Teenagers talking to parents about drugs
This factsheet is about talking to parents about drugs, but you can use the ideas in it to talk to your parents about anything. The main thing is to get talking to your parents and, if you're stuck in a go-nowhere pattern, to get unstuck.
Last updated: 03 January 2003
Once, your parents could do no wrong, and knew all the answers. Then you worked out they were human. You might think of them now as fossils, dictators, guardian angels, nerds, old squares, ultra dags, weirdos, well-meaning social worker types, eager beavers, nervous nellies, candidates for the perfect parent award, or God's police. Like it or not, they're a big part of our lives.
Have you ever tried talking to your parents and come away feeling you didn't say what you wanted to say? Most teenagers have things they want to keep private from their parents. That's natural, but sometimes we want to talk to our parents about things and can't. So we get into the habit of not telling them anything about ourselves at all,. You end up being two people, one inside, and one on the outside that you show you parents.
You might break every rule they've ever made or you might be "good", or somewhere in the middle. Whatever they see, there are times when you feel the exact opposite, and when you wish you could tell them about who you really are.
This is about talking to parents about drugs, but you can use the ideas in it to talk to your parents about anything. The main thing is to get talking to your parents and, if you're stuck in a go-nowhere pattern, to get unstuck.
If I talk to my parents they will think that I am doing it
A lot of teenagers say that if they talk about drugs, their parents will think they're taking them. This can be a big block to starting an open and honest conversation.
You'll need to reassure them, and look out for opportunities to raise the issue where it doesn't look like you're pointing the finger at yourself.
Maybe there's an item on the TV news, or an ad that can lead you into a discussion. Maybe you're doing a school project, and that can give you the basis for a discussion with your parents.
Let them know that it's important for you to talk about drugs with them because drugs are a fact of life, and you want to know how they feel about them.
People talk about teenagers only doing things to rebel, and that half of the fun is in the secrecy. Maybe the first few times, but after a while it's a drag always looking over your shoulder.
There are things you don't want to talk about with your parents; you feel more comfortable about talking about them with your friends. You can trust a friend not freak out.
But that doesn't mean you don't want to talk to your parents at all - even if you don't want them to know the exact details of everything you're doing.
Sometimes parents get the feeling that they're being shut out of your life when all you want is some privacy. They probably need a bit of reassurance at such times.
Hiding who you are:
It's not easy letting your parents know who you are. If you're thirteen or fourteen it's harder than if you're an older teenager. If you've had older brothers and sisters, it's often easier than if you're the oldest.
When you're a young teenager you've still got the golden image of yourself as a child, the image your parents have of you too, and you're often afraid of spoiling it for them. For most teenagers there's a difference between the person inside and the person outside that their parents see. The same goes for adults.
Teenagers often feel protective of their parent's feelings, they don't want to upset them, so they try to hide a lot of their lives from them.
So who'd be a teenager
One minute you're told you're supposed to be mature and behave like an adult and the next you're told you're too young to do something. At sixteen you can get married, but you can't get into R-rated movies or pubs, or get a driver's licence.
You're always being told to grow up or act your age, but what does acting your age mean? You aren't adult yet, but you aren't a child. It's as though being a teenager is like being in a nowhere place in your life.
Teenagers want parents to understand what it's like.
It may be hard to believe, but they were teenagers once.
Sometimes it feels as though your parents live on another planet. But it's a fact that they were once teenagers too. What a boring old line, you think, you've heard that a thousand times. Even so, it's true. They might have lived in a different time, and maybe they had less freedom, but they still had to go through adolescence.
Some parents think that means they understand everything that's happening to you - an idea that most kids reject. After all they grew up a hundred years ago. Half the time it feels as though they use the fact that they went through it to downplay what you're going through.
But if they really remembered and understood, they'd take you a lot more seriously, right? Get them to talk about what they did as teenagers. What about the first time they smoked, or drank? What they got up to might seem pretty innocent to you, but on the other hand it may make your hair curl.
Sometimes they remember only too well - they remember using exactly the same lines that you come out with (like "You don't trust me" ) and for all the same reasons. Lots of parents are scared that their children will get up to the same things they did. They want to save you from making the same mistakes. What they forget is, that's exactly what their parents tried to do, but it didn't stop them!
