Don’t panic and try not to over-react. A hostile confrontation will not help the situation. Remember, most young people who use drugs do not go on to develop serious problems.
Establish the facts: Take a step back and consider what is going on. Get accurate information about the drugs you think they are using. Then assess the level of harm: Are there concrete behaviour changes and/or physical changes? Focus on what you know and what is visible, such as weight loss, poor school results, drugs you have found etc.
Think about your approach: Communication is our strongest tool. The way you communicate our concern to the young person is crucial. Listening is the most useful communication skill and is the best way to understand what your young person is experiencing. Listen to what is said and how it is said, so that you understand their feelings behind the words. What is going on for them? Young people feeling that their parents understand them will help strengthen your relationship and can be a powerful protective factor.
Don’t say things like ‘you shouldn’t have done that’ or ‘you are wrong’. When we accuse people like this, they are more likely to become defensive and shut down the conversation. It is important that you communicate care and concern about their behaviour.
Choose the right time to talk: One way of having this conversation is setting up a family meeting. Do not approach a conversation like this when your child is under the influence of drugs or alcohol or when there is likely to be interruptions.
Offer support: Offer your child as much support and he/she needs if they are willing to consider change their behaviour for the better. Clearly, state what the consequences will be if they continue to use the substances.
For more information about how to communicate with your child about alcohol and drugs you can download Dealing with Young People’s Alcohol and other Drug Misuse: A guide for parents and carers, or contact ASCERT for more information.