What to say
The language you use is important when talking with your kids about drug use.
Here are some words to avoid when talking about substance use (or any issue) with your kids.
BUT – You did well on your report card but I know you can work harder.
AND – You did well on your report card and I know you can work harder.
SHOULD– You should stop smoking pot
WOULD LIKE – I would like to talk about why you smoke pot – can we explore healthier alternatives together?
BAD – Smoking pot ( or drinking alcohol, or vaping) is bad for you.
HARMFUL – Smoking pot (or drinking alcohol or vaping) is harmful to your brain and your mental and physical health.
STUPID – Using drugs is a stupid choice.
UNHEALTHY – Smoking pot is unhealthy for you, and that’s why I’m concerned.
DISAPPROVE – I disapprove of you hanging out what that group of friends.
CONCERNED – I am concerned about your group of friends and worry that they may not be the best influence on your behaviour.
DISAPPOINTED – I am disappointed in you for breaking curfew.
WORRIED – I am worried about your decision to come home past curfew.
CAN’T – You can’t come home at 11 PM on weeknights.
DON’T WANT – I don’t want you to come home this late at night anymore.
Whenever you talk with your kids, remember to be patient, positive, compassionate, and clear about your goals.
Here are some suggested conversations for you to practice before you start.
You’ve got a problem and I need to talk with you about it…
Parent: I love you and I’m concerned about you.
P: It’s hard for me to start this conversation, because I never imagined I’d have to and also because you might be upset with me.
T: So don’t.
P: Believe me, I’d rather not! But I have a genuine worry about you and your drug/alcohol use.
P: I’m pretty sure (or very sure) you are smoking pot (or using a drug/or drinking). I’m going to ask you to talk with me and tell me what’s going on.
P: Well, my job just got harder. I was hoping that you would be eye to eye with me, but I see I have to get “parental.”
T: Why? You don’t have to if you don’t want. I sure don’t want you to.
P: I have to because it is my job to make sure you are safe. Your substance use puts you at risk.
T: For what?
P: For being in dangerous situations like driving a car, for having negative effects on your mental and physical health, for the increased chances of you developing problematic substance use issues, not to mention that the underage use of cannabis or alcohol is illegal.
T: So what?
P: You may remember that we have a “no underage use of substances ” policy in this family.
P: You have broken our policy, and so there are consequences.
T: Like what?
P: We are rolling back your social life until we can be sure you are no longer using.
T: That is so stupid. You can’t.
P: We can and we will. That’s our responsibility: to make sure you are healthy and strong. We don’t believe you can be your best if you do drugs/drink alcohol, so we are going to help you to stay away from them until we are sure you can help yourself.
Do you want to tell me what’s going on?
Here are some suggested responses if your teen says:
“Get out of my face. Why are you always coming down on me?”
“Just leave me alone. I hate you.”
“Everyone’s smoking/drinking …what’s the big deal?”
Parent: I’m sensing that something really serious is going on in your life. Can you tell me what is happening to you?
Teen: I don’t know.
P: That’s not like you to not know. With the events of the past couple of weeks/ months I know that something is different, could you tell me about it?
P: There have been so many changes. Do you see the changes in yourself?
P: I’m scared about the changes I see. Why do you think they are happening?
At this point, if the teen says he/she is scared or even a little worried, consider this a breakthrough!
The next step would be either: 1. Make a pact with your teen that they will follow the rules and that you will help by being vigilant about rules and consequences, or 2. Set up a meeting for treatment and/or counselling so that you both can get help about your concerns.
T: I’m not worried, that’s so lame.
P: I guess I’m going to worry for both of us right now. Do you know that I love you?
T: I don’t care.
P: Well, part of my worry is that I am responsible for you, part is my instinct to protect you and part is just that I care so very much for you.
T: So what.
P: So, that makes it very important for me to set up rules and situations so that you will be protected and cared for. But I feel like I’m going to need help to do this, because my protection hasn’t worked too well so far. I’m going to suggest that we go speak with a medical professional with experience in helping families deal with these problems.
T: I’m not having a problem.
P: Well, our family is having a problem with you. And you are having a problem following our rules.
T: Maybe I should just leave the family.
P: No way! We love you and need you to be part of us…We just want every member to be healthy.
T: (Storms away)
P: (In non-threatening tone) I’ll let you know the date of our first meeting.
In each of the following examples, the teen is upset. As a parent, you will probably feel provoked by your child’s negative response.
It is very important for you as a parent NOT to get hooked into the feeling, and not to get upset.
It is very important for you to stay calm and on task. One way not to get upset is to take a deep breath and relax yourself, another way is to imagine you are dealing with them as you did when they were an infant: you tolerate their crying, but maintained your cool. Do what you need to do to stay calm.
What to say if your teen says: “Get out of my face, why are you always coming down on me?”
“Wow, you are right. This shouldn’t be a fight at all. I intend to come down on your drug/alcohol habit, but I don’t intend to attack you personally. Let me start over again and get us started on the right track.”
“This parenting stuff is so hard! You are scaring the heck out of me and it’s making me feel like I want to challenge you. I wish we could work together on this problem—would you be willing to work with me?”
“I feel that your drug/alcohol use is so dangerous that I have to come down hard. I will let up as I see you gain some control over it yourself. Maybe we could figure out together what signs would show that you are handling this really serious problem.”
What to say if your teen says: “Just leave me alone. I hate you.”
“It sounds like you are really angry at me. But I can’t leave you alone, even if it makes you angry. Believe me, it is painful to me that you hate me. However, I have a responsibility to you and for your safety.”
“When this is over, I’m pretty sure you will love me once again. But even if you don’t, I would never be able to forgive myself if I left you alone right now. Drug and alcohol problems require all the muscle you can give to beat them. I’ll be right here to help you.”
What to say if your teen says: “Everyone’s smoking/drinking…what’s the big deal?”
“First of all, not everyone is doing it. However, honestly, even if everyone were, I still wouldn’t want you to do it. Would you like me to list the reasons why?”
- Underage substance use is illegal and the consequences are quite serious.
- It’s risky to your health and there are the physical consequences that can be dangerous: getting into potentially unsafe sexual situations, getting into a vehicle under the influence, falling, otherwise injuring yourself or others, physical limitations from being hungover or foggy, problems with healthy brain development.
- Substance use can have negative psychological consequences: You could be using alcohol or drugs to avoid your anxiety or depression, which masks but doesn’t solve the problem. You certainly lose sight of your long-term goals, your priorities get scrambled, your brain chemicals shift because of the qualities of the drug. Alcohol use is known to work on the brain chemicals as a depressant. Not to mention it makes people do things they may regret.
- Substance use disorders have had an effect on family members/ someone I knew when I was a teen. You might not have substance use issues that aren’t as serious, but there is no way of knowing whether you will or not and it is so much easier not to put it to the test.
- I like life better without being foggy. It is so much more interesting, more vibrant, more moving without alcohol or drugs. I want you to have that experience.