August 24, 2017
How to Talk to Your Teenager About Drugs – A Parent Communication Strategy
By: Julia Bearden
The prevalence of substance use among teenagers increases with grade level. Even if your teen is not using the chances are high that they will be exposed to some type of substance use during high school. One of the most common substances used by teenagers is alcohol. According to InnerAct Alliance of Polk County, about 11% of 8th grade, 28% of 10th grade and 42% of 12th grade students reported drinking in the last 30 days. In 2012, approximately 86% of American high school students reported they were aware of classmates using drugs, alcohol, or smoking during the school day (Rininger). It’s important to build an effective communication strategy prior to when your child enters high school so they will feel comfortable coming to you. Below are some guidelines for establishing a communication strategy between you and your teenager.
Establish Trust and Be Considerate
Communication will always have errors. That is why when you speak to someone that you have a less than trusting relationship with the conversation will have more misinterpretations versus someone with whom you have a stable and supportive relationship with (Osland et.al, 2007). Supportive people, those you trust and who trust you, are more forgiving of communication errors. It is important to establish a trusting relationship and to be considerate in that relationship when you want to have a meaningful conversation. Often times, teenagers will feel apprehensive about coming to their parents with their concerns due to fear of arbitrary advice, being ignored, being lectured, etc. As a parent, it is vital to avoid those types of behaviors or risk hammering away trust and hindering communication interpretations.
Create the Communication Environment
Communicating is a two-way process. Osland refers to the communication environment with reference to fields of experience and knowledge bases the sender and receiver of messages speak from. When communicating with your teenager you will be speaking from your personal field of experience and your teenager will receive that message in a shared field of experience. Then, they will interpret your message based on their “field of knowledge”, what they know. During this process many factors are influencing the message being sent and its intended purpose, known as noise (Osland et.al, 2007). Some teenagers “noise” may be a growling stomach, a distracting electronic device, or emotional dilemmas. To set the stage for a healthy and productive conversation consider the things which may influence your teens communicative receptivity and intercept them.
Guide your Teens Process
A simple model of communication is effective for compelling a person to change their behavior to adhere to a belief system (Osland et.al, 2007). If a parent hopes to instill a “drugs are dangerous” perspective into their teenager it is vital to let them create their own processes to reach that perspective. As a parent the goal should be to guide them not to oversee every step in their learning process. Simple communication models such as offering suggestions regarding your teen’s concerns and asking questions to confirm the message the teen received can be effective measures of a simple model. One way not to do this would be expecting your teenager to do the same things you did and to learn from the path you took. Every person is different and so are their learning processes.
Ask them What They Know
It is best not to assume you and your teen share the same knowledge or ideas about drugs. Asking your teen about their perceptions is less invasive than asking them for personal details about themselves or their peers. Therefore, when asking questions let your teenager decide what details they want to discuss with you. They will be more forthcoming when they are not forced. The goal is to compel your teenager to trust your relationship enough to be able to offer personal details on their terms and to influence their personal belief system that “drugs are dangerous”.
Prepare Yourself with Facts
As a parent it can be hard to resist the authoritarian role. If you want your child to understand the dangers of drug use and risk factors it is best to stay up-to-date on the most current information of various substances as well. Doing so will allow you to be informed if your teen has any questions for you.
Osland, J.S., Kolb, D.A., Rubin, L.M., & Turner, M.E. (2007). Organizational Behavior: An Experiential Approach, 8th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
Rininger, D. (n.d.). Teen Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs. [PowerPoint Slides].