug use is not condoned in your family, your kids need to clearly understand those boundaries. Make your expectations clear. And let them know that no matter what, if they need help, they can always reach out to you.

Before you begin  – Get Ready to Talk! 

Talking with your kids about drugs might seem tough at first, but it is important. Here are some simple steps you can take to get ready for conversations with your children.

Download Get Ready to Talk brochure here.

What happens if you suspect that your teen is already using alcohol and drugs?

Talking about it with your child can be helpful, but ensure that you are actively listening to what your kids are saying.

An open conversation about their drug use might not be an easy thing to do, but it’s a valuable opportunity to find out more about why your kid might have decided to try vaping, or experiment with a substance like cannabis or alcohol, or another drug.

Kids are living through a great deal of stress and anxiety, and using substances may start off by being a coping mechanism to help them get through their difficulties. Help them by offering suggestions on healthier ways to cope, and let them know you are always there to talk with them.

If they’ve just tried pot or alcohol a couple of times at a party, this would be a good chance to inform them about the effects of cannabis on the developing brain, or the harms of binge drinking on the body. These conversations may be enough to cause them to reduce their use or stop altogether.

Make sure that your child is not harming themselves with the substances they are using, and if you are worried for their health and safety, feel overwhelmed or find it impossible to reach your kid, seek professional help.

Your pediatrician can help create a safe place for your teenager to talk about their issues, and recommend a continuum of care if required.

There are significant harms that can be caused by non-medical opioid use and/or the use of street drugs that may require additional help or intervention from a medical professional.

It’s OK to ask for help. In fact, getting help from a medical professional may make it easier for you and your child to have meaningful conversations.

Need help finding the right words? Get prepared.

Practice the conversation with your spouse or a trusted friend. You may need to have a couple of practice runs. Many people find these conversations difficult to have, but they are worthwhile. Talking it over with your spouse or friend beforehand will help you keep a level head and speak to the issue. Review some suggested conversations beforehand.

Make an agreement with yourself to stay calm. 

Tell yourself that you won’t “lose it” with your child. Anger and hostility won’t get you anywhere in this conversation. Stay as calm as possible. Remember, you are the parent and you are in charge. Be kind, simple, and direct in your statements to your child. Above all, remember to tell your child that you love them.   The conversations might not be perfect — no conversation ever is, but know that you are doing the right thing for your child. That’s what matters most.

Here are some suggested things to keep in mind when you talk to your child:

  • Tell your son or daughter that you LOVE him/her, and you are worried that he/she might be using drugs or alcohol;
  • You KNOW that drugs may seem like the thing to do, but doing drugs can have serious consequences;
  • It makes you FEEL worried and concerned about them when they do drugs;
  • You are there to LISTEN to them;
  • You WANT them to be a part of the solution;
  • You tell him or her what you WILL do to help them.

Know that you will have this discussion many, many times. Talking with your child about drugs and alcohol is not a one-time event. 

If you are a parent who is single, divorced, or separated, raising your teenager may bring additional challenges, but these conversations are still important.

Help for Divorced or Single Parents

Raising your children may bring additional challenges if you’re doing it on your own. If you know or suspect that your teenager is using drugs, you may want to reach out to your extended family and friends for help with this problem. Although difficult, you may also need to talk with your ex-spouse, or the child’s parent, in order to create a consistent plan for establishing and maintaining limits for your teenager.

Firmly, yet warmly make it very clear that as your child’s parents, you both need to have the same boundaries when it comes to drug use. Identify the consequences together if your teen does use drugs.

All parents find it hard to set and enforce rules, but it’s particularly hard for single parents who are hesitant and don’t want to disrupt the balance of the relationship with their teen. For these parents, it might help to commiserate with your teen. For example, you could say, “I know it’s difficult that I have to make these rules. But I wouldn’t be a good parent if I didn’t take care of and protect your safety.”

Also, remember to be available to listen if your teen is having difficulties dealing with your divorce or separation. Use consistent discipline in your home and attempt to communicate with your child’s other parent in order to continue to enforce the same rules in both households. Make clear rules about curfews and be consistent about asking your teen which friends he/she is hanging out with. Be particularly attentive about knowing where your teenager is after school, especially if you are working long hours. Lastly, continue to help your child grow their relationships with grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts in order for them to have valuable role models besides yourself.

For specific tips on starting conversations with your teen, read these conversations.

For more information on building support groups, click here.