Dr. Greg Allen, Ph.D., LMFT, Special to the News
Ongoing Teen-Parent Communication
No loving relationship can exist without communication. Teens believe they have valuable things to say and, when a parent listens genuinely, it helps self-esteem and confidence. The most important thing to remember when it comes to talking about difficult subjects like drinking and drugs is that it's not a five-minute "talk" — it's about building an ongoing dialogue. As your children grow up, they will need more and more information, so start early and build on the conversation as your teen matures.
Virtually all parents in America (98 percent) say they've talked with their children about drugs; however, only 27 percent of teens (roughly one in four) say they're learning a lot at home about the risks of drugs, according to a national study by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA).
There aren't enough hours in the day. Sometimes it's frustrating how few chances there are to have conversations about drugs with our children. In our busy culture, with families juggling the multiple demands of work, school, after-school activities, and religious and social commitments, it can be a challenge for parents and children to be in the same place at the same time.
Yet the better you communicate, the more at ease your teen will feel about discussing drugs and other sensitive issues with you.
Preparing to Talk to Your Teen
Teens who learn anti-drug messages at home are 42 percent less likely to use drugs
Parents, you are the first line of defense when it comes to your teen's drug use or drinking. And you do make a difference! Nearly two-thirds of teenagers see great risk of upsetting their parents or losing the respect of family and friends if they smoke marijuana or use other drugs. (Get more facts here)
You can influence your teenager's behavior, particularly if you are armed with the facts about drugs. Having a clear understanding about the risks of illicit drugs and knowing the signs to watch for in your teenager is a critical first step.
Know how marijuana interferes with concentrating on schoolwork and their ability to play sports. If they don't hear about drugs and alcohol from you, it's a sure thing that they'll hear about them from someone else. Also make certain that they understand the legal trouble and health consequences that they may encounter if they use drugs.
Among the most common drug-related questions asked of parents is: Did you ever use drugs? Unless the answer is no, it's difficult to know what to say because nearly all parents who used drugs don't want their children to do the same thing. Is this hypocritical?
No. We all want the best for our children. Today we have more information and we understand the hazards of drug use better than we did when we were their age and thought we were invincible. To guide our children's decisions about drugs, we can now draw on credible real-life examples of friends who had trouble as a result of their drug use: the neighbor who caused a fatal car crash while high; the family member who got addicted; the teen who used marijuana for years, lost interest in school, and never really learned how to deal with adult life and its stresses.
This discussion provides a good opportunity for parents to speak frankly about what attracted them to drugs, why drugs are dangerous, what they know now that they didn't know then, and why they want their children to avoid making the same mistake.
Staying in Touch with your Teen
Know where your teen is when he or she is away from home. Have your kids check in with you regularly. Give them coins, a phone card or mobile phone with clear usage rules. (For example, "When I leave you a voicemail, I expect a call back within five minutes.") If a beeper or cell phone is not allowed to be used in school, have your child keep one in his backpack and ask him to turn it on after school. You may have to coordinate the use of cell phones with school administrators. If you teen does not have a cell phone, get numbers of where he'll be after school so that you can check in or have him call you at certain times so he can check in with you.
Parent Involvement and Creating Bonds
Although teens who are close to their parents are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, ALL teens are at risk when it comes to drugs. It's important for parents to talk to their teens and build open and trusting relationships. The more involved you are in your children's lives, the more valued they'll feel, and the more likely they'll be to respond to you.
Establish together time. Establish a regular weekly routine for doing something special with your teen even if it's just going out for ice cream. Even a few minutes of conversation while you're cleaning up after dinner or right before bedtime can help the family catch up and establish the open communication that is essential to raising drug-free children.
Have family meetings. Held regularly at a mutually agreed upon time, family meetings provide a forum for discussing triumphs, grievances, projects, questions about discipline, and any topic of concern to a family member. Ground rules help. Everyone gets a chance to talk; one person talks at a time without interruption; everyone listens, and only positive, constructive feedback is allowed. To get resistant children to join in, combine the get-together with incentives such as post-meeting pizza or assign them important roles such as recording secretary or rule enforcer.
Don't be afraid to ask where your kids are going, who they'll be with and what they'll be doing. Get to know your child's friends and their parents so you're familiar with their activities.
Try to be there after school. The danger zone for drug use is between 3 and 6 PM; arrange flex time at work if you can. If your child will be with friends, make sure there is adult supervision — not just an older sibling.
Eat meals together as often as you can. Meals are a great opportunity to talk about the day's events, to unwind, reinforce and bond. Studies show that kids whose families eat together at least 5 times a week are less likely to be involved with drugs or alcohol.