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Because family life matters

Talking to your teenagers about drugs

Drugs is one area that young people really want their parents to talk to them about, yet the charity Action on Addiction found that 40% of parents leave the job of educating their children about drugs to schools and the police.

Teenager talking to parent

The good news is that although many young people will experiment with illegal drugs, the majority leave them alone. And most of those who do experiment will not go on to have a long-term drug problem. However, the UK has one of the highest rates of illegal drug use amongst teens in the whole of Europe. Alcohol, and particularly binge drinking, is having a huge impact on teens. Add to that tobacco use, accessibility of solvents for sniffing, misuse of prescription medication and steroids and it’s no wonder the subject of drugs regularly tops polls of parental concerns.

They know more than I do!

This is the most common reason parents give for not talking to their children about drugs. While that may be true, it’s easy for parents to find information about some of the most common drugs. Find out what they are learning at school about alcohol and other drugs. You need to be informed: free leaflets can be obtained from local GPs, health promotion agencies or from national agency Talk to Frank.

Here are some tips when talking to your teens about drugs:

  • Find opportunities to talk – never miss what might be a teachable moment. It’s important your teens know your values and why you have them and also what the home rules are. Listen to them – what are their fears and concerns? Often your best conversations will happen late at night.
  • Remember scare tactics don’t work – telling a teenager that smoking will kill them (even though they know Uncle Jack has smoked for 50 years) might be true, but is easily ignored and not immediate. But realising that smoking makes you smell and will cost over £2,000 a year on 20 a day is more relevant.
  • Know their friends – peer pressure increases during the teenage years. One of the key signs that your teenager is at risk from getting involved with drugs is if their friends are. Know who they are spending time with; invite them to your home. To avoid risky situations, they may need to change their circle of friends.
  • Make sure they know you love them unconditionally – otherwise they might only tell you what they think you want to hear.

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Know where to go for help and advice

If you think there’s a problem:

  • Try not to accuse your child of anything until you know the facts, unless of course they are obviously drunk or stoned. So many of the symptoms of drug misuse such as changes in friends, appearance, attitude or sleeping pattern are the same as normal teenage behaviour.
  • If you suspect your child is using drugs you do need to talk with them. Your immediate emotional responses will probably be anger, fear, disappointment, and panic. This is not a good time to try and talk. Wait until you have calmed down and are able to show care and concern, rather than wanting to punish.
  • Make sure they know they are responsible for their actions. Put in place boundaries for acceptable behaviour and consequences for crossing them.
  • You may need to use the help and support available from your GP or local drug and alcohol agency, or to contact a national agency such as ADFAM or PADA who can provide confidential help and advice.
  • Keep on caring. If your worst fears are realised you may find offers of help are rejected. It’s easy to blame yourself, but remember young people will make their own choices. Ensure you let them know you still love them and care for their wellbeing. Then get support for yourself and any other family members. It might be a tough journey, but you can get through it.

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For help and information:

This information is supplied in good faith, but Care for the Family cannot accept responsibility for any advice or recommendations made by other organisations or resources.

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