It can be the hardest thing in the world to get a parent to realise that you have to experience some things yourself to learn.
Good things about having parents:
Having a good relationship with your parents is a big help in growing up. Parents have had a lot of experience and they can offer you advice and guidance. They can also be interesting to talk to if you're both being open and honest.
Apart from that, they are responsible for you, and they can be a lot of help if you get into trouble, or even if you're not actually in trouble but need to talk about something. Parents can give you the sort of advice that you can't get from friends, because your friends are often in the same position as you.
What do you want from parents
Most teenagers want their parents to guide them to a certain extent - and they want their parents' advice sometimes.
Basically teenagers want:
and about drugs
I want my parents to:..................................................................................................
What parents want from teenagers
Parents care about their kids, and they want to know they're OK. They want to be a help and not feel that they have no part in their kids' lives except to feed them and make rules. They want to feel that they're OK parents and that their kids understand they're human beings and can make mistakes.
It's unlikely that your parents want to be dictators and rule every aspect of your life. It's true that some parents think kids should take on their values and never question them, but most are open to talking about things.
Basically parents want:
and about drugs:
How do you talk to them
Communication is people sending and receiving messages. People send messages with words or action, which means you can say one thing and yet the message you actually send out may look completely different.
For instance, your mum could be trying to talk to you and she says that she gets the feeling you don't want to talk to her. You say she's being silly and of course you want to talk to her, but your real message might be " leave me alone". You're saying that with your body language because that's what you're thinking, and of course she picks up your real message. Or it can go the other way, your parents might say they're interested in your opinions, but you sense that they're not really interested.
You have to decide that you want to communicate with your pa
This puts a bit of responsibility on you. You might feel it's their fault that you can't communicate. You may be right, but you can't keep blaming them if you want to communicate.
Somewhere along the line you have to take on the job of fixing up your end.
Sometimes it may feel as if you're more mature than your parents, and that's not so surprising. It doesn't matter how old someone is, they can be uncertain of themselves, and find some things hard to talk about. Taking responsibility means deciding that because you want to communicate, you are the one who has to make it happen. This means thinking about what your body is saying as well as your mouth.
It might be hard to take on responsibility. After all, it's up to parents to act responsibly and be mature. Well, the point is that it's your life, and you can make it easier by looking after your end of the communicating.
What's behind it when your parents say:
The real message is, "We don't want you to get hurt".
Hearing their message behind the words:
They're also saying that they're afraid of a lot of things. They're afraid you'll get into trouble one way or another. They might have real fears for your safety. Or fears that you'll get addicted to drugs. They're sometimes afraid of what they don't know. Basically they don't want you getting into something that you can't handle, whether it's a relationship, or drugs, or a car accident, or trouble with the police.
No-one gets angry that their parents care about them and want to keep them from harm. But sometimes the message gets lost and you get stuck in ways of communicating that don't work.
Do you try to talk to your parents at all? Do you just tune out whenever they try to say anything to you. Do you fly off the handle? Do you say nothing and think all the time what a load of rubbish they're talking? Or do you agree on the surface and disagree inside? Or are you a little angel and it's all their fault that you can't talk to them?
What are you saying
Is your message something like:
It could be that your parents worry because you're sending out messages asking them to worry about you.
Think about what messages you're sending out about yourself:
What are they saying: Listen to their point of view
Many people think their point of view is the only one worth listening to and ram it down other people's throats. Some parents are a bit like that about their values and opinions on things. So are kids, but they've got less opportunity of forcing it on anyone. If you want to communicate, you have to let go of the idea that you are always right, and listen to what the other person is saying.
Patterns of not talking:
1. The Ostrich technique
Even in you want to talk to them, they stick their heads in the sand, or vice versa. Either one of you think: if it's not talked about it, it won't happen.
2. Talking to a brick wall
They talk, you hear the sounds but you won't take it in. You're so stuck on your point of view that you simply refuse to listen to theirs. It might be your doing, or your parents', or both. This is the "no one gets anywhere" approach.
They blame you, you blame them. You're a selfish little ingrate; they're lousy parents. Your mother used to do everything for you, and now look at you........Your father wore the same three pairs of underpants for five years just to keep you fed..... You didn't ask to be born......etc
They're afraid of you getting into trouble, and are strict because they want to keep you out of danger. They're afraid of all the stories they hear about drug addiction, AIDS, drink driving. You're afraid of what they'll think or do. They might get really angry if you tell them things, so don't talk.
