Teens need to know that you will not abandon them during these turbulent times and that your love for them is unconditional. Addressing substance abuse problems is dramatic, but by working together, parents and teens can grow through the experience by learning to face difficult challenges and finding solutions for a healthier way of living and being.
1. Make observations. Write down the behavioral and physical changes you notice in your teen such as missing curfew, grades dropping, the smell of drugs on their clothing, or their sudden change in friends. The more concrete evidence you have to share with your teen, the less opportunity they will have in denying the use. But, be prepared – your teen may give you excuses for all of these changes.
2. Gather support. Prepare other family members, such as a spouse or caregiver, to be a united front in your expectations and consequences of your teen’s use. If you are a single parent, you may get support from others who are dealing with similar issues. Other family members should be made aware of the problem, since a lot of energy and time will be given to help the teen, which could make others feel neglected if they are not aware of what is going on in the family.
3. Plan the meeting. Decide where the meeting will be held, who will attend and what will be discussed. Also, do not talk to your teen when they are under the influence, since you want them to remember the conversation.
4. Have “the talk.” It is imperative to have a conversation with both sides listening and feeling safe to share thoughts and feelings. Parents may start the conversation on how they feel (afraid, scared, concerned) and what they observe. It is not recommended that parents ask the teen why they use drugs and alcohol because it could put the teen on the defensive. Be sensitive regarding your teen’s view, even though you may not agree with them. Parents will need to make clear their expectations regarding their teen’s use and the consequences that will occur if rules are broken. Teens need to feel that they are heard, not judged or lectured to.
5. Prepare for negative emotions. Your teen may be very angry and defensive when confronting about their substance use. The anger may be related to the sadness of disappointing you, the invasion of their privacy or possible fear of the consequences of your discovery that they are using. They may even try to reflect the conversation back to the time when you used. As a parent, you should share the mistakes you have made but not necessarily the experiences. Emphasize that using did not make you a better person and that you want them to avoid the mistakes that you have made. It is important to remind them that the conversation is about them and not others. If at any time emotions do get out of hand, it is ok to take some time out and then come back to discuss the issue later, whether it is in five minutes or the next day.
6. Monitor your teen. It is important that in the days and weeks ahead to monitor your teen’s whereabouts, their activities and who they are associating with. Since trust with your teen has been broken, their privacy will have to be earned again. It is your duty and right as a parent to keep your teen safe and to take the measures needed to reduce the opportunities for your teen to use drugs and alcohol. If your teen continues to use, you should seek help from counselors, therapist, doctors and educators.