Adolescent Substance Abuse Articles
Parents Fess Up: Why Straight Talk Is Best When Talking to Your Kids About Past Drug Use
By Meghan Vivo
With one simple question - "Mom, Dad, did you ever try drugs?" - you know what’s coming: the dreaded "drug talk."
Instantly you wonder how much to divulge. If you share the gory details of your adolescent pranks, will your kids think they have permission to behave similarly? If you dodge the question or withhold information, you miss a valuable opportunity to teach your kids about drugs and alcohol – and, most likely, they’ll know you’re not being completely honest with them and you’ll lose credibility.
So what do you do?
To Talk or Not to Talk
Research shows that the best approach is to talk about teen substance abuse. According to a recent study by market research company Ipsos Public Affairs (on behalf of the Hazelden Foundation), teens say hearing about their parents’ experiences with drugs and alcohol would make them less likely to use the substances themselves.
Parents have more influence than they think. In fact, teens’ primary source of advice about drugs and alcohol is their parents, the study showed.
The study, which involved 603 boys and girls between the ages of 15 and 18, as well as 620 parents of teens in the same age range, also revealed the following:
- Sixty-seven percent of the teens said their parents had already told them about their past drug or alcohol use, and almost all (95 percent) of those teens thought their parents did the right thing by doing so.
- One-third of the teens said their parents had not shared information about their past drug use, and most of those teens wished their parents would’ve been more open.
- More than 60 percent of the teens said that hearing about their parents’ experiences with drugs or alcohol would make them more responsible, and more than half said it would make them less likely to use drugs.
- Most parents who hadn’t talked to their teens about their own past use said the reason was because they'd rather have their children do as they say, not as they did when they were young.
Previous studies have reached similar conclusions, indicating that kids who talk about drugs with their parents are 50 percent less likely to use drugs. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America’s (PDFA’s) 2008 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study found that 37 percent of teens said they had "learned a lot" from discussions with their parents about drugs (though parents still need to do a better job of talking about prescription drug abuse).
"Parents are talking, and what you see in the study, particularly among the girls, is the willingness of kids to listen. They're more open to talking about the drug issue than kids in the past," said PDFA President and CEO Steve Pasierb.
By discussing your experiences with drugs or alcohol with your teen, you can share what you’ve learned, what you’ve seen others experience and offer sound advice from someone who has been there.
Approaching the Conversation
The Hazelden study suggests that times have changed. While 63 percent of parents said their parents told them "nothing" about their drug or alcohol use as teens, today’s parents have learned that telling the truth is more effective.
If the drug conversation is still intimidating to you, the following tips may help ensure a smooth first attempt. Having the conversation early and often will help keep open the lines of communication as your teen grows into a young, independent adult.
Ask Questions. As you may have already noticed, lectures don’t work with teens. Instead, try starting a conversation by asking what your teen thinks about drugs. Whatever the answer, be sure to remain nonjudgmental and understanding. This way, you’ll get the honest response you were looking for and your kids will know they can come to you in the future.
Discuss Current Events. Randomly starting a conversation about drugs can be awkward. If you wait until a drug-related topic comes up on TV, in the newspaper, or in a situation with a friend at school or work, it will be easier to discuss the issues without your teen feeling like you’re attacking them.
Stay Involved. Talk to your kids every day. Parents who know their teens’ friends and teachers, monitor their teens’ extracurricular activities, and participate in special events and school activities are more likely to raise teens who don’t use drugs or alcohol. Creating a loving home environment, where teens feel comfortable talking about their feelings and where they feel good about themselves, will help encourage your teen to come to you with questions and concerns.
Set and Enforce Rules. Make sure your teen knows that you do not approve of using drugs or alcohol, and explain the physical, emotional and legal consequences of breaking the rules. Talk about your expectations before an issue arises. When your teen knows the types of behaviors that are unacceptable to you, any disciplinary measures you take will not come as a surprise. Be sure to also praise your teen for good behavior.
Be a Role Model. Whatever your past experiences with drugs and alcohol, be a positive role model for your teen now. If you solve problems, enjoy free time and manage stress without using drugs or alcohol, your teen will know how to do the same.
Whether parents like it or not, many teens are experimenting with drugs. According to the Hazelden study, 54 percent of teens admitted to using drugs by the time they leave high school and 50 percent used alcohol by eighth grade. Pretending the problem doesn’t exist will lead to more drug use, more lies, and more frustration for both you and your teen.
If your kids aren’t talking to you about drugs, you can be sure they’re getting their information somewhere. Make sure they’re getting reliable, accurate facts from sources that care: you.