At some point in their teenage years, most children stop fully confiding in their parents. Often this is just another phase in life, but when drug or alcohol use/abuse is involved, an open dialogue between parents and their teenager is of the utmost importance.
It’s crucial that you take an interest in their lives and ask questions. A teenager might react as though you’re prying, but assure them that you’re curious because you care about them. Do your best to avoid accepting one-word answers, and take your time trying to get through. Try not to lose your patience, as harsh words and raised voices will only make it more likely for your teen to shut you out.
So, how does a concerned parent convince their teen to open up and confide in them? Here are a few tips for starting these conversations:
- Understand that when teenagers know they can confide in their parents without negative backlash, they’re often more willing to come to their parents when they are distressed or have concerns.
- Don’t wait for problems to come up before encouraging your teen to talk to you. Especially about teen drinking problems or your feelings/beliefs/boundaries about drugs. Keep your conversations open.
- Be specific and forget about using phrases like “That’s great.” Generic responses often give the impression that you are not really interested in what your teenager has to say.
- By letting your teen talk without interruption, you send a positive message that encourages them to open up.
- No matter what, stay calm. Don’t be caught off guard if your teenager says things that shock you. Let them trust that your reaction will not be explosive or over the top. Shaming or yelling at your teen will not help either of you, and will make communicating more difficult down the road.
- Ask open-ended questions. Questions requiring a yes/no answer might be easy to ask and even easier to answer, but they leave no room for teens to express themselves. Asking open-ended questions, such as “How did you feel about that?” rather than “Was that okay?” lets them know you’re interested in what they have to say.
- Find ways to genuinely praise them for keeping an open dialogue. Throughout your conversation, find ways to praise their efforts or personal traits. Remember, teens are good at knowing if you’re not being genuine and will react in kind. Mean what you say.
- Know when to call in reinforcements and never be afraid to ask for help in communicating with your teen, especially when discussing issues like substance abuse.
- Remember, there are trained professionals who can help get through to your teen if you feel the need to call on them.