When teens don’t want to talk about drug or alcohol abuse

What can you do when you teen DOESN’T want to talk about drinking or drugs? Relax…it’s pretty normal. Guidelines on how to start a conversation here.

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It often comes as a surprise to parents when their teens do not want to talk to them. However, teens not fully confiding in their parents is a fairly common parenting moment.

So, what can you do when you teen DOESN’T want to talk about drinking or drugs? Relax…it’s pretty normal. Guidelines on how to start a conversation here. Then, we invite your questions (or panic moments) about teen drug use in schools or at home at the end.

What to do When Your Teens Won’t Talk

Many parents report communicating with their teens is like ‘pulling teeth’ or some other colorful analogy. Parent conversations with teens can become routine: Everyday you ask, “How was school?” and the answer is always “Fine.” But how often do we as parents let them get away with a one word answer? Probably more than our teens would like and definitely more than we should.

Talking to a son or daughter about addiction may sound scary, but it actually starts with daily, normal conversations. There is one sure fire way to extract more information from any dialogue you have with your kid:

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Ask another question!

Probing for more information is not prying though your teen may react that way. If they do, do not let it ruffle you. Remain calm and ask for more information. By not accepting the one-word answer you are quite naturally letting your teen know you expect and want more than “fine” from them.

Confidence Breeds Confidantes

When teenagers know they can talk to their parents without reproach, they are more willing to come to their parents when they are distressed. Too often parents think open communication with teenagers should just happen. That is false thinking. Talking to teenagers is work and takes a lot of self-control.

Additionally, talking when a problem crops up may be too late. So, talk often and talk early… especially about teen drinking problems or your feelings/beliefs/boundaries about drugs. In other words, if you’re asking, “Should I drug test my teenager?” … you may have missed out on an earlier prevention conversation

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5 Tips for developing trust with your teen

Here are some tips to help your teenager have confidence in talking to you:

1. Get specific: Generic phrases like, “That’s great!” have to go. When you respond with generic phrases it often comes off like you are not really interested in what they are saying.

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2. Get quiet: By letting them talk without interruption, you send the message you are willing to listen. Wait until they are finished and then continue the conversation.

3. Open ended questions: By forcing them to ditch yes and no as responses, you also let them know you are really interested. Asking, “How did that make you feel?” versus “Did that make you feel happy/good/sad/bad?” moves the conversation along.

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4. Be calm and contemplative: Sometimes, the things they say can be shocking. But it is important that your teen can trust that your reaction will not be explosive or violent. Avoid yelling and shaming and just listen. You can take personal time after the conversation to think things over and decide how to react to the information you were given.

5. Find ways to praise them, and mean it: It is devastating to be constantly torn down or criticized. Look for moments in your conversation with your teen to praise their efforts or personal traits. They know when you’re just blowing smoke so say things you actually mean.

Talking is like marketing…yourself!

Having a conversation with teenagers is more like closing a business transaction than it is talking with your spouse or friends. Using proven sales tactics will help you increase your teen’s confidence that they can confide in you about anything, including drug and alcohol abuse.

When to call in reinforcements

When teenagers do not want to talk to you, they are really saying they do not have confidence in you for whatever reason. However, understand this is not always your fault as a parent. The teenage brain is going through many changes which work against them opening up to you. As the parent of a teenager, your job becomes overcoming those brain changes.

Sometimes it also means you have to know when to call in reinforcements. Parents, never be afraid to ask for help in communicating with your teens about substance abuse issues. These problems often require a trained counselor.

Need help with teen drinking or drug problems?

Please let us know how we can help.  We invite your comments, questions, or feedback in the section below. In fact, we try to respond personally to our readers so that we can help refer you to the services or the help that you need.

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About the author
Tyler is a freelance writer/journalist, with past experience as the head content writer and outreach coordinator for HelpYourTeenNow. His areas of focus include: parenting, education, social media, addiction, and issues facing teenagers today.


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  1. We just found out that our son purchased oxycodon and xanax from someone at school. He says it’s the first time he purchased and used. Says it was for anxiety of taking a test but he’s getting a’s and B’s. Says everyone at school including staff know who sells rx drugs but no one does anything. Suggestions on how to help him?

    1. Hi Steve. Open talk is the key to everything. First, I suggest that you speak with his teachers and the principal about this serious school problem. Then, take a look into the CRAFT model for families and interventions. One NGO called Allies in Recovery has some online reading that can help: http://alliesinrecovery.net/about-craft/
      Finally, here’s suggested reading on preventing addiction: http://addictionblog.org/tag/addiction-prevention/

  2. Great tips, especially since I work with troubled youth/adolescents for the majority of my practice! This will help me and their parents!

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