Teen substance abuse has been a national issue for decades because of its impact on children, their physical and mental health, education, and the entire family. Whether they are considering using or not, talking to your son about drugs isn’t easy. It takes fearlessness to bring up his substance abuse risks. If you haven’t already had a conversation with him about drugs, now is the time. Talking now could decrease the chances of having to seek help for a problem down the road.
First, let’s start with some alarming numbers:
- According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), 97% of high school students say that their classmates drink, use drugs, or smoke.
- 12- to 17-year-olds that were surveyed reported that 47% of their classmates drink alcohol and 40% of their classmates use drugs.
- 44% of high schoolers report they know a classmate who sells drugs.
- 52% of high schoolers say that there is a place on school grounds or near the school where students go to drink, use drugs, or smoke during the school day.
- Nearly 50% of teens believe that prescription drugs are safer than illegal street drugs.
- 60% of teens who abuse prescription drugs get them free from friends and relatives.
So, here’s some advice to help make a conversation about drug use with your son a little less uncomfortable.
Set aside time to talk.
The last thing you want to do is catch your son off-guard when he is distracted and less likely to want to have this important conversation. If you and your son set the time and place for the discussion, there’s a good chance he’ll be more actively engaged. Don’t worry that asking about drug use may cause him to experiment with an illicit substance. A University of Washington Social Development Research Group study found no evidence that children will use a substance just because you asked about it.
Make it clear that you are anti-drug.
While there is no magical way to prevent kids from trying drugs, CASA discovered that teens who say their parents “would not be extremely upset” if they found out their child smoked, drank used marijuana are 8.5 times more likely to say it’s okay for teens their age to use marijuana – as compared to teens who say their parents would be “extremely upset” (34% vs. 4%). In other words, saying that you are against drugs and would be distressed about your kids taking them can prevent them from taking drugs. So being clear about how you feel about drug use makes a difference.
Talk about drug use early and often.
Kids are never too young to begin having this conversation. When it comes to talking to tweens, KidsHealth recommends discussing drug use in an open, non-judgmental way by asking them what they think about drugs. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids suggests using celebrity addiction stories and headlines as teachable moments to show the consequences of alcohol and drug use.
Honesty is the best policy.
Parents’ opinions do sway their teens, even if it doesn’t always seem that way. Talk honestly with your children about the negatives of drug use and the positives of not experimenting. Remember to be a role model – even if that means being honest about your past drug or alcohol use and what you learned from those experiences.
Ask for help when you need it.
If you find that you truly do not feel comfortable having this conversation with your kids, it’s best to call a professional. A family counselor can sit with you both to help have a heartfelt and meaningful discussion, rather than just sitting in awkward silences or getting into a fight that could cause more harm than good.
The Paul Anderson Youth Home is a Christian transformative organization that recreates healthy homes through enduring relationships, routines, and tough love. Since 1961, we have been shaping men of character. We want to offer a fresh start for troubled teenagers who need to change their lives and have reached a “dead end.” For parents in crisis, the PAYH is a sanctuary. Contact us at 1-800-559-PAYH (7294) or visit our website at payh.org to see how we can help.