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Improving Parent-Teen Conversations to Prevent Teen Drug Use

Teen daughter crying into her mothers shoulder after discussing her drug use

With drug use being an ever-present temptation for teens, many parents wonder how they can prevent their child from trying drugs. A new study shows that the best kind of prevention may come through open communication between parent and child.

Participants in the study received coaching in a primary care setting on how to talk to their children about topics such as alcohol and sex. When parents and their children were surveyed four months later, the majority saw positive results in effective communication. Though the coaching sessions only lasted around ten minutes, 80% of the parents believed the materials provided were helpful.

These results show that the doctor’s office is a great place to introduce parents to ways of talking about drug use with their children. However, parents can still learn effective ways to open the conversation about drugs without going to the doctor.

Communicating with Teenagers to Influence Behavior

Parents play a key role in their children’s development and behavior. However, as young people transition from childhood to their teenage years, they begin to be shaped more and more by their peers. Though this may be the case, parents still function as sources of important guidance and instill moral and social values upon their children. In fact, parents influence children more than their peers when it comes to drug use.

Parents may not always feel comfortable or prepared enough to talk with their children about drug use. Teaching parents how to bring up the topic, however, can be beneficial. According to the study results, 65% of the adolescent participants found that it was helpful when their parents received coaching on how to have these often difficult conversations. This indicates that coaching can help bridge the communication gap between parents and teenagers.

Teaching Parents to Talk More About Teen Drug Use

Because teens are influenced by their parents when it comes to drugs, parent-teen communication is vital. However, talking to teens about drugs isn’t always easy.

MedlinePlus offers some helpful ways to have genuine, noninvasive conversations about drugs. These include:

  • Using news, television, movies and other media as examples to illustrate the problems with drug use
  • Instead of lecturing, asking open-ended questions to help bring up a two-sided chat
  • Asking your teen about their day, which helps them feel more open talking about difficult subjects like drugs
  • Listening to their opinions
  • Making it clear that you don’t approve of drug use

Effective Communication Strategies for Parents

Sometimes, the issue isn’t about bringing up drugs — it’s about communication in general. In addition, many parents don’t necessarily know how to handle teenage drug use. As a result, they cannot communicate the topic properly. Before getting the conversation started, parents first need to know how to foster open communication with their teen.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has many resources about how to facilitate healthy conversation. Communication strategies for parents include:

  • Being calm and patient 
  • Showing interest in your teen
  • Avoiding accusatory questions or tones
  • Encouraging problem-solving from your teen
  • Emphasizing positive behaviors
  • Controlling and reducing emotion by staying CALM:

Control your thoughts and actions

Assess and decide if you’re too upset to continue

Leave the situation if you are too upset

Make a plan to deal with the situation within the next 24 hours

Will Improved Parent-Teen Communication Prevent Teen Drug Use?

The scope of the study did not include whether it helped with teen drug abuse prevention. However, parents have a large influence on their teen’s behavior, including drug use. Children do hear and understand their parents’ concerns, which means communicating about drugs can instill them with better judgment. If they are unaware of drugs and alcohol, they likely won’t know the serious risks involved in substance use.

If your teen is struggling with substance use or addiction, Next Generation Village can help. Our teen-focused programs can help your child find a path toward recovery and give them the tools needed to prevent future substance use. Contact us today to learn more about treatment options that can work for your situation.


Ford, Carol; et al. “Effect of Primary Care Parent-Targeted Interventions on Parent-Adolescent Communication About Sexual Behavior and Alcohol Use.” JAMA Network, 2019. Accessed September 19, 2019.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Healthy Parent-Child Relationships.” March 25, 2019. Accessed September 19, 2019.

MedlinePlus. “Teenagers and drugs.” September 11, 2019. Accessed September 19, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Family Checkup.” August 2015. Accessed September 19, 2019.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Why You Should Talk With Your Child About Alcohol and Other Drugs.” August 27, 2019. Accessed September 19, 2019.

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