Prepare yourself to talk effectively

Before you engage your pre-teen or teen in a meaningful conversation about substances, you’ll want to prepare yourself.

Here are some effective tools to help you set the stage for a conversation with your children about the use of cannabis, alcohol and other substances.

Make an agreement with yourself to stay calm. Tell yourself that you won’t “lose it” with your child. Anger and hostility will not get you anywhere in this conversation. Stay as calm as possible. Remember, you are the parent, and you can take the lead. Be kind, simple, and direct in your statements to your child. Above all, remember to tell your child that you love them.

Put yourself in your teen’s shoes.
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.

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, they are less likely to be receptive to your message. In order to achieve the best outcome for you and your teen, try to preserve a position of objectivity and openness. This may take some practice, but be patient with yourself.

Keep your goals for the conversation in mind

Developing goals in collaboration with your pre-teen or teen is important. The idea is to work together, parent and child, to achieve common objectives. Know that your goals should depend on the age of your child. You may have a very different set of boundaries for an underage teen than you would for a teen who is of legal age to consume cannabis. Here are some goals for your talk:

  • Gauge how your child feels about substance use in general.
  • Set boundaries around the use of substances
  • Gain insights into the pressures your child may be facing and find healthy coping skills together.
  • Express concern and compassion and offer support.
  • Research the effects of substances together with your teen.

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 or him, find some things to do that will help relax you (take a walk, call a friend, meditate).

Be honest about your own use of substances.
Your child might see you drinking alcohol or consuming cannabis and get the impression it’s a good way to cope with stress or anxiety. Think about how they may be modeling your reactions to stress, and talk with them about alternative coping mechanisms that are better suited for the developing brain.

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 – Engage.
A lecture can cause your teen to shut down, get angry or tune you out. Any language with a negative focus, like disapproval or shaming, can be perceived as a scare tactic. Engaging your teen in a calm, respectful dialogue that takes their point of view into consideration will be more effective and have a positive effect on future discussions.

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 your child’s anxiety and maybe even your own. Perhaps this means taking a walk with her or 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 they are standing, ask them 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.

It’s okay to ask to pause or take a break if the conversation becomes too heated.
You can acknowledge your own emotions and say “I think it’s best if we take a break right now. Maybe we can resume our talk tomorrow once we have had a chance to calm down and reflect on what has been said. I don’t want to say something that could be hurtful. ”

Still need help finding the right words?  

Practice the conversation with your spouse or a trusted friend. You may need to have a couple of practice runs. Going over what you want to say with your partner or friend first, will help you keep a level head and speak to the issue.

Review some of these suggested conversations first.

Here are some additional things to keep in mind whenever you talk with your child: 

  • Tell your child that you love them, and you are worried that they might be harming themselves by using drugs or alcohol; 
  •  You understand that drug use may seem like the thing to do, but doing drugs can have profound consequences on their mental and physical health;  
  •  That you are concerned about them when they do drugs; 
  •  You are there to listen to them; 
  • You want to help them find solutions; 
  •  You tell them what you will do to help them. 

Having discussions with your child about substance use is not a one-time event. Know that you will have these conversations many, many times.

Need more tangible help with a teen who is using? Get real time support that’s available 24/7 on our Parent Support Hub.