Public health charity Addaction found through a YouGov survey that 61% of parents don’t think there is enough advice on talking to young people about drugs. Interestingly, 35% of the 1,000 mums and dads surveyed said they would feel “very confident” giving advice to their teenagers about drugs.
So how should they be discussing it?
“It’s totally normal to worry as a parent, but telling a teenager to ‘just say no’ isn’t helpful and is often counterproductive,” said Karen Tyrell, director at Addaction. “Our advice is start the chat, keep talking, listen well, and don’t turn it into a big thing.”
It’s natural to want to protect your child from ever touching drugs, said Karen, but as kids grow into teens they want to take risks, and that’s just part of the way they learn about the world.
To launch their ‘Have the Chat’ campaign, Addaction has developed seven tips for parents to start the conversation about drugs.
1. Don’t make it a big thing. Everyone will feel awkward if you treat it like a ‘big talk’... including parents. Try to think of it as the start of a regular conversation. You want to show your kids it’s okay to talk about drugs.
2. Pick the right moment. You’ll need a time and place when you both feel comfortable. Side-by-side chats can help put everyone at ease - try a car journey or a walk.
3. Don’t feel like you have to be an expert. No-one knows about every drug, but you’re the expert on your own kids. Think about your own experience and draw on that. Do some research too if you need to.
4. Listen without lecturing. We know the ‘just say no’ message doesn’t work - in fact it can have the opposite effect. Your teenager won’t want to talk if they feel judged or preached at.
5. Be patient. Kids will need a bit of time and space to think about what you discuss. This is normal and not something to worry about. Make sure they know they can come to you if things go wrong. No conversation is out of bounds, you’re always there to help.
6. Be realistic. There’s a good chance your teenager will come into contact with cigarettes, drugs or alcohol at some point. It’s important to be realistic, even if that feels scary. If you start the conversation, be prepared to hear answers you might not like.
7. Don’t give up. Be kind to yourself and remember that this isn’t a pass/fail test. These things take time - even if the conversation doesn’t go the way you want an initial chat can help sow a seed for the future.
The NHS recommends parents and children visit national drugs website FRANK to learn more about different drugs, the side effects, and what to do if you’re worried.
Ultimately, you should ensure your child knows you’re there for them whatever, because that way they’re more likely to be honest with you, rather than telling you what they think you want to hear.
For more information, parents can use Addaction’s free and web chat service, staffed by trained advisors. A range of resources for parents and access to web chat is available at www.addaction.org.uk.