By Stephanie Thomas

Teen girlfriends outdoorsAs your kid moves from moody middle schooler to angsty teen, you might find yourself calling your parents to apologize for your own childhood from time to time. After all, teenagers are … a complicated crew. Full of creativity, energy and passion one moment — broken hearts, slammed doors and all-day naps the next.

And while there are moments of joy and wonder tucked around all the challenges of parenting a high schooler, you might be wondering how to tackle the toughest subjects of the next few years without pushing your child away or making things worse.

When it comes to talking about drug and alcohol use in particular, should you use a stern voice and big threats? Play it cool and keep your conversations lighthearted? Or maybe just avoid the topic altogether?

Experts suggest making your home a place where your teen feels welcome to ask questions and have conversations about anything and everything.1 This means you’ll want to put aside any roles you’ve adopted — bully or buddy — and work instead on simply being real.

For specific tips, see our guide below.

Drug-Related Discussions for You and Your Teen

Building on the conversations you started in the preschool, elementary and middle school years, be sure to talk through these important questions as well.

1. What are your goals for the future and how will your brain help you reach them?

Ask your teen about her dreams and as you listen, be sure to engage her further by asking follow-up questions and encouraging her ambitions. Remind her that a healthy lifestyle — one where she takes care of both her body and her brain — will best help her to reach her goals. As you do, include this related information:

Regular use of any drugs — including marijuana — can decrease a teen’s IQ by a total of eight points.2 And the occasional popping of prescription pills may eventually lead to an opioid addiction — addiction is 65 percent more likely in adults who used drugs in high school — which for some users includes heroin.2,3 Today’s heroin can also be laced with fentanyl, a hidden substance which claimed the lives of nearly 20,000 Americans in 2016.4 Drugs aren’t worth the risk of losing dreams.

2. What should my response be if I find out you’ve consumed drugs or alcohol?

Don’t accept the answer, “I would never!” Instead, talk through a few scenarios where your daughter breaks the rules and how she imagines you would react. You might also ask her how you could best help if she finds herself in a compromising situation.5

Then work together to write up an agreement detailing the expectations you have for each other when it comes to drugs and alcohol, as well as the consequences for violating your agreement.5 Studies show that parents who talk about issues before they occur and follow through on promised responses raise teens who are less likely to smoke, drink or do drugs.6

3. Do you know how many kids actually do drugs or drink alcohol?

Forget reverse psychology or old school scare tactics. Give your teen some classic encouragement paired with a bit of hopeful truth. Drugfree.org suggests letting your kid know that, yeah, society assumes most teens will experiment with drugs and alcohol but the statistics don’t hold up.6

Surveys report just 9.4 percent of sophomores and 13.3 percent of seniors used illicit drugs in the past 12 months — the lowest numbers our country has seen in 20 years.7 More and more teens are saying no to drugs. If your daughter gets asked, she won’t need to look around long to find a friend who agrees with her values.6

Three Things You Must Do Before Your Teen Leaves Home

In just four short years, your baby will begin her grand adventure into adulthood where every choice is her own. Until then, work to solidify her commitment to avoiding drugs and underage drinking by doing the following:

  1. Check in daily. A strong connection fosters open communication and understanding between the two of you, making your teen more likely to listen to your opinions about things like drugs, sex and friends — and more comfortable coming to you with questions.6
  1. Facilitate her need for risk-taking. Between the ages of 15 and 16, fear is low and the desire for bigger, badder thrills is at an all-time high.8 Rather than teach your daughter to suppress this need, look for appropriate ways to meet it. She might try rock climbing, acting in the school play or using tools like a saw to complete a craft project.
  1. Be present and available. The New York Times recently reported on research which shows that despite what teens say — or don’t say — they actually do want their parents around. You don’t need a Gilmore Girls-esque relationship for this to ring true in your home. As the article’s author put it: “Your uneasy presence is better than your physical absence.”9

Furthermore, your resolve to be respectful and helpful when your teen approaches you for advice may actually bolster good judgement in the months to come.8

For more tips on raising kids, check out Peachford’s parenting classes. You’ll learn about discipline, birth order, communication and other concepts that can help you understand how to approach parenting in today’s world.


1Talking to Your Child About Drugs.” KidsHealth.org, November 2014.

27 Things Every Teacher Needs to Know about Teens and Drug and Alcohol Use.” We Are Teachers, September 21, 2016.

3Opioid Overdose Crisis.” National Institute of Drug Abuse, June, 2017.

4 Katz, Josh. “The First Count of Fentanyl Deaths in 2016: Up 540 percent in Three Years.” The New York Times. September 2, 2017.

5Talking to Your Child About Drugs.” KidsHealth.org, November 2014.

6Drug Prevention Tips for Every Age.” Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Accessed December 30, 2017.

7 Monitoring the Future Survey: High School and Youth Trends. National Institute on Drug Abuse, December 2017.

8 Shellenbarger, Sue. What Teens Need Most From Their Parents. The Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2016.

9 Damour, Lisa. What Do Teenagers Want? Potted Plant Parents. The New York Times, December 14, 2016.