A PROCESS IN TALKING TO YOUR TEEN
If you have reason to believe your teen has been drinking, or using other drugs, it is time to have “The Talk” with your teen. Take a deep breath. This might be one of the hardest things you’ll have to do as a parent.
First, be prepared. Practice what you want to say and how you want to say it.
Brace yourself for any type of reaction from your teen—from denial to anger to confrontation. Teens will sometimes try to throw their parents’ history at them to deflect attention from their own behavior. Your teen may ask questions about what you did when you were young. If so, it is best to be honest. If you try to deceive your teen and the truth comes out later, you will lose credibility. If you drank underage, or used drugs in the past, connect your use to negative consequences:
“I drank alcohol and smoked marijuana because I was bored and wanted to take some risks. But I soon found out I couldn’t control the risks. I lost the trust of my parents and my friends. There are better ways of challenging yourself than by drinking or doing drugs.”
The following process may help you initiate and complete a conversation with your teen if you are concerned about drinking or other substance abuse.
“I Care” – Don’t just jump in to the conversation with a list of complaints or accusations. Let your teen know your love and concern is still uppermost in your mind. This can help to diffuse defensive feelings and responses.
“I See” – Be specific about the things you have observed that cause you concern. Try to remain calm, unemotional and factually honest in talking about your teen’s behavior and its day-to-day consequences. Make it known if you have found evidence of alcohol use. Explain what changes you’ve seen in your teen’s behavior, appearance or attitude that is causing your concern. Focus on the concerns and why they worry you. Again, make these factual, or “I” statements vs. “you” statements. For example: “you’ve been very disrespectful” is likely to provoke an argument, whereas “I have not felt as much respect from you as in the past,” is a factual statement of your perception that is less likely to provoke anger or an argument. After all, they can’t argue about how you feel or perceive things, except to say that their side of the story or perception is different, which gets you much closer to where you want to be in terms of sharing your respective points of view on the issue.
“I Feel” – Be honest about how your teen’s behavior makes you feel. This will remove the sense of blame, helping you sound less judgmental. You don’t need to make assumptions about the cause of the behavior, or diagnose anything. You just need to be concerned. This is no easy task; your feelings may range from anger to guilt that you have “failed” because your kid is using alcohol. This isn’t true, and by staying involved you can help your teen stop using and make positive choices.
LISTEN – This may be the hardest step for some parents. It requires you to be quiet and respectfully listen to what your teen has to say. Allow plenty of time for your child to share feelings, problems and explanations. Be prepared for a variety of responses, including silence, tears, the disclosure of a significant problem, anger or even hostility.
“I Want” – Be ready to be specific about what changes you want to see in your teen’s behavior. First, acknowledge what your teen has said and shared. Then, explain what action steps you want to see taken. Suggest, don’t demand, what you want to see happen. If possible, allow your teen to come up with a workable solution. Remember, often referral for professional help is the most caring thing you can do.
“I Will” – Be ready to share what you will do to help your teen change and reach the new goals. Will this include providing moral support? Arranging a meeting with someone who can help? More listening? Make it clear that you are willing to keep talking, and if your teen chooses to say nothing right now, the door is open for future discussion. When discussing these next steps, you can include setting new rules and consequences that are reasonable and enforceable. Be firm but loving with your tone and try not to get hooked into an argument.
Adapted from MIPH “Walking the Talk” 2001.