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Editorial: Tips to talk to teens about substance abuse

Perhaps the most difficult part for parents of trying to have an open dialogue with their teen and pre-teenage children about touchy subjects — alcohol use, drug use and sex, to name a few — is how to navigate those rough waters without capsizing the proverbial boat, and having the conversation shut down.

Carroll County Youth Services Bureau, with grant funding from St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Westminster, has put on three workshops so far trying to help parents develop strategies to have these difficult conversations about substance use and abuse with teenagers.

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Now is a great time to be having those discussions, with the ongoing opioid and heroin epidemic, and the number of fatal overdoses related to it.

Through role play, the CCYSB workshop gave parents in attendance a chance to think about how they will approach setting rules, and consequences, for substance use for their teens.

While the workshop was specifically aimed at teens, it's never too early to have these conversations and think about how to approach them. Even talking to children as young as preschoolers — long before adolescent substance abuse becomes an issue — can be helpful, although obviously the tone of the conversation changes as children get older.

Consider that you are molding other behavior in your child, such as dressing appropriately for the weather and eating right, at a young age — subtle messages about avoiding tobacco, alcohol and other substances will likely resonate too, and make future discussions easier when your child reaches adolescence.

Even then, these can still be hard conversations. Some tips:

Make sure are you informed with facts before you start a conversation. The very nature of teenagers is they often think they know more than you. Don't prove them right. If you don't know what you're talking about, a teen is less likely to listen to the message.

And the conversation should be just that — a conversation, not a lecture. Don't approach with an accusatory tone, as that will likely shut down any meaningful dialogue. Rather, ask questions and let your child talk. What questions and concerns do they have about drugs and alcohol?

Be open and honest about your own experiences and what you've learned from them. And if neither of you knows the answer to one of your child's questions, research it together to find out.

Don't be afraid to set rules — and consequences for breaking them. You're still their parent, not their friend. Make sure those expectations are clearly communicated, so that there is no question where you stand.

No matter what amount of discussion takes place or expectations are put in place, your child might experiment with alcohol or drugs anyway. Let them know that their safety and well-being is your top priority.

And if you do catch your child using alcohol or drugs, most of these steps still apply. It's natural to be angry, and you should be. Take time to cool off before initiating the discussion.

CCYSB plans to hold another workshop in the fall, although a date hasn't been set, and others in the future. If you're interested, email rgreenberg@ccysb.org to get updates.



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