The teenage years are incredibly formative. It’s a time of self-exploration and experimentation when kids are figuring out what they like and dislike. This is also when many kids get exposed to drugs and alcohol for the first time. As a result, parents need to have a conversation with their teens about the dangers of drugs and help them deal with peer pressure around risky behaviors.
Why Parents Should Talk to Their Kids About Drugs
For parents of teenagers, having an open discussion about drugs is important. It’s unrealistic to think that your kids aren’t going to get exposed to drugs by their friends, or even an older sibling. Turning a blind eye and pretending that drugs don’t exist doesn’t benefit your teen. In fact, ignoring the situation altogether can be detrimental to your teen in the long run.
Many parents neglect to have conversations about drugs because they assume their kids are getting drug education at school. In reality, school drug programs have been proven to be mostly ineffective. The main problem with classroom drug education programs is that they’re focused solely on prevention.
If you were in school during the 1980s or later, you probably remember DARE, the anti-drug education program taught in schools. Despite huge amounts of funding, DARE wasn’t effective in preventing kids from doing drugs. The program famously used scare tactics to convince students that drugs would ruin their physical health and their success in life. Unfortunately, kids didn’t buy it—they noticed the clear exaggerations of the curriculum right away.
Ultimately, parents are the main authority figures in a child’s life. Even the most rebellious kids probably have more respect for their parents than a teacher at school. Parents have the power to set curfews, take away driving privileges, and so on. By talking to your kids about drugs, they will take the conversation more seriously because they know you’re keeping tabs on their behavior.
Sharing Your Own Experiences
While talking to your teen about drugs, one way to build rapport is to share your own experiences at their age. Adolescence hasn’t changed much from decade to decade, so chances are, you were also exposed to drugs as a teenager. Whether you chose to use drugs or not, being open with your child about your experience lets them know they aren’t alone.
Transparency is important here, but in order for the conversation to be effective, try not to glorify your experience with drugs. If you were a heavy marijuana user throughout high school, share that with your child. However, be honest about your experience. Maybe it made you tired all the time, and as a result, your schoolwork suffered or you had to quit a sports team.
Establishing Trust Around Drugs
It’s important to remember that talking about drugs isn’t a one-and-done discussion. Drug education should be a continuing conversation that happens regularly over time. In order to have effective discussions, you need to establish trust with your child. Without a foundation of trust, your child won’t feel comfortable opening up to you, which is the key to making a real impact.
It’s best to start talking about drugs with your child in their early teenage years. Kids are much more likely to trust you and be open to talking about situations when they aren’t already experiencing them. When a situation does arise, your child will be more comfortable coming to you and will be more open to talking about it.
Help Your Kids Cope with Peer Pressure
Peer pressure is a real threat to teenagers today. Not only are they being pressured by their friends to try drugs, but they’re also being encouraged to cheat on tests, bully other kids, and engage in other poor behavior. By helping your kids deal with peer pressure around drugs can help them learn to say no.
One of the most effective ways to deter kids from using drugs is to randomly drug test them. When a friend pressures them to take a drug, it gives them an easy excuse to say no. You can also role-play situations where drugs are present, and help your child find ways to avoid drugs. It’s also important for parents to teach their kids how to cope with stress in a healthy way, instead of turning to drugs as a release.
Don’t worry about your kids thinking you don’t trust them. Chances are, they already think that way. That’s why parents should start having conversations with their kids about drugs from an early age when trust is easier to establish, and kids are more likely to take the conversation seriously.
Know the Signs of Substance Abuse
The fact of the matter is, kids today are using drugs. According to a survey of 46,000 teens, 13 percent of 8th graders, 30 percent of 10th graders, and 40 percent of 12th graders say they have used a drug at least once in the past year. The most commonly used drug among the group was marijuana.
Trying a drug once is generally harmless, but if you suspect that your teen is abusing drugs, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of substance abuse disorder. The biggest sign is change, whether it’s related to physical appearance, personality, or attitude. Some of the most common symptoms of substance abuse include:
- Restlessness or insomnia
- Cold skin, sweating and shaking
- Poor coordination
- Poor school performance
- Chronic dishonesty
- Poor concentration or forgetfulness
- Secretive behavior
- Constantly asking for money
- Lack of motivation
Substance Abuse Treatment at Mission Harbor
If your teenager is struggling with substance abuse, getting professional treatment is the first step towards a successful recovery. At Mission Harbor, we specialize in the treatment of addiction and mental health disorders in adolescents, using therapies like talk therapy, detoxification, meditation, family therapy, and more. Contact us today to learn more about the services we offer at our outpatient center in Santa Barbara.