Even when your think teens aren’t, ‘They Are Listening’

Van Suchtelen

Let’s take a minute to think about when we were teenagers. Did your parents talk to you about alcohol and drugs when you were young? Were they role models? Did they ‘walk the talk’? Did they trust you to make the right choices and allow you to make mistakes? Did your parents listen to what you had to say? Did they understand that ‘talking’ really starts with ‘listening’?

When we think back, we remember the ways of our parents. Our children, too, will remember our parenting style. By reflecting back, we can perhaps better engage with our teens now.

In the “They Are Listening” campaign, recently launched by San Juan Basin Health, we encourage parents to talk with their teenagers about alcohol and drugs. The campaign is guided by local data provided by the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. Every other year, about 3,000 La Plata County young people participate in this survey. It provides valuable information about how our teenagers think about alcohol and drug use, as well as many other topics.

One of the interesting outcomes of the 2011-12 survey was that teenagers are three times less likely to drink alcohol if they know their parents disapprove. In other words, teenagers do value their parent’s perspective and guidance, even though teenagers pretend they don’t care what we think, or tell us that we ‘live in the past,’ or that ‘all the other parents are fine with it.’ These data remind us that we are indeed important role models to our children.

So, how can we talk with our teenagers? I asked the experts – the teenagers.

Last spring, I had the opportunity to work with a group of students at Durango High School and asked them to make poster boards with information for parents about ‘How to talk with your teenagers about alcohol and drugs.’ The students came up with some very worthwhile suggestions, which they organized in two columns, the “Do’s” and the “Don’ts.”

A few important “Do’s” were: “Make your kids know you are not against them” and “Put yourself in their shoes.” Some of the “Don’ts” were: “Do not raise your voice when talking to your teen. We feel pressured, overwhelmed, and it upsets us. Raising your voice toward your teen will push your child toward more rebellion.” As always, I learned a lot from these young people. Just asking a few simple questions got us all engaged.

Summertime brings many opportunities to connect with your teenagers. The long drives in the car, camping trips, backyard barbecues or just hanging out on the couch together. If you would like suggestions about how to start a conversation with your teenager about alcohol and drugs, a good website is Speaknowcolorado.org. “s Are Listening” materials are available at SJBH.

Mip van Suchtelen is manager of the Drug Free Communities program at San Juan Basin Health Department. She is a guest writer for Jane Looney, who normally writes for Creating Community. You can reach her at mvansuchtelen@sjbhd.org

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