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.
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.
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
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 partaking. 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.
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
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.
6. Be a good role model
Make sure you are 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. Role-play saying “no”
Peer pressure is a big deal for teenagers, so talk about how it’s okay to say “no” if they are offered something. You could even role-play different scenarios and practice saying “no” in different ways.
8. 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.
If you’re worried about your teenager’s alcohol, drug or tobacco use, contact your GP or call the alcohol and drug helpline on 0800 787 797 or Quitline on 0800 778 778 for more information.
- 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