Older Teenagers

Finding the right balance between protecting teenagers and giving them freedom isn’t easy. You can’t be by their side all the time, and they wouldn’t thank you for it anyway. However, with communication and trust, you can help them to make the right decision in a tricky situation, learn from their mistakes, come to you for advice when needed and still stay safe. The biggest risks to teenagers from alcohol is getting involved in accidents or fights and unprotected, regretted or risky sex , increased vulnerability to others and as their inhibitions go, they are more likely to try smoking, cannabis or vaping.  

The Chief Medical Officer’s guidance therefore is an alcohol free childhood until the age of 15 and while it is safest to not supply alcohol, if parents do, providing sips only in early to mid-adolescence, and delaying supply of whole drinks for as long as possible is likely to result in less harm or binge drinking outside of the home. Basically, the more permissive and relaxed we are around alcohol the more we normalise early use. 

While some parents worry that discussing drugs might encourage drug use, open communication generally, and discussing drugs specifically, has been associated with lower rates of drug use. The good news is most teenagers don’t use and the majority of those who do only do so occasionally, and don’t come to serious harm. Drug use among teens has actually been in decline for more than two decades. 

Using any illicit drug is risky, primarily because they’re illegal and you don’t know what you’re getting. Do take time to look at www.talktofrank.com, which details all substances and their effects. Because illicit drugs are unregulated, there’s no quality control or restrictions on sales, like there is, say, for alcohol or medicines. Manufacturers can add whatever substances they like and sell their drugs as anything.  

See  this clip about  How social media is getting your kids addicted to vaping

What should I say?  

Don’t have ‘the conversation’ straight before a party – here are some tips to get a conversation started 

  • Ask questions what do they think about vaping? Do they know people who vape? Why do they think people vape? Have they thought about the impact of vapes on nature and the planet as over 1 million are thrown away each week?
  • With drinking this could be around what do they think about people who get drunk?, Do they know that 3 in 10 students don’t drink alcohol at all and 8 in 10 choose not to get drunk?
  • Are they aware that cannabis is linked to poor mental health and psychosis? Although someone might feel chilled and laid back using a little cannabis, this changes as someone uses regularly as THC (the pyscho-active element of street cannabis ‘steals’ the happy hormone dopamine from the brain to give a short term high and so a user will feel increasingly low afterwards?
  • Listen to them, learn from them, but also use your knowledge to help them understand the facts, laws and implications. Resist the urge to lecture. We know honest information works best. Scare tactics and exaggeration are generally unhelpful and may make teens more curious about trying drugs.
  • Ask what they know about the topic and what their thoughts are. Then give them the facts in a non-judgemental way
  • Talk about your expectations explain your concerns and tell them why you don’t want them to vape or smoke or drink. 
  • Let them know that you care about them. Explain that those who knowingly sell vapes to under 18s, or supply cannabis don’t care who they sell to and they are just interested in making money 
  • Talk about the different reasons why children may experiment and give examples such as wanting to fit in, curiosity, stress and other ways of dealing with this.
  • Talk through effective ways to respond if they ever feel pressured to try it (sport/medication/asthma/don’t need it).
  • If your child is vaping for example, try to understand why by asking questions like “What do you enjoy about vaping?” Or “How does vaping make you feel?”. Understanding this might help you to understand their needs and discuss other ways to meet those needs.

Research shows that older teenagers experiment with alcohol and other substances in the company of their friends, either at parties or in public places. Drinking among young adults is declining though, with 24% of 16-24 year-olds choosing not to drink at all and 30% of 15 year-olds haven’t even tried alcohol.  

Checking where your kids are and who they are with is really important at this age. Pick up and drop off at parties, check parents are present, ensure sleep over plans are genuine and be prepared to say no if you’re not happy or your teenager hasn’t been honest with you. 

Other drugs
14-16 year olds
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