Parenting a teenager is not easy. There are so many things we as parents need to figure out and navigate and monitor and discuss. Are they having sex? Are they doing drugs? Are they skipping school? Are they making good choices? Somehow, we have to figure out how to help guide them and keep them safe as they make their way through these formative years.
Teens are curious. They are impulsive, have lower self-control, self-awareness and self-restraint than adults do. They don’t know as much as they think they do, especially when it comes to drugs. They often think if it’s in a bottle with a label or sold in a store, it’s safe.
They need to know the risks so that they can make informed choices, and we know that teens don’t always love parents telling them what they should and should not do.
When it comes time to talk hard facts about drugs (the facts that will make them listen, the ones they will actually hear and that they need to know) there are definitely things you can do to make the message sink in without losing your audience.
One of the most important things you can do is to make sure you know what you’re talking about. So many kids will tune out hearing the words “opioid crisis” but the crisis is real and so are the risks. You may know that illegal drugs can be tainted with other dangerous substances, such as fentanyl, but did you know that you can’t see, smell or taste fentanyl? Does your teen know that?
Be confident you can answer their questions because, quite frankly, they’ll know if you have no clue. Visit web resources, like Canada.ca/Opioids to know and understand the dangers so you are empowered to relay that information to your teen. Don’t sugar coat it. Be honest and direct.
Try to find a time when you think your teen might actually listen. Don’t tell them to put down their smart phone and listen to whatever speech you’re about to give. Maybe try when you’re in the car going somewhere, so it’s not a speech but a conversation with your child. And keep an open mind. Your teen may have already experimented. They may have questions. They might be confused or unsure. Be there to listen. If you tense up, they will notice and they will shut down.
Knowing what to say, much less about a serious topic like drug use, is not easy with a teen. In this case, the K.I.S.S. method is best. Keep. It. Simple. Facts are key. Let them know the difference between prescription and illegal substances, and how their health and well-being can be affected by them. Legal doesn’t mean harmless, especially in young, growing minds and bodies. Most importantly, explain the dangers of street drugs and the risk of them being laced with substances that will kill them. Heck, go to the internet and show them all of the recent cases of trace amounts killing people. Tom Petty had fentanyl in his system. The tiniest amount can kill and there is no way for them to know if it’s in there.
Street drugs, though, are not the biggest risk factor when it comes to teens getting access to opioids. The reality is, three-quarters of teens who get their hands on opioids get them from their parents’ medicine cabinets. Make sure you know and understand, and accurately relay, potential drug-related harms to your teen, and explain why it’s risky to take controlled, legal substances that weren’t prescribed for them. It’s also really good practice for you to know how many pills are in your bottles so that you’ll know if some are missing.
Most importantly, don’t bury your head in the sand and avoid the conversation because you have a “good kid”, or you think that it’s encouraging negative behaviour. It’s not. Ignoring the reality that your teen might experiment with drugs and alcohol (if they haven’t already) will do more harm than having an open and honest conversation that will educate them (and you!) on the risks. Good kids try drugs too.
When speaking with your kids about experimentation, recommend harm-reduction strategies, such as limiting how much they consume, not to use alone, and not mix drugs with alcohol, to name a few.
Avoiding the conversation will not avoid the risk. Be open and honest with your teens. The risk is far too great if you pretend it doesn’t exist.
This post is brought to you by Health Canada but the opinions are our own.