They think that because they're responsible for you, you should do as they say. You think you've got a right to make decisions about your own life.
6. Rules and Regulations
They make rules and you break them, or resent sticking to them.
Sometimes we get locked into ways of communicating that get nowhere. It doesn't matter what the subject is, we get stuck in a pattern.
There are as many patterns as there are kids and parents. You might have a pattern where you both start off trying to have a reasonable discussion and always end up arguing. You might keep things bottled up and then explode. You might be silent while they nag. You might yell and kick things and they cry. Or you might talk about "safe" subjects (like school) and never ever talk to your parents about other things that are important (like problems, going out, friends, sex, alcohol, smoking).
The thing is, if you're stuck in any of these patterns, you're both stuck. Think about it, if you fly off the handle each time you mum complains about your smoking, that's you pattern. Each time she complains, you get angry, maybe storm off, then she gets angry, and you go round in circles. You'll never get anywhere like that.
YOU have to take on the responsibility to break the cycle, and change your own behaviour, even if you think she's wrong in every way. It's very hard, when you're in a pattern, to break out of it. You might be willing but then the same old tone of voice gets you going, your tone of voice gets her going. You have to fight against those reactions and try to listen to what is being said.
With your parents, the best thing to do is to ask them what they think. You might say, they never stop telling me, I know what they think! But sometimes you say you're listening to their point of view, and aren't really .
Truly listening means putting aside your point of view for a moment and trying to see things through their eyes. It doesn't mean you have to agree with them, but that you realise their point of view is just as important to them as yours is to you.
Of course it depends on who you're trying to communicate with. If you're dealing with an Ostrich, or a Brick Wall - or if you are being one - you may have to start by talking about your own communication problems before you can go anywhere else. Most parents want to talk to you as much as you want to talk to them, even if it doesn't look that way.
Why talk about drugs
The drug teenagers use most often is alcohol. Most teenagers have tried it, and lots use it regularly. Lots of teenagers smoke too, and quite a few use cannabis (marijuana, pot), amphetamines (speed) and other drugs. Some kids have a problem with drugs, some are experimenting.
Everybody's got a story of a friend, or a friend of a friend, who's a drug addict and is wrecking their life. Or someone who got killed in a drink-drive smash. There are lots of horror stores to keep us in check.
You're not likely to jump off a cliff if you know it's there, unless you want to kill yourself. Informing yourself about drugs gives you an idea of where the cliff is. If you smoke cannabis, drink alcohol, it is good to have an idea of what it is doing to your body. Knowing what drugs can do will help you make an informed decision about whether to use them or not.
Its good to talk:
If you're well informed you'll be able to have a proper discussion with your parents on the subject. You might find you parents need education about drugs to stop them worrying so much . Or, you might find they know quite a bit and have some useful things to say.
How to start a discussion
Your pattern might be to shut off and clam up. Just for a change, try to talk it through. Or your parents might not want to a talk about things. Instead of just leaving it, ask them to talk about it, and if they still won't , ask them what they're afraid of. Talk about their communication block.
Taking it further
Kid: "Mum, I want to talk about drinking."
Mum: "I won't have you drinking!"
Kid: "Don't go hysterical. I just want to talk."
Mum: "If you want me to say go ahead and drink, forget it."
Kid: Doesn't say: "You just want to control me." "I've got my own life."
Says instead: "Mum, I don't think we talk very well."
Mum: "You're right there."
Kid: "We're stuck in this pattern. Whenever we try to talk you get mad at me and I get mad at you, and we never really talk about anything."
Mum: "That's true."
Kid: "Well like, I just want to find out why you're so afraid of me drinking. You've told me you don't me to turn out like Uncle Wally. Why do you think I will?"
Mum: "I just don't want you to have anything to do with alcohol!"
Kid: "Mum, there you go! You just go paranoid the minute you hear the word. All I want to do is talk about it."
Mum: "OK, I'm sorry. Go ahead"
Kid: "Well, you drink too."
Mum: "Yes, so I know what I'm talking about."
