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Talk to Your Teen About Substance Abuse Early and Often

A middle-aged woman is good spending time with her son in a cafe, they sit and talk. Mom looks at her teenage son with love. A boy tells mom about his friends. Focus on motherFew teens look forward to the day when their parents sit them down for “The Talk.” They are just as likely to cringe at a lecture from their parents on the topic of substance abuse. While your adolescent’s school district may incorporate drug and alcohol abuse awareness instruction into their curriculum, please do not take for granted that they are learning everything they need to know about substance abuse in school. The importance of fostering candid and open dialogue with your teen about drugs and alcohol cannot be underestimated, especially in the developmental years in which the influence of their peers will test their drug-free resolve.

Why Parents Need to Talk to Their Teen About Substance Abuse

What follows are three critical reasons why parents need to maintain regular dialogue with their child about drug and alcohol abuse.

Young People are Attracted to What they Perceive as Being Taboo

Research shows that parents who talk to their children about drug and alcohol abuse have the potential to make an impactful influence on their teen’s likelihood of using illegal substances. When behaviors, such as drinking, smoking, or doing drugs, are treated as secret, unspeakable actions, they become intriguing to many young people.

The idea that drugs or alcohol are taboo makes some children more attracted to them out of a desire to rebel against their parents’ conventions of what is acceptable behavior. Having conversations about the realities of drugs and alcohol one time is not enough. It is only when the conversation happens regularly and routinely that it becomes normalized for curious teens.

Guy with his father are resting and talking about teenage life

Young People Need to Hear About the Consequences of Substance Abuse from a Trusted Adult

Another reason why teens benefit from maintaining an open dialogue about substance abuse with their parents is that they often need a trusted source of information to quell their curiosity. Teens will learn about drugs and alcohol and the perceived positive effects of letting go and having a good time from their friends, movies, television, music, and social media. What they truly need, however, is the perspective of a trusted adult to share with them an understanding of the negative consequences of over-consumption. Parents who convey to their children the risks involved with substance abuse—which range from hangovers to traffic accidents, to overdoses—offer a critical perspective that young people need to hear.

Teens Should Learn About Long-Term Ramifications

Teens who have their whole lives ahead of them lack the long-term perspective that comes with age. In moments when they are presented with an edible, a shot of vodka, or ecstasy, they are thinking only about their feelings and motivations. They are not thinking about such long-term consequences as addiction, the damage to one’s school record that could impact college admissions, or the risk of an accident that results in a permanent disability. Hearing such risks in Health class is not enough. Parents need to regularly keep such risks top-of-mind with their children, so that at the moment when a peer offers them their first drink, smoke, or hit, they weigh the risks and rewards, and just say no.

Our school districts are doing vital work to educate our young people about the risks associated with substance abuse. Still, nothing replaces the influence and impact of a parent or guardian. Talk to your child about the dangers of substance abuse, even if it’s uncomfortable or you’ve had the conversation before. By maintaining open and honest dialogue, you will arm your child with the perspective he or she needs to make adult decisions when faced with dangerous choices.