By Jen Burckhard, Director of Community Services, Florence Crittenton Family Services

All parents worry about their child’s safety, and as children grow, so does our concern. Developmentally, teens need to explore and challenge themselves. This sometimes involves taking risks, including experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Substance use is an ever-present concern for parents and can be a difficult topic to address. Below are some strategies that may be helpful as you prepare:


Address the Behavior

Clearly communicate your family values and expectations. Parents often use general statements like “be good” or “be safe,” without explaining what that means in your family. Instead, set limits about specific behaviors that you want to see and don’t want to see. Providing consequences, boundaries, and reinforcement for behavior can be helpful.


Ask and Listen—Avoid Lectures

As adults it can be challenging to avoid lectures because we desperately want to impart wisdom and help our children avoid mistakes. It is beneficial to ask questions that foster curiosity and thinking rather than lecturing. We want to encourage our youth to seek answers on their own; this can be achieved by utilizing active listening skills such as open-ended questions and reflective statements. Remember to listen WITHOUT judgment.


Know When and How to Intervene

It is time to intervene if you suspect or are aware that your teen is using substances regularly or notice significant changes, such as:

  • Sudden and/or extreme change in friends, eating, sleeping habits, frequent request for money
  • Change in school habits- unusually poor attendance or grades
  • Irresponsible behavior, poor judgment, and general lack of interest in hobbies
  • Increase in rebellious behavior, avoidance/withdrawal from family

Be sure to address it. Teens who use substances have an increased risk of developing a substance use disorder. If you are concerned about your child, it may be beneficial to have a professional assessment done. There are many organizations that can provide assessments and guidance for the next steps, but a good place to start is with your pediatrician. Having an open conversation with the pediatrician will open the door to a referral for assessment, and treatment options if necessary. If you are not sure if your child’s change in behavior should be of concern, you can find a detailed list of signs and symptoms, as well as information about specific substances, on the website for the Adolescent Substance Use and Addiction Program at Boston Children’s Hospital (https://www.childrenshospital.org).

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