Kid: "You think you can teach me something?"
Mum: "Yes, what's the point of being a mother if I can't give you the benefit of my experience."
Kid: "You can tell me everything but I'm not actually going to find out anything except by myself, am I?"
Mum: "Do you have to die in a car crash to learn that drink driving is dangerous?"
Kid: "No, of course not, I have got a brain you know."
Mum: "Well, how can I be sure you know what you're doing?"
Kid: "You just have to trust that I won't go overboard. If you can't do that how can I ever grow up."
Mum: "But sometimes you can't control it. What if you die in a car crash? What if you have an overdose? I worry about these things."
Kid: "I know you do, but you won't keep me any safer by being over-protective. You might die in a car crash for all I know."
Mum: "Yes, but it wouldn't be because I was drunk. I look after myself.
Kid: "So do I."
Mum: "Yes, but.....I'm afraid because I know teenagers are a bit more reckless, I know you take a few more risks than I would. If I let you do what you want, how am I going to know you're OK?"
Kid: "I'll tell you if I'm in trouble."
Mum: "You promise you'll tell me?"
Kid: "I promise. So long as you don't go berserk."
Mum: "No, I won't. I just want to know you're OK."
There are some rules which are entirely your responsibility, like whether you smoke or take other drugs. No-one can make that decision for you, even if they try. But where other people are being affected by your actions, rules help.
Parents want to know you're OK, and have some idea of where you are, what you are doing and when you'll be home. Fair enough, they're responsible for you. So, come to a compromise that you both agree with.
If they've made just for the benefit of one party, they won't work, so obviously the first thing in negotiating rules is to convince your parents that it would work out better if you had a say in decisions about your life. If you make a rule with your parents instead of it being made for you by them, you'd stick to it.
For instance, kids and parents usually agree on the need for a curfew time for coming home. A rule that works quite well in some families is to have an agreed time but, if you're having a specially good time, to ring up and renegotiate a special time for that night.
You might have rules about things like whether you smoke in the house, drink and drive, help around the house etc.
The most important thing in negotiating rules is to try and be flexible.
You probably have your own rules that you might not have even thought about much, about drinking, smoking etc, . These days teenagers are pretty aware of the dangers involved and have worked out ways to deal with the problems. For instance, you and your friends might have rules about drinking and driving, making sure the drivers stay under the limit so everyone gets home safely. You probably have unwritten rules about helping each other out if you get into trouble, looking after each other if one of you does something silly.
Your're our control
If you feel your drug use is out of control, is it something your parents can help with?
Or are your parents part of the problem? Even if your relationship with them is difficult, opening up lines of communication with them is the first step to finding a solution.
What do you do? Approach them
Tell them you've got a problem and you need their help. If necessary, ask someone else to talk to them for you (a brother or a sister, or one of your parents' friends). If you have a problem it is important to ask someone to help you.
If you can't talk to your parents, talk to someone else you trust, and if there's no-one like that around, there are youth centres and counsellors who can help.
|Further information - Area Health Service Drug and Alcohol central intake telephone numbers|
|These centralised numbers are the first point of contact for people seeking assistance for drug and alcohol problems. Callers may be assessed by telephone and referred to relevant services within the Area.
Centralised intake lines operate Monday to Friday during business hours.
|Metropolitan Areas||Location||Number||Rural Areas||Location||Number|
|Northern Sydney/Central Coast||North Sydney||1300 889 788||Greater Southern||Greater Murray||1800 800 944|
|Central Coast||4394 4880||02 9425 3923|
|South Eastern Sydney/Illawarra||South East Sydney||02 9113 4444||Southern||1800 809 423|
|Illawarra||1300 652 226||Greater Western||Far West||1800 665 066|
|Sydney South West||South West Sydney||02 9616 8586||08 8080 1556|
|Central Sydney||02 9515 5311||Macquarie||1800 092 881|
|Sydney West||Wentworth||02 4734 1333||02 6841 2360|
|Western Sydney||02 9840 3355||Mid Western||1300 887 000|
|Hunter/New England||Hunter||02 4923 2060|
|New England||1300 660 059|
|North Coast||Area Health Service||1300 662 263|
|Mid North Coast||02 6588 2882|
|Northern Rivers||02 6620 7612|