Adolescence is the stage of development that bridges the gap between childhood (dependence on parents) and adulthood (independence). It is a period where teenagers search for their own identity, to find out where they fit in the world, who they are etc. This means that they are often evaluating and imitating adults while also being aware of what society expects (of adults) and comparing this to their own perceived inadequacies. As a result, teenagers often only feel accepted when they are with other teenagers and, therefore, it is very important for them to fit into their crowd. For example, they often don’t mind looking ‘weird’ to their parents as long as they look OK to others. In the search for an independent identity, teenage behaviour may include rejecting or rebelling against family values. Feelings of self-consciousness and insecurity will often be acted out via moods, outbursts etc.
No matter how well your relationship has been with your teenager in the past, you will often be challenged about your ideals as they attempt to define their own values and beliefs and their relationship in the world around them. Although, at times, you may become frustrated and angry, it may help to remember that your teenager’s behaviour is part of the process of becoming independent and working out how to manage their life as an adult.
Adolescence is also a time for experimenting and risk taking. During this period of their lives, excitement comes from such things as getting a driver’s licence, getting into a pub, sexual contact and using drugs. Although many parents experience difficulty in talking with teenagers about certain issues, effective communication will contribute to much needed support for your teenager and will, hopefully, also lead to a lessening of your concerns.
One of the first steps in effectively communicating with your child about drugs (or any sensitive issue) is to try and understand where they are coming from and what they are going through. Having been through adolescence yourself, although your experiences may not have been exactly the same as your teenagers, there will be certain similarities that you will be able to relate to. Try putting yourself in their shoes and exploring what they may be feeling. Usually parents want to know what’s happening with their child, although they often fall into the trap of telling them what they should be doing or thinking. Often, one of the hardest things for parents is to discard the notion that their point of view is the only point of view (or only correct one).
Try to avoid using barriers that are likely to abruptly end the conversation, such as:
If you think or are aware that your teenager is using drugs it does not mean that things are out of control or they are dependent (addicted). Many young people experiment with drugs but most will not go on and develop a dependence to them or any other significant problems. Given this, it is important to get your teenager through this stage as safely as possible. Think about why your teenager may want to use drugs and talk with them about it. Together, try and identify any risks your teenager may be exposing themselves to and help them to explore solutions that will assist in keeping the risks to a minimum. Let them know that you will be there to help them with any concerns or dangers they may face. If you are part of a two parent team, perhaps the parent who has the easiest rapport can initiate the conversation, or another relative, a family friend etc. If you are having trouble communicating with your teenager, there are many professional services and support groups available, so don’t be afraid to seek outside assistance. Remember that you don’t have to know everything about parenting, communication or drugs. Your willingness to help your child through this period of their lives will provide a sound basis from which to start.