Start the Conversation: High School Age

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“I’d probably ask my health teacher before [my parents] because he’s probably more knowledgeable on the subject. But yeah, definitely I would feel comfortable going to [my parents].”

 –9th grade boy | Spokane, Washington

“It can if you let it, it can maybe affect your future negatively if you start smoking weed and then you like get into other things. And then your future can all just fall apart you know. Like, it’s not your number one priority anymore, school.”

 –9th grade girl | Seattle, Washington

“At a young age it has a large effect on your brain. And so, like it could hurt your health like long term. Like all things, memory, motivation and ability to learn. It can cut those in half. I don’t see why you would risk it.”

 –10th grade boy | Spokane, Washington

In high school, students are interested in knowing facts about how alcohol and marijuana will affect their bodies and brains while using.

Try this:

  • Start talking now. In Washington, about half of all tenth graders surveyed in 2014 said they had tried alcohol and about 1 in 5 said they used marijuana in the last 30 days. It is never too early to start talking.    
  • Set and enforce rules. Teens are less likely to use alcohol or drugs if their parents have established a pattern of setting clear rules and enforcing fair and consistent consequences. Consequences for a missed curfew would likely be more severe than those for a messy room.
  • Cover all the topics. Talk with your teen about the connection between alcohol, tobacco, other drugs and sexual activity. Explain that mixing drugs can be deadly, anyone can become addicted to alcohol or other drugs, and that even trying it or using it occasionally can have serious and permanent consequences because their brain is still developing. Have a conversation about safe sex and explain that using alcohol and marijuana increases the risk of teen pregnancy.
  • Role-play different situations with your teen where people offer him or her drugs and practice what to say. Peer pressure is real and hard to resist. Teens who know what to say and have a plan are more likely to overcome peer pressure. Practice makes perfect—get help here
  • Ask them for reasons. Teens name many reasons not to use, including not wanting to ruin their futures, wanting to protect their brains and do well in school, fear of addiction and not wanting to disappoint parents. Let your teen tell you why they choose not to use.
  • Help your teen develop skills and hobbies. Participating in activities that your child excels in can build confidence and connect them to positive peer groups. Your encouragement can help your child find the motivation and dedication to work hard.
  • Set academic expectations. Many young people are self-motivated to do well in school. For those who aren’t, set clear expectations about school work. Help your teen set goals and support their efforts to achieve them.
  • Model healthy choices at home. Your teens pay attention to what you say and do. Your words and actions influence them in many ways every day. Give them good examples to follow.
  • Talk about the future. Young people are naturally good at coming up with reasons not to use drugs and alcohol when they are thinking about their goals. Emphasize what alcohol or drug use can do to your teen’s future. Don’t be vague, give real examples. Discuss how substance use can ruin their chance of getting into the college they want or landing the perfect job.
  • Don’t forget road rules. A surprisingly high amount of teens drive while under the influence or ride with someone who has been using substances. The commonly heard statement, “I drive better when I’m high” is a myth. Driving under the influence of any substance impairs a person’s judgement, reaction time and inhibitions.
  • Be there. Tell your teen they have a way out of tricky situations because you will be there for them. For example, you could offer to give them a ride home if a party gets out of hand—this strategy is usually most effective if you ensure they will not be punished.
  • Keep it constructive. Aim to have a conversation, not a debate or lecture. Speak with respect and appreciation, ask questions and listen to the entire response, avoid conversation stoppers, remember that conflict is natural and use calm body language.
  • Find teachable moments. If you see a news story about impaired-driver car crashes, marijuana laws or watch a movie with teen alcohol use, take the opportunity to start a conversation. Ask your teen what they think. Pay attention to what your teens hear from friends, siblings and entertainment and what they read on the internet. Spontaneous conversations can be as impactful as planned.  
  • Keep talking. Make conversations about marijuana and alcohol a regular part of your child’s life at every stage of development. Ask questions to learn more about what they are experiencing, remind them about your expectations and let them know they can talk to you. This is easier when you keep the lines of communication open and if you communicate the way your teen does.  
  • Remain calm if your teen is using marijuana or alcohol. Remember that communication is key. Ask your teen why they are using and help them problem solve. For example, if your teen tried marijuana or alcohol to relieve stress, recommend healthier options like exercise, meditation or journal writing. For free, confidential support, call the Washington Recovery Helpline: 1-866-789-1511.
  • Tell students to intervene when classmates are in trouble with alcohol or other drugs.  Some teens fail to call for help when someone "blacks out" for fear of getting the teen in trouble.  This should always be treated as a medical emergency - letting someone "sleep it off" can result in death if the person stops breathing.  Washington State has a "Good Samaritan" Law that protects bystanders and anyone experiencing an alcohol/drug overdose from being prosecuted for use or possession. 

Explain to your teen the reasons why alcohol and marijuana are only safe when used in moderation by those who are age 21 and older.  Clarify that it is never safe for anyone to abuse alcohol or drugs, or to drive after using them.