Management & Leadership

How to talk to your kids about substance abuse

Sep 22, 2017
Teen Drug Abuse

We give practical advice to parents on how to speak candidly about substance abuse to your children.

‘The substance abuse rate among South African teenagers is spiralling out of control,’ says Karen Thomson of Harmony Addictions Centre, one of SACAP’s fieldwork placement organisations. Thomson cites research that shows that one in two schoolchildren has already experimented with drugs. ‘According to the Central Drug Authority (CDA), children start dabbling in drugs from the age of 12,’ she says, adding that ‘figures from the Youth Risk and Behavior Survey (YRBS) show that nine percent of school-age children use marijuana’.

Yet research also shows that children of parents who talk to their teens regularly about drugs are 42% less likely to use drugs than those who don’t. Despite this, however, only a quarter of all teens report having these crucial conversations with their parents.

The reason you need to have a conversation with your child about substance abuse is because your kids need to be educated by you. They need to hear from their parents that teen drug and alcohol use is not condoned in their family. They need to learn from their parents about the consequences of drug and alcohol use. And, most importantly, they need to be held accountable for their actions with drugs and alcohol use.

To have an effective conversation with your teen about this delicate subject, try following these guidelines…

1. Be completely unambiguous about your stance

Explain that there are absolutely no excusable circumstances for using tobacco, alcohol or drugs and then clarify why this is the case: they are harmful and illegal and, because you love your child, you don’t want to see her hurt or in trouble.

2. Be clear about the consequences of breaking the rules

Decide beforehand what the punishment will be for drinking, smoking or drug use and how it will be implemented. Here, again, clarity is key.

3. Don’t hesitate to use emotional blackmail

Explain to your child how disappointed you will be with him should he drink or take drugs. Research shows that the opinions of his parents weigh heavily when a child is deciding to flout the rules.

4. Keep to the present

Adolescents tend to live in the moment, with little thought for the consequences of their actions further down the line. For this reason, stick to the immediate effects of drinking, smoking or drug abuse – impaired ability to function, reckless behaviour, a hacking cough and pimply skin, even stained teeth and bad breath. In an American Cancer Society survey, eight in 10 boys and seven in 10 girls aged 12 to 17 said they would not date someone who smoked.

5. Explain the nature of addiction… and understand it yourself

Don’t sugarcoat the effects of taking drugs – scare tactics are not only perfectly acceptable, but also perfectly justified. Chemical addiction is a swift process and, once it takes hold, is very difficult to break. The abuser not only craves her substance of choice both physically and psychologically, but, over time, drugs, alcohol and tobacco alter the chemical composition of the brain which, in many cases, can have permanent detrimental effects.

6. Draw attention to the cost of bad habits

A pack-a-day cigarette habit will see over R12 000 literally going up in smoke every year. Addiction to tobacco is quick and the habit difficult to break – there are surely better things on which to spend one’s pocket money.

7. Don’t hold back on the praise

Encourage your teen’s resolve in the face of peer-group pressure. Acknowledge that not following the herd takes courage. And explain that you are proud of your child for her strong sense of individuality.

8. Seize teachable moments

While it’s important to create an opportunity to have this crucial conversation with your child, don’t leave it at that. Pay attention to occasions that naturally lend themselves to conversations about alcohol and drugs – and don’t shy away from them. The more the message is reinforced, the better the chances your teen will avoid the drug trap.

If helping people make positive life-choices is your thing, you may be well-suited to a career in counselling. The South African College of Applied Psychology offers a wide range of counselling courses, including the Higher Certificate and the Diploma in Counselling. For more information, enquire now.

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