Monday, August 4, 2014

Talking to your teen about substance use and sex: prevention is key

When is the right time to talk to your teen about sex, drugs and alcohol use? The truth is talking about these matters is just as important as talking about drunk driving or preparing for college. While it may not be comfortable at first, the sooner you start talking about these things the better.

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In the technology-driven world we live in, teens especially, are being exposed to sex and substance use both on the Internet and through friends. This results in teenagers becoming more curious about experimenting with substance or sex at a younger age. Teens may view drinking, smoking and sexual activity as the “cool thing to do” simply from the way it is glamorized in social media and talked about by their peers. Young teens also learn habits from their older siblings simply by viewing photos or status updates on Facebook or Instagram. While we can't completely shield our children from everything, there are ways to educate them on these topics so that they remain safe.

There is also a strong correlation between substance use and teen sexual activity. A study completed by found that, “teens under age 15, who had ever had a drink were twice as likely to have had sex as those who didn’t drink.” The same can be said for teens, who drank ages 15 and up who were “7 times likelier to have had sexual intercourse and twice as likely to have had it with 4 or more partners than non-drinking teens.” [1] What many teens don’t realize is that these numbers don’t include only consensual sex in that age group. Drinking or using drugs might increase the risks for sexual abuse and even rape.

While you may believe that you have a good rope on what your teen is doing at all times, eventually they will be off to college and will need to make decisions regarding sex and substance use on their own. However, alcohol has lead to rising number of unprotected sex. In fact, according to data compiled in 2013 on, “400,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 had unprotected sex and more than 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex.”Unprotected sex can lead to a slew of problems such as unwanted pregnancy and sexual transmitted diseases. According to the same study, “97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.”[2]

So what can you do as a parent or trusted adult? Again, communication is key. Here are a few solid tips when approaching the subject with your teen.

  • Remain calm and collected. A screaming match between you and your teen will get you nowhere fast. When discussing these topics it’s best to remain calm and non-hysterical. This way your teen will engage in the conversation longer, and will not feel like they will get in trouble if they speak with you about their curiosity about sex or drug and alcohol use. The more you converse with your teen, the more comfortable you both will feel. As much as you may want to completely shut off the topic, it is best to inform your teen about situations they could get into when engaging in substance use such as overdoses, date rape drugs, sexual assault, unprotected sex or unwanted sexual advances. This way, if a dangerous situation does arise one day, they can be prepared to react accordingly.

  • Keep on top of social media. Depending on your personal preference you may not want your teen on social media sites. But if you are constantly being begged to permit it and you decide to give in, have some boundaries. Explain to your teen that anything put on the Internet can never be erased. Oftentimes teens don’t think about the long term and solely focus on the short term. While social media sites do have privacy measures, advise your teen against posting pictures of underage drinking or drug use. Another way to protect your teen is to add them as your friend. If you see anything unusual, ask your teen about it and how they feel casually. This might give you a better insight as to whether they are curious about experimenting with substance or not. 

How have you talked to your teen about these issues?

This blogpost is by guest blogger, Saint Jude Retreats, an alternative to traditional substance use treatment. Saint Jude Retreats provides a program for people with substance use problems that concentrates on self-directed positive and permanent change. Through the program, we offer the opportunity for individuals to self-evaluate and explore avenues for life enhancement.


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