Talking to your teenager about anything at all can be challenging at the best of times, let alone when it’s about important topics such as smoking, drugs or alcohol.
The teenage years are a time of self-discovery and trying new things. That may include your teenager trying alcohol, drugs and smoking for the first time.
So how do you talk to your teenager about such an important topic without them zoning out and not listening? Below are a few top tips to help you get started.
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You can also check out this helpful video from the NZ Drug Foundation to guide you through talking to your teenager about drugs and alcohol.
Did you know?
(Drug Foundation, NZ, 2019)
1. Start the conversation early
Start talking to your child early about alcohol, drugs and smoking in an age-appropriate way. For example, if you see someone smoking, you could tell your primary school-aged child that smoking is addictive and bad for your health. Set the wheels in motion at a young age so they better understand the risks involved. See the NZ Drug Foundation's conversation planner.
Don’t wait for your teenager to bring up the topic themselves, because chances are they won’t. In fact, bring the topic up way before you think they may be trying it.
2. Ask questions and be a good listener
Don’t be afraid to ask your teenager if they’ve tried alcohol, drugs or smoking or are curious about trying them. Ask if any of their friends have tried it or if they’ve been in a situation where people were using them. Ask them if they have any questions and really listen to what your teenager tells you. Let them talk by not interrupting them or jumping in with comments or opinions.
3. Try not to over-react
If your teenager does tell you they’ve tried alcohol, drugs or smoking, try not to over-react or freak out. While it may be hard, try to stay calm and listen in a non-judgemental way. If you over-react, they may not tell you anything again. It’s important to keep the communication lines open.
Peer pressure to drink or try cannabis can continue throughout the teenage years or beyond. If you think your child is using marijuana or other forms of cannabis, such as hashish or cannabis oil, try to work through the issues surrounding their cannabis use. Ask them what support they may need if they are using it to self-medicate for depression or other issues.
4. Be honest
Be as honest as you can be. Don’t talk up the risks or make things up. If you’re honest, then your teenager is more likely to be honest as well.
5. Educate them on the effects and the risks
Be armed with facts about alcohol, drugs and smoking. Know the risks associated with them and the effects they have on the body and brain, both short-term and long-term. Teenagers may not be aware of the risks or may have become mis-informed via their friends or the internet.
Teens using cannabis are probably not concerned about short-term effects such as drowsiness, increased appetite and impaired co-ordination. However, they may not be aware of the long-term risks such as reduced motivation, psychological problems and damage to their still-developing adolescent brain.
Tolerance and dependence can occur with regular cannabis use, meaning you need to take more of it to get the same effect. Talk with your teenager about how the more cannabis they use, the greater the risk they'll have long-term problems. Discuss the impact it can have on their future. Try to give them the facts without being judgemental. Telling them that all pot-smokers are ‘loser criminals who belong in jail’ probably won't score you any points with your teen. Focus on the risks; keep it about them and their future.
6. Be a good role model
Make sure you're a good role model for your teenager. Drink alcohol in a responsible way and don’t smoke or take drugs. If your teenager sees you acting responsibly, they are more likely to act that way too.
7. Be interested in their lives
Take an active interest in your teenager’s life. Knowing their friends, spending time with them and being there for them all helps them feel secure, confident and loved. Then they will be more likely to talk to you about what’s going on in their world.
8. Know where your children are and who they are with
Be aware that kids often have access to alcohol, cigarettes, cannabis and other drugs much earlier than you might imagine. Regular sleepovers at friends’ places and weekend parties can start before high school. Make sure you know whose place your kids are going to and check with their friend's parent or caregiver that they will be keeping an eye on them.
9. Seek professional advice
The New Zealand Alcohol Drug Helpline has in-depth information on its website. If you’re worried about your teenager’s alcohol, drug or tobacco use, contact your GP, the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797 or Quitline on 0800 778 778 for more information.
Alcohol Drug Helpline NZ
Drug information Cannabis The Level NZ
Cannabis New Zealand Drug Foundation
Effects of cannabis on the teenage brain (video) Cannabis Information and Support, Professor Dan Lubman, UK, 2013
- Smoking, drugs and alcohol – what do I tell my teenager? Triple P, NZ
- Helpful facts for New Zealand teenagers with questions about alcohol and drugs NZ Drug Foundation, NZ