Sue Scheff: Parent Teen Drug Talk

Source: Connect With Kids

“I thought I was better off knowing what he was doing rather than have him be doing it behind my back, which he did anyway.”

Andrew’s mom Pam Wolpa experimented when she was young.  She says, “Keep in mind when I was Andrew’s age, I was smoking pot, and wasn’t thinking a whole lot about it.”

So, when Andrew started on marijuana, she never told him no. Pam says, “I thought I was better off knowing what he was doing rather than have him be doing it behind my back, which he did anyway.”

If parents tried drugs in their youth…what should they say to their kids?  Experts say one choice is to tell the truth.  Dr. Michael Fishman, a director at Ridgeview Institute, a drug rehabilitation center in metro Atlanta says,  “I think a child will really perk up and listen when they hear, ‘Oh, really? You experimented? What was that like?  Was there peer pressure?’”

He says if parents do admit to using drugs, they should stress their regrets, and make it clear to their kids that drug use is simply unacceptable.   Dr. Fishman says, “I think you can use that as an opportunity to say, ‘Yes, I made some mistakes.  If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t do it, and it’s very clear that I’m not going to allow that today.”

He also says parents should explain drugs are far more potent today than they used to be.  Dr. Fishman says, “When we were growing up the potency of marijuana for THC was maybe 6 to 8 percent.  With the hydroponically grown marijuana, we’re seeing anywhere from forty, fifty, sixty or higher percent THC.”

Today, would Pam Wolpa overlook her son’s drug use?  She says, “No.  Looking back, I would never tell any parent to condone it.  Give a clear message from the beginning—it’s not okay.”

Andrew Wolpa says,  “The really bad thing is that I’m an 18-year-old in rehab and I still want to try more drugs.”

Tips for Parents

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) describes adolescence as a “time for trying new things.” Teens use alcohol and drugs for many reasons, including curiosity, because it feels good, to reduce stress, to feel grown up or to fit in. Teens at risk of developing serious drug and alcohol problems include those …

  • With a family history of substance abuse.
  • Who are depressed.
  • Who have low self-esteem.
  • Who feel like they don’t fit in or are out of the mainstream.

In addition, warning signs of teen drug abuse may include …

  • Fatigue, repeated health complaints, red and glazed eyes, and a lasting cough.
  • Personality change, sudden mood changes, irritability, irresponsible behavior, low self-esteem, poor judgment, depression and a general lack of interest.
  • Starting arguments, breaking rules or withdrawing from the family.
  • Decreased interest, negative attitudes, drop in grades, many absences, truancy and discipline problems.
  • New friends who are less interested in standard home and school activities, problems with the law, and changes to less conventional styles in dress and music.

Peer pressure is one of the most difficult inducements faced by teens to use illegal substances. Experts at the Hazelden Foundation have created the following model that a teen might follow in dealing with pressure to use drugs or alcohol:

  • Ask questions – Size up the situation before “going along.” For example, a classmate might say, “Hey, lets go hang out at the mall” – and have shoplifting in mind. To be responsible, ask, “What are we going to do? How long will we be there?” These questions will help you make informed decisions before getting into a problem situation.
  • Name the trouble – After you identify the situation, you need to state the possible problem: “That sounds like trouble to me.”
  • State the consequences – Use the threat of punishment as an excuse not to drink. Say something such as, “My parents would ground me for months,” or “I could get kicked off the soccer team.”
  • Offer an alternative – If a friend invites you to drink or use drugs, suggest an alternative. “Lets go get pizza.” If the friend pressures you more, walk away, but leave the door open. You could say, “Hey, that’s fine. Go do your thing. You’re welcome to join me later.”
  • Get out of trouble – Should you find yourself in a problem situation, get out immediately and call a responsible adult for help.

Drugs are a threat to almost every child, and one of the best ways to help ensure your child will make the right decisions when faced with choices regarding substance abuse is to confront the issue with your child as early as possible. Experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics list the following as ways to address the subject of substance abuse with your child:

  • Talk with your child honestly. Don’t wait to have “the drug talk” with your child. Make discussions about tobacco, alcohol and other drugs part of your daily conversation. Know the facts about how drugs can harm your child. Clear up any wrong information, such as “everybody drinks” or “marijuana won’t hurt you.”
  • Really listen to your child. Encourage your child to share questions and concerns about tobacco, alcohol and other drugs. Do not do all the talking or give long lectures.
  • Help your child develop self-confidence. Look for all the good things in your child – and then tell your child how proud you are. If you need to correct your child, criticize the action, not your child. Praise your child’s efforts as well as successes.
  • Help your child develop strong values. Talk about your family values. Teach your child how to make decisions based on these standards of right and wrong. Explain that these are the standards for your family, no matter what other families might decide.
  • Be a good example. Look at your own habits and thoughts about tobacco, alcohol and other drugs. Your actions speak louder than words.
  • Help your child deal with peer pressure and acceptance. Discuss the importance of being an individual and the meaning of real friendships. Help your child understand that he/she does not have to do something wrong just to feel accepted. Remind your child that a real friend won’t care if he/she does not use tobacco, alcohol or other drugs.
  • Make family rules that help your child say “no.” Talk with your child about your expectation that he/she will say “no” to drugs. Spell out what will happen if he/she breaks these rules. Be prepared to follow through, if necessary.
  • Encourage healthy, creative activities. Look for ways to get your child involved in athletics, hobbies, school clubs and other activities that reduce boredom and excess free time. Encourage positive friendships and interests. Look for activities that you and your child can do together.
  • Team up with other parents. Work with other parents to build a drug-free environment for children. When parents join together against drug use, they are much more effective than when they act alone. One way is to form a parent group with the parents of your child’s friends. The best way to stop a child from using drugs is to stop friends from using them.
  • Know what to do if your child has a drug problem. Realize that no child is immune to drugs. Learn the signs of drug use. Take seriously any concerns you hear from friends, teachers and/or other kids about your child’s possible drug use. Trust your instincts. If you truly feel that something is wrong with your child, it probably is. If there’s a problem, seek professional help.

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), parents are the key to keeping kids drug-free. CASA research shows that the extent to which parents take a “hands-on” approach in raising their kids, the more they establish appropriate rules and standards of behavior, and the more they monitor their teens, the lower the teen’s risk of substance abuse. “Hands-on,” according to CASA, includes parents who consistently take 10 or more of the following 12 actions:

  • Monitor what their teens watch on television
  • Monitor what they do on the Internet
  • Put restrictions on the music (CDs) they buy
  • Know where their teens are after school and on weekends
  • Expect to be and are told the truth by their teens about where they are going
  • Are “very aware” of their teen’s academic performance
  • Impose a curfew
  • Make clear they would be “extremely upset” if their teen used pot
  • Eat dinner with their teens six or seven times a week
  • Turn off the television during dinner
  • Assign their teens regular chores
  • Have an adult present when the teens return from school


  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • The Hazelden Foundation
  • The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse
  • Partnership for a Drug-Free America