Connecting, Not Correcting: Strategies for Constructive Conversations with Teens About Substance Use

Teen Substance Abuse

Whether you’re the parent of a teen or not, it’s likely that at some point in your life, you’ll have to talk to a teenager about substance use. The good news is that there are many strategies for having these conversations.

However, one thing is certain: If you feel like this conversation is going to be stressful or awkward, then chances are it will be! So instead of approaching the topic expecting confrontation or drama, try thinking about how to connect with your teen instead.

Teens About Substance Use

Recognize That You Want The Best For Your Teen

Before you enter into a conversation with your teen about substance use, it’s helpful to recognize that you want the best for them. You are a parent and you love your teen. You want them to be safe and healthy; have a good future; succeed in school or at work; and be happy.

That being said, there may be times when talking about substance use can feel like a battle of wills–especially if your teen has been using drugs or alcohol for some time already. But this doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible for both parties to come out feeling respected by each other after having had an open discussion about what substances could mean for their lives long term.

Tell the Truth About Your Concerns

It’s important to be honest and open about your concerns. Tell the truth about what you are worried about, but don’t exaggerate or overstate them. Be clear about the facts and give examples of what you are concerned about. The more specific and detailed you can be in expressing your worries, the better chance there is for understanding on both sides.

Be Open to Listening

When you’re talking to your teen about substance use, it’s important that you listen. They may feel like their concerns are not being heard or understood by the adults in their life. If this is the case for your teen, then it is important for you to start by acknowledging that they have been feeling this way and listening carefully as they share their thoughts and feelings with you. The more open-mindedly and empathetically we can listen to others, the better chance we have of understanding where they are coming from.

Seek Commonalities And Build On Them

One way to do this is by finding commonalities. You can start by saying something like, “I want to hear more about what you think about alcohol.” Or perhaps: “I’ve been wondering if you have any thoughts on how we can talk about these things better.” This will help the conversation feel less confrontational and more collaborative.

Another tip is to use ‘we’ instead of ‘you.’ For example, saying “We should…” instead of “You should…” suggests that both parties are working towards a common goal or objective–which can be helpful when discussing something as sensitive as substance use with teens who may not want their parents involved in their lives at all times (or ever).

Praise and Reinforce Healthy Behaviors

Praise and reinforce healthy behaviors. Praising teens for doing something positive is an effective way to encourage them and keep them motivated. However, it’s important not to praise them just because you think they should be doing it already or because you want them to do more of the same thing in the future.


One of the most important things to remember is that you’re a parent, and your teen is a child. You have the power to shape their future and influence their choices. The way you approach this conversation will determine whether or not it’s effective, so make sure that you are calm and open-minded when talking with them about substance use.

If you feel that your teen may need additional support for their mental health during this challenging time, consider reaching out to Roots Through Recovery. We provide mental health services focused on supporting people in their journey to overcome substance abuse and improve their overall well-being.

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