Your teen is presented with adult decision everyday and, unless you don't show them the way, they may be making decisions from being ill-informed. Below are a few suggestions about how to talk to your teen about drug and alcohol use, abuse, and addiction. Perhaps the most important point is to take the first step, and simply do it at all.

1. Talk to them today. Drug and alcohol use – and related issues about diseases and sexuality – can be uncomfortable to discuss with your adolescent. Some parents justify silence by saying "they learn this in school now, so I don't have to be involved." Nothing could be further from the truth. Initiating conversations will remind them that two very important areas of their life – school and home – are concerned for their well-being and are interested in their behavior related to substances. Putting off these conversations, however, will increase the chances that they will not be ready to say no when they are faced with a challenge.

2. Don't be a hypocrite. Teens will look for any excuse to justify a behavior or activity they want to engage in. If they see you smoking marijuana, it will be almost impossible to convince them that you are somehow more allowed than they are. Be a good role model.

3. Tell them your values and why they are important to you. As much as they like to pretend that they don't, teens are listening to you. Being open about your feelings and values, and sharing your reasons for holding those values can be a lot more effective than simply dictating how they should behave.

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4. Be honest. It's a difficult reality to accept, but teens are placed in very adult situations and must make adult decisions every day. Teens are smart and perceptive; they can see through attempts to create fake justifications and overly dramatic reasons. And if you omit certain truths, they will likely hear them from another, less trustworthy source. If you don't know the answer to a question, take the opportunity to learn more.

5. Be respectful and listen – really listen. They're young and inexperienced, what could they possibly say that you haven't heard? You might be surprised. With all of the challenges they face, especially as relates to drugs and alcohol pressures, young adults can have moments of maturity and insight. They also might need an opportunity to voice their questions, concerns, and fears in a safe environment. Allowing them to talk openly and honestly –without minimizing their feelings or demeaning their ideas – will create a safe environment for future conversations. Just because they are young does not mean they have nothing valuable to say.

6. When they make mistakes, forgive them and reaffirm their value. Adolescence is a period when many individuals test their boundaries, challenge authorities, and, inevitably, make mistakes. Most teens are struggling to establish a solid sense of identity, and derive their feelings of value from feedback given in relationships with peers, siblings, parents, and other authorities. Many times, the development of certain peer relationships will come in conflict with the values that parents advocate. Teens are very aware of how their actions affect others, so don't antagonize them and create or increase feelings of guilt or depression. Acknowledge the mistake, discuss ways of avoiding it in the future, and remind them that it was a choice and an action that does not define who they are or how you feel about them.

7. Repeat. It is not enough to simply state your opinion once and move on. Teens are constantly bombarded by outside influences, and will make new friends and attend new and increasingly important activities like homecoming, prom, sport events, and others. Remind them that you love them, that you will listen to them without making judgments, that you have their best interest at heart, and that saying no may be difficult now, but will benefit them in the long run.