Your children are coming of age in a time that is unlike what you experienced, and the dangers of drugs are more prevalent and able to travel right into the home via Snapchat and other social media sites.
In the past, we didn’t confront our teens about drugs until we saw the symptoms that they were using, like changes in mood, behaviour, friends, or appearance. That luxury is gone, thanks to fentanyl. Campaigns like the Drug Enforcement Agency’s ‘One Pill Can Kill’, and the trending hashtag #ExpectFentanyl, urge parents to be proactive and discuss the dangers of drugs before their child can make the mistake of taking a counterfeit pill that is laced with fentanyl.
How to keep communication open with your teen
As a parent, I know that the teen years can be difficult ones that strain family relations. But, ‘tuning out’ your teen’s distant behaviour and waiting for the difficult years to pass is no longer an option. Here are some things that may help you stay connected to your teen, and most importantly, keep the channel of communication open.
- Model adulting for your teen in a way you would have them do it. Your teen sees the behaviours that you are modelling and they hear the words you say (they may not listen, but they hear). Your teen is likely to follow in your footsteps, so be sure to “walk the walk” that you want them to learn.
- Help them with perspective. When your teen experiences disappointments or setbacks, keep reminding them that “this will pass.” If social pressures are pushing them to experiment with drugs or alcohol, help them stay grounded by reminding them that their life and their decisions are their own, and help them find self-esteem in maintaining their own identity and values.
- Tell your teen about your own experiences. Share your life experience, including your mistakes with your teen. Let them know that you experienced a lot of the same emotions, challenges, and disappointments that they are experiencing. Use your own experience to help them avoid mistakes.
- Keep them safe. Stay involved with your teen’s whereabouts, and activities, and learn about the members of their friend group. Teens benefit from supervision, although they will fight against it.
- Make sure your teen knows that you are there to help. Tell your teen you are there to listen, and most importantly, be ready and willing to have these conversations when they are ready to talk. Make sure your teen knows that you will bail them out of any dangerous situation.
- Show interest in the things they enjoy. Your teen will occasionally share their interests with you, and it will make them feel good if you validate those interests by acting interested.
- Have the necessary conversation about drugs. Again, we cannot afford to wait until the danger signs present themselves, you must #ExpectFentanyl and have the conversation with your child. Here are some tips in the next section.
How to talk to your teen about the pitfalls of drugs
As a family crisis counsellor, I have spoken to a lot of troubled parents whose son or daughter has developed a substance use disorder. All of these parents wish they could ‘turn back the clock’ and communicate the dangers to their children.
Here are some tips I have given parents who want to protect their children from drugs:
- Start with the facts about the dangers of drugs and start early (before they are ‘at-risk’).
- Ask questions, and listen to the answers.
- If they ask you something you don’t know the answer to, find the correct answer.
- Let them do as much of the talking as possible.
I can’t over-emphasise this last point enough. Listen to what your teen is telling you, make them feel safe asking and answering questions, and be non-judgemental.
Get some trained help from a counsellor
It can be daunting to connect with your teen over this sensitive subject. Fortunately, help is available in the form of family counsellors. It’s always helpful to talk with a behavioural health professional about your specific situation, and the counsellor will likely have insight and tools to help you take proactive steps to protect your child. You can start by contacting The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association (SAMHSA) Treatment Locator, which is a toll-free number that is staffed 24/7. That line can be reached by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
But don’t let perfectionism prevent you from giving this a try. Starting a conversation about the dangers of drugs, no matter how awkward and poorly executed, is better than not having the conversation. Show your teen you love them and help protect them from this insidious danger by talking to them today.
Scott H. Silverman is one of America’s leading experts on addiction and recovery. He’s made countless public speaking engagements and appearances on television to raise the alarm about the opioid epidemic. He is the founder and CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient drug rehab program in San Diego that specialises in helping Veterans, first responders, and executives achieve long-term recovery.