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Talking to Teens About Drugs: Drug Education for Parents and Teens

Teenage Drug Use

Teenage Drug Use

Every parent wants to keep his or her child safe, but when your baby grows up to be a teenager keeping him or her safe means more than keeping the toilet cleaner out of reach. As children move into adolescence it is normal for them to form stronger relationships with their peers and to increase their independence from the family unit.

It is also normal for teens to begin experimenting with adult-only behaviours, such as sex, drugs, and alcohol. It can be difficult for parents to bring up these topics in conversation with their teen, but it is important for the lines of communication to remain clear and open between a parent and teen during this time of increasing independence. Here are two different approaches that parents can take when talking to teens about drugs.

Just Say No

Abstinence-based drug education encourages the complete avoidance of drug use. This is the form of drug education used by the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE program, and emphasizes the physical and mental dangers of drug experimentation and sets a no-tolerance policy regarding drug use. Abstinence based drug education is the most popular approach to drug education for teens in America today, and it is in line with the government’s approach to dealing with drug abuse and addiction in adults. The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, part of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has put together some resources and sample conversations on their website The Anti Drug, for parents who don’t know where to start when they need to have a conversation with their teen about drug use.

Harm Reduction

Some drug education policies recognize that drug use has occurred in every human society through time and around the world, and instead of insisting on complete avoidance they promote safety and the reduction of harm caused by drug taking. At first glance, harm reduction may look like it encourages teens and adults to take drugs, however the main difference is that harm reduction provides information on safer use alongside avoidance advice.

One of the growing areas of drug abuse in both teens and adults is that of prescription painkillers, such as OxyContin. When teens see adults all around them taking drugs to help them sleep, alleviate pain or cope with depression, hearing the message that drugs are bad may sound unrealistic and hypocritical. A good online resource for parents interested in discussing drug use with their teen from a harm reduction perspective can be found at Safety First.

Whether you choose to talk to your teens about drug use from an abstinence-only or harm reduction perspective, the important thing is that you talk to them from an open, honest, non-judgmental position. Even though it may seem like your teen is moving further and further away from you each day, by keeping the lines of communication open you give your teen a safe place to come home to, no matter what challenges they have faced that day.

Originally published on Suite101.com on February 20, 2008

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