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Health & Parenting

Talking With Your Teen About Sex, Drugs, and Money

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Drugs & Alcohol continued...

Lecturing doesn't help kids internalize this kind of lesson, says Pasierb, but give-and-take does. Start a real back-and-forth discussion by saying, "How sad about Amy Winehouse. Seriously, have any kids at your school gotten into a tough spot with drugs?" Or, "I heard your school's starting quarterback is sidelined because he broke his leg driving stoned. Does that mean the scouts won't see him now?" Inviting a dialogue keeps the conversation away from confrontation, so your kid can hear what you say, even when you focus on your expectations of him.

Also know that this generation of kids responds best when you warn them what a threat drugs and alcohol present to their health and future, according to Partnership research. So rather than say "Drinking is illegal" or "Using drugs is bad," try, "I love you, and I want you to be healthy and happy." Then drop a relevant fact — "Wine and beer can impair driving as much as hard liquor."

Pasierb suggests a "water-torture approach" — many short conversations (less than five minutes each) from ages 9 to 19. The repetition reduces the pressure by giving you many chances to make your points.

Keep in mind, too, that your kid may want help finding a way to get off the hook when peers encourage him to chug a beer or try a joint, says Lerner. I've armed Sam with a diplomatic exit strategy: Don't make a fuss, apologize, or explain. A simple "No, thanks," may be all it takes. But if he's pressed, he and I have colluded on this excuse, "Dude, my mom's a German shepherd. She can smell anything illegal from a mile away."

What to cover: Parents need to be informed about issues like which prescription drugs kids target, what huffing involves, and exactly how alcohol impairs judgment, as well as the latest developments. To get up-to-date facts, visit Partnership's site at drugfree.org.

Getting around the roadblocks: Fear of hypocrisy frequently hinders parents from tackling this topic, says Pasierb. Very few of us these days can honestly claim we always just said no. There's no right answer about whether to fess up or not: Tell as much as you're comfortable with, recommends Pasierb, and remember the conversation isn't ultimately about you; it's about keeping your kid safe. Lerner adds that when parents admit that they've made mistakes, that it hasn't always been easy to live up to their own values, kids are actually more likely to believe them. With her own children, Lerner said, "I did some dumb things in college, and I regret them, and here's why."

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