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How to Talk to Your Teen About OTC Drugs

Sure, you're the parent and he's the child. But there are some subjects that are harder to talk about than others, and broaching the topic of drugs with your child can be even worse than the dreaded "birds and bees" discussion. You may have experimented with drugs and alcohol yourself when you were a teen and feel like a hypocrite telling him that drug use is unacceptable to you. You may worry that if you are too tough, you may push him away. Or you may simply not know how to open the conversation.

However hard it may be, it's important to get past your fears and have the discussion, because a few words can go a long way in safeguarding your child against drug abuse. In fact, research shows that kids who hear about the risks of drugs from their parents are only about half as likely to use drugs as those children whose parent haven't introduced the topic.

The best way to start is by educating yourself. If you're going to talk to your kids about drugs, you need to understand the types of drugs teens are using to get high, as well as the potential dangers. A good place to look for information is the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI); you can visit their website at www.health.org. You can also look for information at www.drugfree.org.

Then, wait for a time when you won't be rushed, and open the conversation. Ask your child if he knows anyone who is using drugs or if anyone has ever offered him drugs. Reflect on why teens might begin using drugs, and try to spend as much time listening as talking. Then take the opportunity to inform him about the dangers of drug use, including over-the-counter medications. You should also use this time to establish rules and consequences for your child if he uses drugs or alcohol. Consequences should be meaningful to the teen and enforceable, such as a new curfew, no cell phone or computer privileges for a time, or less time with friends.

What if you suspect that your teen is already using drugs? Although the message is the same - that drugs and alcohol are not allowed in your family - you will have to spend extra time preparing for the conversation. You may need to discuss the conversation you intend to have ahead of time with your partner. And you'll need to remind yourself not to get angry with your teen, because anger and blame won't solve anything. Here are a few things to keep in mind when talking with your teen about using drugs:

  • Remind her you love her and that you are worried about her because you suspect she is using drugs.
  • Present the reasons that you suspect drug use, such as changes in behavior, red eyes, or changes in friends, activities, and sleeping patterns.
  • Expect denial or anger from your teen.
  • Be honest if your child asks you about your own use of drugs as a teen. Tell him that you took drugs because your friends did and you wanted to fit in (or whatever the reason), but that if you had known about the consequences and how they could have (or did) affect your life, you wouldn't have tried them.
  • Make sure she knows that you will do everything it takes to keep her away from drugs, including seeking treatment for drug abuse.
Whether or not your child is using drugs, you need to remember that you will have conversations about drug use many, many times. Talking to your child about drugs and alcohol is an ongoing process, and one that is crucial for keeping your child safe.