Initiating Conversation

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A single mom has heard the messages about the importance of talking to teens about risky behavior, including alcohol, drugs and sex. But her daughter, Sarah, still seems so innocent…and she does not want to put ideas into her head. But after doing some research on the Internet, she decides she needs to initiate the conversation.

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(knock, knock at the door)
MOM: Sarah, can I come in?
SARAH: Sure.
MOM: I wanted to talk with you about something important. Is now a good time?
SARAH: I suppose.
MOM: I was thinking about the fact that you’ll be in 9th grade this year, and I know that you’ll be exposed to a lot of new things. So I wanted to talk with you about some of the potential risks out there, like drugs and alcohol.
SARAH: What? Mom, I’m not doing anything wrong.
MOM: I know. But I want to make sure you’re prepared for the potential dangers out there. I know there can be a lot of pressure to fit in, and I want to make sure we’re on the same page. So, why do you think kids use drugs, anyway?
SARAH: I don’t know. I suppose they think it’s fun or something.
MOM: Sure. But what about all the risks someone takes when they decide to drink or try drugs? They could take too much, get into a sexual situation they didn’t want to be in, get into a car crash or make some other life-threatening decision.
SARAH: I suppose. But it seems like most teens try stuff and nothing bad happens.
MOM: Would you really want to take the risk? Bad things happen to teenagers all the time, and I’m sure they are the last ones who expected anything to go wrong. What risks do you think there are in drinking or taking drugs?
SARAH: I thought we were done with this. Haven’t we covered everything? (pause) I guess you could get into trouble at school or something.
MOM: That’s right. There’s a lot at stake. Your health, your safety, even your future. I want you to know that we are instituting a standing rule of no drugs or drinking. You’ll be grounded if you break the rule. Are we clear?
SARAH: Yeah – you don’t need to worry.
MOM: I just want to be sure you understand my expectations. And I want you to feel free to come to me about anything at all if you need my input or help. That’s what I’m here for. I love you, Sarah.
SARAH: Okay. Love you too.

What the Experts Say:

Broaching difficult subjects with a teenager is never easy. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • It’s never too early to be concerned about risk-taking. Kids are exposed to alcohol, drugs and sex much earlier than you think.

  • It’s not a single conversation, but an ongoing dialogue. Keep communication ongoing. Be on the lookout for chances to engage your teen and reinforce anti-drug messages.

  • The surest way to keep the dialogue going is to show that you respect and welcome your teen’s opinions, thoughts and ideas. Teenagers want respect as much as you do.

  • Be pro-active. Address potentially difficult issues before they emerge as a real problem so the conversation doesn’t have to be an argument or an accusation.

  • If you haven’t done so, now is the time to set clear rules and consequences about drug/alcohol use. Explain them to your teen and regularly remind him of your expectations.

  • When it comes to setting rules, find a spot in the middle. Parents who are too harsh or too permissive have kids who are more likely to take risks.

  • Set limits for protection and guidance, not for punishment or power. Young teens need more limits, but be flexible and renegotiate them as they mature.

  • Don’t expect everything to go smoothly. You have a teenager, and there will be conflict. Just remember to stay calm and loving.