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What to Say to your 13-15 Year Old

7th to 9th Grade

Neil I. Bernstein, Ph.D., offers tips for guiding your child through grades 7-9.

For parents, this is a pivotal time in helping kids make positive changes when faced with drugs or alcohol. The average age kids try drugs for the first time is 13. If your child is 15, says Amelia Arria, senior scientist with Treatment Research Institute, you should assume that he or she has been offered drugs or alcohol. But you can help your teen stay healthy and drug-free – and beat the negative statistics about drug use among common teens. Kids who learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50 less likely to use (2011 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study). So, most importantly, stay involved. Young teens may say they don’t need your guidance, but they’re much more open to it than they’ll ever let on. Make sure you talk to them about their choice of friends – drug use in teens starts as a social behavior.

Here are five tips to guide your teen toward a healthy, drug-free life:

  1. Make sure your teen knows your rules and the consequences for breaking those rules – and, most importantly, that you really will enforce those consequences if the rules are broken. This applies to no-use rules about tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, as well as curfews and homework. Research shows that kids are less likely to use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs if their parents have established a pattern of setting clear rules and consequences for breaking those rules. [Guo, Hawkins, Hill, and Abbott (2001)] And kids who are not regularly monitored by their parents are four times more likely to use drugs Metzler, Rusby & Biglan, 1999).
  2. Let your teen in on all the things you find wonderful about him. He needs to hear a lot of positive comments about his life and who he is as an individual – and not just when he makes the basketball team. Positive reinforcement can go a long way in preventing drug use among teens.
  3. Show interest – and discuss – your child’s daily ups and downs. You’ll earn your child’s trust, learn how to talk to each other, and won’t take your child by surprise when you voice a strong point of view about drugs.
  4. Tell your teen about the negative effect alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs have on physical appearance. Teens are extremely concerned about their physical appearance. Tell them about a time you saw a friend or acquaintance get sick from alcohol – reinforce how completely disgusting it was.
  5. Don’t just leave your child’s anti-drug education up to her school. Ask your teen what she’s learned about drugs in school and then continue with that topic or introduce new topics. A few to consider: the long-term effects that tobacco, alcohol and other drugs have on the human body; how and why chemical dependence occurs – including the unpredictable nature of dependency and how it varies from person to person; the impact of drug use on society – societal costs of impaired health and loss of productivity; maintaining a healthy lifestyle; positive approaches to stress reduction; or setting realistic short- and long-term goals.

Substances in your seventh to ninth grader’s world can include:

  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Prescription drugs such as Ritalin or Adderall
  • Inhalants
  • Marijuana
  • Ecstasy
  • Herbal Ecstasy
  • Cocaine/Crack
  • GHB
  • Heroin
  • Rohypnol
  • Ketamine
  • LSD
  • Mushrooms

(Source: Partnership for Drug-Free Kids)

Early Teen Conversation Starter: A TV Show Depicting Teen Drinking

  • After you watch the program with your child, get him or her talking about it. Find out if he or she has established any beliefs regarding underage drinking. Young adolescents are likely to say they know underage drinking is wrong, dangerous and illegal. This is also an opportunity to encourage your child and remind him or her that four out of five kids their age don’t drink.
  • Ask: “Do you think the kids on the TV show got into any trouble because of their drinking?” A question like that will help your child figure out that alcohol can lead to trouble. They are more likely to remember that link if they make the connection on their own.
  • Ask: “Do you know any kids who drink like the kids on this television show?” Try to find out more about your child’s friends. Young teens are greatly affected by their peer group. Encourage friendships with kids who don’t drink underage or engage in risky activities.
  • Ask: “Have you been to parties where kids were drinking, like the party on this TV show?” If the answer is no, praise them. Remind them again that most kids their age do not drink alcohol. If yes, you need to probe deeper.
  • If your child has resisted pressure to drink, praise him or her. Remind them that most teens their age would have done exactly the same thing. Make a plan for the future, stating that if they are at a party where they are offered alcohol, they can call or text you, and you will pick them up without consequences. You can also agree to a code word or phrase with your teen to indicate if they want you to pick them up. Remind them how dangerous it is to ride in a car with a driver who has been drinking.
  • If your child admits to trying alcohol, or actually getting drunk at a party, don’t reprimand. In a non-threatening manner, try to find out more. Let your child know that you appreciate their honesty, then discuss what happened and how you feel about it. Make a plan to help them avoid drinking again, including tactics on how to say ‘no’ or how to contact you during uncomfortable situations. If your early-adolescent child admits to frequent episodes of drinking or binge drinking, he or she probably needs a more formal evaluation. The best way to start is by arranging an appointment with your child’s health care provider.
  • Remind your child that most early adolescents don’t drink.