From day one as parents, we strive to nurture our children and protect them from all foreseeable dangers.

As they grow and become more independent, it is our job to give them skills to protect themselves. We must also grant them just the right amount of independence to nurture that growth.

The teenage years seem to be the most challenging for both parents and teens. A sense of newfound autonomy, combined with the risky situations many teens face, makes this time period very daunting from a parent’s perspective.

Addressing substance use can be difficult for parents. We want to open the conversation and create a very safe space for open communication, but we must also be very clear while expressing family values and expectations.

Communicate with your teen that you want to sit down and talk with them about vaping, drugs, and alcohol in advance of the actual sit-down. This helps avoid the defensiveness you may encounter if it is an impromptu conversation.

By asking your child to “make good choices” or “be smart,” you are leaving room for interpretation. Instead, be very clear about your expectations and the potential consequences if your teen makes the choice to use these substances. Say you expect them not to use any substances and clearly outline what the consequences will be.

Always encourage your child to use these consequences as an excuse if they don’t feel comfortable just saying no.

In addition, some professionals recommend drug/alcohol testing your child randomly.

This holds them more accountable as drug use/vaping can sometimes be difficult for parents to detect. It can also serve as a great tool for them to use in saying no to the pressure.

Be sure you are listening to your child as well as helping them understand your expectations. It is important to make an agreement that your child can always call you if they find themselves in a bad situation. Communicate to them that there will not be yelling or confrontation at the time, but the next day you will sit and talk about their choices and how to be safer.

A roadblock parents often encounter during these years is your child feeling that you are a hypocrite for your current behavior or your own choices in your youth.

There are several different approaches that can be helpful. A parent can meet questions about their teen years with prefacing the conversation by sharing that it is our job as parents to guide them and help avoid things that may result in regret.

Another approach is to be honest while being extremely cautious not to glamorize your experiences. The important piece to the conversation is to be clear about your expectations while also creating a safe space for your child to come if there are pressures or situations they need to talk to about.

Youth First’s website, youthfirstinc.org, offers great articles and resources for further education on this topic and many other youth-related issues.

Valorie Dassel, LCSW, LCAC, is a Youth First Social Worker at Mater Dei High School in Vanderburgh County.

Youth First, Inc. is a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families. Youth First provides 78 Master’s level social workers to 105 schools in 12 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year are served by Youth First’s school social work and after school programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors, and maximize student success.

To learn more about Youth First, visit youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.

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