Navigating the Teen Years: 5 Strategies to Help Prevent Substance Use

If you’re like most parents, you’ve probably lost more than a few hours of sleep worrying about the wellbeing of your teen as they navigate the ups and downs of adolescence. The teen years are a time of rapid change, exploration, and, sometimes, experimentation. Drinking alcohol, vaping, and other types of substance use is not a new worry for parents. But it is still a serious concern. In this blog, we explore 5 ways you can help steer your teen away from substance use.

The Challenges of the Teen Years

Let’s start by remembering that the teenage years can be a real rollercoaster ride for both teens and their parents. Your child is transforming from a dependent kid into an independent young adult. This transition is marked by physical, emotional, and social changes that can be overwhelming. They’re trying to establish their identity, gain more freedom, and often, seek new experiences. For some teens, new experiences might include experimentation with substances.

The 3 most common types of substances that teens use are: 

  1. Alcohol
  2. Nicotine (vaped)
  3. Cannabis (marijuana)

Although teens who report vaping have decreased in the past decade, it still affects 2.5+ million US middle and high school students each year and poses serious health risks. Many teens are drawn to vaping because of its appealing flavors, easy accessibility, and the perception that it’s not as harmful as cigarette smoking. However, as we both know, using tobacco in any form can have detrimental effects on a person’s health, including long-term lung damage and increased risk for future addiction.

Whether you think your teen is using substances, know for sure they are, or want to prevent that from happening, these 5 strategies will help you feel more confident to have a constructive conversation about substance use with your teen that will lead them towards making safer decisions.

Here are 5 strategies to keep in mind:

1. Maintain Open and Honest Communication

Yes, I know. You’ve heard this before! But there’s research and common sense reasons why “Communication” tops the list of so many articles about nurturing strong parent-child relationships. One of the most powerful tools in your parenting arsenal is maintaining open and honest communication with your teen. A primary way to keep the lines of communication open is by listening without judgment and validating their emotions. Asking open-ended questions invites teens to share their thoughts and concerns rather than confirm or deny a set of facts. These are questions that are not easily answered with a yes or no. Don’t worry, you’ll get the chance to share your thoughts and information, just find out what they think first. For example, you could say, “What do you know about vaping or e-cigarettes?”

Be patient and actively listen when they respond. If you get a one-word or “I don’t know” response, let them know you are interested by saying something like “Take your time, I’m interested in what you’ve heard about vaping.” The goal is to engage your teen in a thoughtful discussion. Research shows that if teens have thought through and planned how they will respond to a risky situation in advance, they are less likely to engage in that behavior!

2. Educate Yourself 

Knowledge is power, so it’s essential to educate both yourself and your teen about the risks associated with substance use. The more informed you both are, the better equipped you’ll be to make wise decisions. If this feels a little awkward, you’re probably doing it right. Having conversations about uncomfortable topics can be uncomfortable. At Teen Speak, we give you the scripts via guides, workbooks, audiobooks, and more to help you broach all the topics – everything from substance use to sexual activity to bullying and more.   

To encourage a two-way conversion, start by asking your teen for permission  to see what they already know about underage drinking, vaping, or smoking marijuana. This may sound crazy, but it gives teens a sense of control over the discussion and a feeling of respect. When permission is asked and given teens are more open to listen to and consider what you are sharing with them. You could start with something like this: “I’ve been hearing teens are dying or being hospitalized from vaping. I really want to know what you know about vaping. Can we talk about it for a few minutes? You might be surprised at how much they do … or don’t … already know. This allows a space for you to share information from reliable sources to help keep the discussion grounded in facts. 

3. Set Clear Expectations and Boundaries

As important as it is to establish a 2-way dialogue about things with your teen, it’s still crucial to maintain clear, consistent expectations. Remember, as parents, we are adults and it’s our job to help our teens grow into their ability to make wise choices. Sometimes, having strict rules is necessary. There may be circumstances where having a flexible boundary might be more appropriate. At Teen Speak, we encourage parents to set expectations together with their teens, creating a shared understanding of the family’s values and rules. This collaborative approach helps your teen take ownership of their decisions and actions, promoting responsibility. An example could be asking your teen what they think is a reasonable and safe plan for what to do if they find themselves in a situation with their peers where they feel uncomfortable. At the end of the day, whatever guardrails you determine work best for your family, be sure to emphasize that your teen’s health, wellbeing, and future are at the heart of it all. 

4. Encourage Healthy Peer Relationships

We all know teens are heavily influenced by their peers. Not all of your teen’s peers are … how shall we say it? … living the best version of themselves. Help your teen understand the impact and influence of having responsible friends with values that align with their values. When asked, most teens will articulate a desire to live a healthy, productive life. Ok, they won’t probably won’t use those words… but generally speaking, teens want a bright future to look forward to! Encourage your teen to build healthy, supportive friendships with like-minded individuals who share their values and interests. These friendships can serve as a strong deterrent against engaging in risky behaviors, including underage drinking, vaping, and smoking marijuana. 

5. Teach Them Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Many teens turn to substances as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, or other challenges they face. To help them make a healthier choice, they need to know what their alternatives are. Work with your parents-of-teens peers and access resources like Teen Speak’s parenting courses to learn how to teach them healthy coping mechanisms early on. Encourage them to engage in activities like exercise, art, music, or journaling as outlets for their emotions. Engaging in these kinds of stress relievers helps your teen build resilience and stress management skills.

Parenting through the ups and downs of the teenage years can be challenging, but with the right strategies and a strong foundation of open communication, you will continue to build a strong relationship with your teen that lasts through adulthood. By fostering a strong parent-teen relationship based on trust and open communication, you can help your child successfully navigate the challenges of adolescence and emerge as a healthy, well-adjusted young adult. Stay engaged, be a positive role model, and keep the lines of communication open.

Teen Speak provides quick and effective strategies that empower parents to create and maintain open and healthy relationships with their teens.

The stronger the family connection, the more teens will flourish. 

Let’s connect to talk more about how Teen Speak resources can bolster your parent support efforts!

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