Question: How can we help our adolescent avoid the pitfalls of substance abuse and premarital sexual activity? What’s the best way to make him aware of the risks?


Your teen should be hearing advisories on these subjects from responsible adults everywhere – at school, church and within your extended family. But you can’t count on these people to do the job for you. Parenting is a personal commitment. You may need to muster enough courage to tell your son about poor decisions that turned out to be costly in your own life. At some point, you may even have to help him navigate back from a bumpy side road or even pull him out of a ditch.

Educate yourself

In order to be able to encourage healthy choices and offer effective help when it’s needed, you would be wise to educate yourself as thoroughly as possible on the risks associated with substance abuse and premarital sexual activity among teens. Focus on the Family Canada makes available a number of helpful resources in this area, most of which can be ordered via our online store – for a few ideas, see the listing below. But knowledge, while essential, will be of little value if you don’t know how to use it in ways that will mould your adolescent’s attitudes and decisions.

Finding the best approach

Finding the best approach to talking with your child about these sensitive subjects takes forethought and patience. The following ideas can help you lay the groundwork for this vital task:

  1. It’s easier to talk about difficult topics if you have good rapport with your child in other areas. So spend time building and strengthening the parent-child relationship in every area. The effort will pay major dividends later on.

  2. Parents often worry that if they discuss certain topics (especially sex) in any detail, it will "give the kids ideas." Here’s a late news flash: the kids already have plenty of ideas. What they need now is to hear your viewpoint about them. But don’t expect them to ask – you need to take the initiative.

  3. Warnings about behaviours that threaten life and limb will be more effective if they aren’t diluted by nagging about less serious matters. Accentuate the positive and what you say about the negative will carry more weight. Remember that it’s easier for an adolescent to stay away from dangerous detours if the main highway is clearly marked, well lit, attractive and enjoyable. Another way to say this is that you can protect your child against harmful behaviours by providing healthy alternatives. Encourage and support positive goals, commitments, friends and activities – all of which are strong deterrents to destructive activities.

  4. Don’t expect to communicate your values in a few marathon sessions. Brief but potent teachable moments crop up regularly throughout childhood and adolescence. Seizing these opportunities requires spending enough time with a child to allow them to take place.

  5. Your actions will reinforce (or invalidate) your words. The misguided commandment, "Do what I say, not what I do," has never worked and never will. This doesn’t mean, of course, that parents can’t legitimately warn their kids not to do what they did as teenagers. Heartfelt confessions, cautionary tales and lessons learned at the University of Hard Knocks can have a profound impact on young listeners.

  6. Don’t shift into "lecture gear" very often, if at all. Your teen’s desire for independence and his heartfelt need to be treated like an adult will cause eyes to glaze and attention to drift if you begin sermonizing. Just say what’s on your heart without beating the point into the ground.

  7. Don’t give up if your efforts to broach tough topics aren’t greeted with enthusiasm. Even when your tone is open and inviting, you may find that a lively conversation isn’t easy to start. Be patient, don’t express frustration and don’t be afraid to try again later. If your spouse has any helpful suggestions about improving your delivery of the message, listen carefully and act accordingly.

  8. While you need to articulate your perspective on sex, drugs and other important matters with consistency, conviction and clarity, your adolescent must also understand that he can come to you when he has a problem. He needs to know that you, like God, are "a refuge and strength, a help in time of trouble."

More reading on this topic: 

Excerpted from The Complete Book of Baby and Child Care published by Tyndale House Publishers. © 1997, 2007 Focus on the Family.* All rights reserved. Used by permission. *U.S.A.

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