Communicating – Teenagers & Drugs

 

 

Understanding adolescence

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).

Important communication methods to consider

  • Honesty: Let your teenager know what you would like to talk about and why. Discuss your concerns, fears and other feelings openly but in a calm manner. Let them know what it’s like to be a parent. If your communication has not exactly been honest in the past, it may take a while to regain trust¾so give it time. If your teenager sees you as being honest, they are more likely to respond in the same manner.
  • Consistency: Because your teenager is viewing the world very closely, they will be aware of any hypocrisy they see. Consider your own views on drugs. If you have expressed strong and inflexible views about drugs it will be difficult for your teenager to discuss their own situation with you. Examine your own use of drugs including the legal ones such as alcohol and tobacco. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to abstain from these substances. However, if you acknowledge your relationship to them it will strengthen your credibility, and also offer a good starting point for discussion.
  • Openness: Discuss your own (or others) drug use in a way that encourages your teenager to explore their own opinions and solutions about drug use. If your teenager makes their own decisions about their behaviour you won’t have to constantly try to enforce your own rules¾which often tend to get broken anyway. Try to be as non-judgemental as possible by acknowledging their individual opinions and attitudes and not evaluating them on a personal basis, e.g. ‘You are silly to think that’. Negotiate ground rules where you and your teenager work towards agreement on matters that is acceptable to all parties. Remember that it is important for teenagers to have a sense of control over their own lives and this requires you to be flexible.
  • Listening: True listening not only means that the message itself is received, but that the person knows they have been heard. Conveying to the other person that you are really interested in what they have to say helps to draw them out. Be aware of your body language, including facial expressions, posture, use of arms, hands etc, and let them know that you are open to what they have to say.

Try to avoid using barriers that are likely to abruptly end the conversation, such as:

  • Ordering: ‘You must…’, ‘You have to…’, ‘You should…’ etc;
  • Over sympathising: ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be right’;
  • Warning/threatening: ‘You’d better… or else…’;
  • Lecturing: ‘Did you know…’, ‘The truth is…’;
  • Diagnosing: ‘Your problem is…’;
  • Judging: ‘You are wrong’, ‘You’re being stupid’;
  • Interrogating: ‘What’, ‘Why’, ‘Who’ ‘How’.

 
The above methods leave little room for your teenager to explore their own responses and solutions. Instead, ask your teenager what they see as the problem and what they regard as the best thing to do. Remember that they are young adults and will most likely have answers that are suitable for them. Their ability to solve the problem will also provide them with greater confidence to deal with future issues. If they have difficulty in finding a solution to a problem and ask you what to do, you may like to offer your response more as a guide or suggestion. For example, “You will have to make up your own mind, but I would…”.
 
Putting drug use into perspective

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.

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