By Cathy Carballeira, PhD, LCSWR

Parents should not depend on the schools to engage and confront their adolescents about alcohol and illicit drug use. Schools are not equipped to deal with these issues. Engaging in a meaningful discussion with your adolescent is the first step toward any intervention.

Having an honest, sincere discussion with your adolescent whom you suspect of using alcohol and illicit drugs can be a golden opportunity for communication, or it can become a parental nightmare. It is crucial to prepare for such eventuality and follow some guidelines.

The most important factor to keep in mind is that once a parent makes a derogatory, sarcastic, or nasty comment, it cannot be taken back; it stays and festers in the adolescent’s mind. They might “internalize it,” taking it in and making it their own. It could become their mantra, leading to self-deprecating and self-hating behaviors, and even to the opposite of what is intended—more alcohol or drug use.

It could lead to what we call in the business “cognitive distortions,” such as “I’m so stupid; I can’t do anything right; I’m a loser. I might as well not even try; who cares anyway?” These distortions color the way the adolescent sees the world and infect every decision and behavior that they might make in a negative and self-defeating way.

In How to Get Your Loved One Sober; Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading or Threatening, authors Meyers and Wolfe, inventors of the CRAFT Program, offer these suggestions, using non-confrontational and supportive ways of engaging in a meaningful conversation (2004, pp.135–136).

Use “I” statements and avoid statements beginning with “you.” Focus on your feelings and create a climate of understanding and respect on an affective (emotional) level:

1. Instead of saying “You’re an accident waiting to happen,” say instead: “I get scared when you drink.”

2. Instead of saying “You’re so inconsiderate when you miss dinner,” say instead: “I feel hurt when you miss dinner without calling.”

3. Instead of saying “You’re a slob,” say “It’s important to me to have a tidy house. Won’t you please put your things away?”

Use positive statements to invite a conversation to take place, not squash it:

1. Instead of “You always embarrass me,” say “It would make me happy if you did not smoke marijuana tonight.”

2. Instead of “I can’t stand it when you lie to me,” say instead “I want to believe you but that story sounds odd.”

3. “You never listen to me when I’m talking to you,” say instead: “I understand that some of our discussions are upsetting but I’d love it if you could help me work them out.” (p. 135).

We can all hear the difference in these statements, which can lead to productive conversations and empathic ways of opening up the discussion without the hurt and sting of rejections and ridicule. At Tempo Group, we are here to help you with these discussions, next steps, and other concerns you have about your adolescent.

Cathy Carballeira, PhD, LCSWR, CHt is a staff psychotherapist at Tempo Group, a family-based, outpatient chemical-dependency program with offices in Woodmere, Bellmore, and Syosset. Tempo Group can be reached at info@tempogroup.org or 516-374-3671.

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