Working to prevent and reduce the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and moving Richland County towards a DRUG FREE community.

Talk to Your Teen about Drugs: 5 Tips to Use Now

By Taylor Smith

November 13, 2019

Recently the U.S. Surgeon General released a statement regarding the use of marijuana and it's affects on the developing adolescent brain. The article outlines specific risks such as:

  • "Changes in the areas of the brain involved in attention, memory, decision-making, and motivation. Deficits in attention and memory have been detected in marijuana-using teens even after a month of abstinence.
  • Impaired learning in adolescents. Chronic use is linked to declines in IQ, school performance that jeopardizes professional and social achievements, and life satisfaction.
  • Increased rates of school absence and drop-out, as well as suicide attempts" (U.S. Surgeon General)

Now that we have this information, what's next? The most practical step you can take is to talk to your teen about drugs and drug use. We understand that this can be an awkward conversation so we have a few tips to help you get the dialogue going in your home. 

1. Be clear about where you stand.

Have you ever been in a situation where you just aren't sure what someone expects you to do? Mixed messages can leave both parties feeling confused and frustrated. That's why it's important when you're talking to your teen to be clear about your expectations for substance use. This way, if your teen engages in inappropriate behavior, you're able to refer back to the clear statement you made when deciding consequences. It also helps the teen know where the line is, and how to avoid it in the future.

It's important that this is just the beginning of the conversation and that it opens the way for your teen to ask questions, learn about the consequences that could occur if you engage, and how to deal with this when the situation arises. Your teen will be in risky situations and when they know the boundary, it's easier for them to decide the healthy option. 

2. Ask Questions. 

When you're talking with your teen, you don't have to do all the talking! If you take time to ask questions and actively listen to your teen, the conversation will naturally occur without the uncomfortable "pulling of teeth". Enter the conversation with a genuine interest in the answer. 

Questions like: 

  • "What do you know about marijuana?"
  • "How do you feel about this new vaping illness?"
  • "When I was in school we had problems with _____ . What's it like being a teen nowadays?"
  • "What do you do to get out of difficult situations?" 

Allow for your teen to be open and honest without judgement. It's easy to want to correct the information, make suggestions, and fix the situation because you love them and what them to be safe. Do your best to just listen and ask questions as you continue to build trust with your adolescent. 

3. Learn with them.

After asking questions and understanding where you teen is coming from, a great way to avoid the power struggle of trying to "tell them what's right or wrong" is to offer to learn with them. This allows you room to not be the expert and continue to keep communication lines open. 

"I don't know a lot about the vaping illness, but let's find out together." 

"Oh, you heard marijuana is healthy because it's natural? I'm not sure about that, poison ivy is natural too. Let's go look at some reputable websites to find out."

Make sure that you're using reputable sources such as .gov .org or .oh websites. 

Example Sites:


Ohio Department of Health

Truth Initiative

4. Be Self Aware.

In your conversation with your teen, be aware of your past and current experiences with substances. If you're struggling with an addiction of your own, CACY can offer assistance to help you find the right source of treatment. In addition, being aware of your own journey with substance use and help you offer empathy for your teen and the struggles they may face. 

Self awareness can also be helpful during the conversation. If you pay attention to your tone of voice, quick reactions, and when you feel frustrated you can take steps to manage those emotions and not risk breaking the lines of communication.

5. Create a "way out" plan. 

Lastly, this is to help you teen come up with a way to handle a risky situation. Work with your teen to come up with a safe way to help them escape discreetly. Maybe your family creates a code word and when your teen uses that word, that's a sign to you to come pick them up. Also, you can allow your teen to use you as a scapegoat. "My mom is really strict, sorry guys." or "Yeah my parents would KILL me!" It may be easier to take the blame when you know you're doing it so your child can stay safe. 

There are many ways to engage your child in conversation about drugs and other substances and to keep those communication lines open, it's never just a one time talk. You have the power to help your child stay safe from substances by starting at home. We encourage you to talk to your teen today!

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