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How to Talk to Your Teen About Drugs

Today's kids, including those in the East Bay, know more about drugs than parents and teachers think. Here are tips to start a conversation.

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It used to be that there was only one "talk" you had to worry about with your kids. However, in today's world, children are exposed to drugs and alcohol earlier than you might think. Yes, even here in Lamorinda, Walnut Creek, and the Tri Valley.

As a family therapist specializing in substance abuse and addiction, I often find myself sitting with parents who are unsure how to talk to their children about drugs and alcohol. So, here are suggestions on how to broach the subject with your kids, and what parts of the conversation are most important.

Talk about drugs and alcohol before you need to

If you wait to discuss drugs and alcohol until an incident occurs, the chance to have an open dialogue has already been compromised. If the only time you try to talk about drugs is when something is wrong, both you and your children are more likely to become upset, and the dialogue is lost.

When a young person is already in trouble, it is also harder for them to believe they can talk openly with authority figures or their parents. Initiating these conversations before there is a crisis allows for more openness, and less judgment and argument. It also creates a better foundation for addressing more urgent matters, if they do arise later.

Talk with your children, not to them

While I admit my role as a therapist is much different than that of a parent, I am amazed at how forthcoming young people are about their exposure to drugs in their lives—among friends and at school. When I ask children what they encounter regarding drugs and alcohol, I often get surprisingly honest answers about what they've heard, seen, and experienced.

At times, I will get questions in return, asking for "the real story," or clarifications of gossip and rumors. 

Don't demand that children buy into your opinions

I try to create an honest dialogue, and I avoid reciting information to children. Instead, I try to learn about their opinions, and let them speak without reacting defensively or critically, even if what I am hearing is upsetting to me.

Asking questions and giving kids a chance to answer often yields gems of information, and creates an opportunity for real discussion on the subject. It also creates a platform for continued discussion in the future, and hopefully creates a sense of openness and honesty with the young people.

It is up to parents to determine the right time to initiate these conversations, but I encourage you to start earlier, rather than later. You will have to be the judge of when your child is ready to discuss issues like drugs and alcohol, but I assure you that with influences of older siblings, peers, television, movies, music, and the internet, young people are not as naïve as you may think. A few years back, there was an ad campaign that at the time struck me as simplistic, but now I agree with the message it sent: If you're not talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol, who is?

Jason Lechner is a liscensed marriage and family therapist with a decade of experience working in residential treatment programs. He now specializes in family counseling for adolescents and adults struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and abuse. jasonlechnertherapy.com.

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Added: 2017-03-07

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