Having "the talk" about sex with a teen can be an awkward subject for some parents, similarly bringing up the risks of doing drugs can also be a tricky one to broach. You might worry about your approach or appearing too preachy. "There are no easy answers, but the conversation is crucial," says Dr. Jason Walker, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Victoria, School of Child and Youth Care in B.C.
Using online resources
The Internet can be a great way to open that line of communication with your teen. There are many websites full of information for both parents and adolescents about drug-related issues. For teens, using a hipper, more graphically appealing design seems to be the direction that many organizations take. However just as there are lots of "cool-looking" sites about the dangers of doing drugs, there are also pages devoted to advocating drug use.
"I've had teens who have come to me with a pseudo knowledge about drugs," says Gary Direnfeld, a social worker in private practice in Dundas, Ont. "They got their knowledge from questionable websites." Also, with blogs becoming so popular among young people, misinformation can be spread through these online journals. "One has to be very careful because they are strictly personal opinions," warns Direnfeld.
Surfing credible sites
Kids and parents alike need to know how to identify a credible online destination.
"When researching anything, you have to be confident about your source," says Dr. Walker. He suggests looking for sites that are associated with major health and well-known youth organizations, government websites, and associations, like the Canadian Medical Association. "Use the Internet for direction, find youth services in your community and seek out the experts who can help," he recommends.
Direnfeld also suggests going to the "About us" link on a website to help determine its legitimacy.
Here are five websites that can help start that dialogue with your teen:
1. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: Canada's leading addiction and mental health teaching hospital has a whole page devoted to information about drugs and addiction that can be useful for both parents and teens. The site also provides multilingual resources with a section on understanding addiction.
2. The Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission: This comprehensive site has a section for parents who are seeking ways to address a variety of issues with their kids, including drug use. The youth area provides facts on drugs and addiction as well as a section called Express Yourself where teens can communicate their adolescent angst through stories, poetry and art.
3. Kids Help Phone: Children of any age can anonymously call a counsellor or ask a counsellor a question online 24/7 through this bilingual, national service. A Topic Library links to a section called Becoming a Young Adult with information on drugs and alcohol.
4. The McCreary Centre Society: This small, non-profit organization, concerned with the health of young people in British Columbia, has a Youth Advisory Council and provides colourful fact sheets on a variety of issues, including Facts about Substance Use. Note: You may be prompted to enter your name and e-mail address to download the PDF.
There is no easy way to bring up sensitive subjects with your teen. But the message you want to send to your child is: this is a real topic, it's safe to talk about together and you won't be judging them, says Dr. Walker. "If your child discloses drug and/or alcohol use, as shocking as this may or may not be to you, your child trusts you enough to share. Build on that trust, create a safety plan and reach out to people in your community who are trained to help you."