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Teens, drugs, alcohol and privacy

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Parenting a teenager can be a balancing act, you want to look after them and make sure they are safe, but you don't want to strong arm them and invade their privacy.

If you notice a change in your child's behaviour, if they are more withdrawn or are going out more often with new friends, it may just be the natural state of being a teenager, but it may be something else.

Keeping your teen safe can be difficult as you have less control over them. Teens want to make their own decisions and live their own lives.

Separation from parents is healthy, but if you are worried about your teen's risky or dangerous behaviour you need to step in.

If you suspect your teenager is doing drugs, drinking underage or drinking too much, your first action should be to talk to your child without going in heavy handed and try to establish if there's a problem and what you can do to help.

Mentor UK is a charity which works to prevent drug and alcohol misuse among young people. It's chief executive Michael O'Toole says: "Parents and carers play a vital role in keeping children safe from drugs and alcohol, and shouldn't underestimate their influence, or how long it lasts."

Talking about drug use

Start a dialogue with your children about drugs early. One in twenty 15 year olds in England say they have taken a drug more than 10 times so don't wait too long to talk to your kids.

If you are at the stage when you think your child has already taken drugs, don't go in there all guns blazing. If you overreact to your teen having smoked a joint and assume they are going to be a crack addict next week, they won't respect your opinion and will discount what you are trying to do to help them. It's best to read up on drugs, what they all are and what they do. Also educate yourself about 'legal highs'. The more real facts you know the more your teen will take notice of what you have to say.

"When you're talking to your children about drugs, try to put your own feelings to one side," says Jeremy Todd, chief executive of Family Lives. "If you think or know that your child has been using drugs, it's natural to feel worried or angry, but losing your temper, threatening or scaremongering is more likely to push them further away from you."

He says while you need to talk about the risks, it's also important to understand why taking drugs can be seen as appealing, such as out of curiosity, boredom or to impress peers and friends.

"Set aside your assumptions and pre-conceived ideas and listen to what your child has to say. Remain calm and listen to why they have made the decision to experiment with illegal drugs," says Jeremy. "Try to help them to understand that using drugs is not necessarily the easy option it seems to be."

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