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Talking with Your Teen about Opioids

The presence of fentanyl and other opioids at high schools and junior high schools across the United States is on the rise. Stories of overdoses and deaths from opioids make the news daily. Concerned parents are asking – what can I do to keep my child safe? While there is no guaranteed way to 100% protect your child, there are some key things a parent can do to help educate their child and themselves while also keeping lines of communication open.

1) Educate Yourself – take time to get the facts about opioid use disorder, fentanyl, and other types of substance abuse issues. Focus on having the facts and know where you can go to get trusted information. SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) is an excellent source for this type of information. The SAMHSA website has many resources on topics ranging from how to watch for substance abuse issues, characteristics of opioid use disorder, and where to go for help. There is a selection of downloads on the SAMHSA site that are specifically for parents as well as teens and young adults. Here are a few that may be of particular interest:

Keep communication lines open with your teen so that you can talk about difficult situations.

2) Connect with Other Parents and School Contacts Talking with other parents can help you stay attuned to activities and social events going on in your child’s life. Knowing who your child’s friends are is helpful and you should make a point to get to know their friend’s parents so that you have an established relationship and can have open dialogue if you are concerned.

Stay connected with other parents and school to understand what is going on in your child's life.

Making a point of knowing what is going on for your child at school is also important. Are they staying up with their work? Has there been a change in their behavior at school? Are there increased issues overall at their school related to drugs and alcohol. Take advantage of educational sessions and briefings that are offered by the school or school district. These events help you know what your school is doing to help keep your child safe.

Make room for one-on-one time with your child.

3) Make room for one-on-one time with your child. This time alone with them helps create a safe space for them to share what is going on in their life. Additionally, spending time together offers you the opportunity to listen intently and offer praise when you see them making good decisions and choices. Look for the positive actions you see them taking and let them know you recognize their accomplishments. Striving to maintain a good relationship with your child is especially helpful when problems arise.

4) Speak openly and honestly with your child. When you speak with your children, be direct so they easily understand what you are saying. Be willing to share the facts about the risks of substance abuse and how it can affect a person’s life. Provide information on the hard realities of addiction such as risk of overdose, increased likelihood of criminal behavior leading to incarceration, and the potential long-term effects of substance abuse on their life. It may be helpful to go with your child to volunteer at a Treatment Center or Homeless Shelter to see how lives are impacted by addiction.

5) Remain Calm! This suggestion is often the hardest. Your child is striving to gain independence while you are trying to stay connected and keep them safe. While it can be difficult, when you talk with your child, strive to remain calm. Even though you might be feeling intense frustration during the conversation, try to remain patient and avoid yelling and heated arguments. These types of outbursts are likely to shut down communication all together and make it more difficult to keep your child safe.

6) Ask for Help. If you are concerned about your child, don’t delay in asking for help. Speak to your child’s healthcare provider for recommendations. Consider counseling and other support. If you determine that your child is suffering from a substance abuse disorder, seek treatment for them as soon as possible. Avoid letting shame or embarrassment keep you from reaching out for assistance. Getting your child help as early as possible may save them from years of pain and suffering and might even save their life.



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