Tips for talking about substance use with your teen

Before you engage your pre-teen or teen in a meaningful conversation about substances, you’ll want to prepare yourself.

Here are some effective tools to help you set the stage for a conversation with your children about the use of cannabis and other substances.

Get yourself in the right frame of mind.

Put yourself in your teen’s shoes.
Consider the manner in which you yourself would prefer to be addressed when speaking about a difficult subject. It might be helpful to think about how you felt when you were a teenager.

Keep an open mind.
If you want to have a productive conversation with your teen, one thing to keep in mind is that when a child feels judged or condemned, he or she is less likely to be receptive to your message. We suggest that, in order to achieve the best outcome for you and your teen, you try to preserve a position of objectivity and openness. We understand that this is challenging and may take practice.

Be clear about your goals.
Establish what you hope to achieve and understand your goals should depend on the age of your child. You may have a very different set of goals for an underage teen than you would for a teen who is of legal age to consume cannabis. Developing goals in collaboration with your pre-teen or teen is important. The idea is to work together, parent and child, to achieve common objectives.

Here are some goals:

  • Begin an ongoing conversation about substance use with your teen.
  • Gauge how your child feels about cannabis use in general.
  • Gain insights into the pressures your child may be facing and find healthy coping skills together.
  • Express concern and compassion and offer support.

Be calm and relaxed.
If you approach your teen with anger or panic, it will make it harder to achieve your goals. If you are anxious about having a conversation with her or him, find some things to do that will help relax you (take a walk, call a friend, meditate).

Be honest about your own use of substances.
Your child might see you drinking alcohol or consuming cannabis and get the impression it’s a good way to cope with stress or anxiety. Think about how they may be modeling your reactions to stress, and talk with them about alternative coping mechanisms that are better suited for the developing brain.

Be positive.
If you approach the situation with shame, anger, scare tactics, or disappointment your efforts will be counter-productive. Instead, be attentive, curious, respectful, and understanding.

Don’t Lecture – Engage.
A lecture can cause your teen to shut down, get angry or tune you out. Any language with a negative focus, like disapproval or shaming, can be perceived as a scare tactic. Engaging your teen in a calm, respectful dialogue that takes into consideration their point of view will be more effective and have a positive effect on future discussions.

Find a comfortable setting.
Announcing a sit-down meeting (“We need to have a talk after dinner”) will usually be met with resistance, while a more spontaneous, casual approach will lower her anxiety and maybe even your own. Perhaps this means taking a walk with her or sitting in the yard or park. Look for a place that feels less confined but not too distracting.

Be aware of body language.
If your teen is sitting, you want to be sitting as well. If he or she is standing, ask them to sit down with you. Be mindful of finger-pointing and crossed arms; these are closed gestures, while uncrossed legs and a relaxed posture are open gestures.

It’s okay to ask to pause or take a break when the conversation becomes too heated.
You can acknowledge your own emotions and say “I think it’s best if we take a break right now. Maybe we can resume our talk tomorrow once we have had a chance to calm down and reflect on what has been said. I don’t want to say something that could be hurtful. ”

Looking for more suggestions on what to say? Download the Cannabis Talk Kit.