This content comes from the Marijuana Talk Kit from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.
Talking to teenagers is difficult to begin with. Talking to them about drugs and alcohol is even harder. As a parent, you are often met with resistance. The good news is there are ways to engage your teen that promote open and positive communication. Here are some effective tools to set the stage for a conversation about substances:
Keep an open mind. If you want to have a productive conversation with your teen, one thing to keep in mind is that when a child feels judged or condemned, she is less likely to be receptive to your message. We suggest that, in order to achieve the best outcome for you and your teen, try to preserve a position of objectivity and openness. We understand that this is challenging and may take practice.
Put yourself in your teen’s shoes. For instance, consider the manner in which you yourself would prefer to be addressed when speaking about a difficult subject. It might be helpful to think about how you felt when you were a teenager.
Be clear about your goals. It may help to write them down. Once you know what you would like to get from the conversation, you can look back at these afterward and review what went right, what went wrong, what goals were met, which ones were saved for a later date and whether you were able to deliver them effectively.
Be calm and relaxed. If you approach your teen with anger or panic, it will make it harder to achieve your goals. If you are anxious about having a conversation with her, find some things to do that will help relax you (take a walk, call a friend, meditate).
Be positive. If you approach the situation with shame, anger, scare tactics or disappointment your efforts will be counter-productive. Instead, be attentive, curious, respectful and understanding.
Don’t lecture. Keep in mind that if you spoke with her about drugs when she was younger, she already knows that you disapprove of her use. To lecture her about this will most likely lead to her shutting down, tuning you out, anger or worse — it could be misinterpreted as you disapproving of her instead of her actions, which can lead to shame and, in turn, more substance use. Throwing your weight around in order to stop something from happening (“You can’t, because I’m your parent and I said so”) is highly ineffective. Avoid pulling rank if you get frustrated.
Find a comfortable setting. Announcing a sit-down meeting (“We need to have a talk after dinner”) will usually be met with resistance, while a more spontaneous, casual approach will lower her anxiety and maybe even your own. Perhaps this means taking a walk with her or and sitting in the yard or park. Look for a place that feels less confined but not too distracting.
Be aware of body language. If your teen is sitting, you want to be sitting as well. If she is standing, ask her to sit down with you. Be mindful of finger-pointing and crossed arms; these are closed gestures, while uncrossed legs and a relaxed posture are open gestures.
Here are some more guides for talking to your teens: