Candid Family: Good Communication Helps Teens Avoid Trouble

As young teens start pre-dating, with crushes and romantic interests, they also may begin experimenting with alcohol and drugs. It’s an uncomfortably familiar scenario that’s played out generation after generation.

But research also continues to show that when parents and teens communicate about these sensitive and often embarrassing subjects, some of the pitfalls of youth can be avoided.

Popular young teens most likely to drink

In a study of 1,100 10th grade Los Angeles students, participants voted on who was most “romantic” in their class. They also divulged their drinking and smoking habits. More than one-third (35.5 percent) of teens with romantic crushes also reported drinking alcohol the previous month. The more popular the students were (based on votes), the more they tended to drink – most likely because they attended more social gatherings that encouraged drinking. Fewer than 10 percent reported smoking cigarettes, a less popular activity possibly because smoking is considered socially taboo.

Researchers warn that for young teens at risk for addiction, this pattern could lead them down an especially negative path.

Teens “feel older” when then engage in risky behaviors

What’s pushing kids to try alcohol, cigarettes and even sex? Apart from hormones, a Canadian study of 700 teens confirms what parents have long suspected – that getting involved in these activities makes teens feel more “adult.” Also, coupling with an older “dating partner” gave teens a sense of feeling older.

Mom hears the most – especially from younger teens

Mom might be the best investigator in learning what teens are up to during their early dating years, according to a survey of 222 ninth and 12th graders at a central Ohio high school. About half were boys and half were girls. 

Overall, subjects reported telling their parents very little about their activities (including sex) on unsupervised dates.

However, younger teens were much more open, both boys and girls – confiding primarily in mom. This was especially true if they had a high level of trust in their parents. Also, teens were more likely to discuss issues that could harm others and have severe consequences.

Here are some steps to help guide communications with the teen in your house:

  • Meet who they’re dating and get to know them.
  • Speak openly about your concerns and let them in turn speak back to you
  • When you’re talking to your teen, it’s incredibly important to actively listen. Don’t do all the talking.
  • Offer guidance, but know that teens ability or will to listen is going to sometimes be limited.

Trusting home environment is critical

The message is clear: It’s important parents provide a trusting home environment where kids feel comfortable sharing sensitive details about their personal lives. While it’s very natural for teens to create boundaries around the information they share with parents, a trusting relationship is key to maintaining constant communication. In this trusting environment, teens can still develop a healthy sense of autonomy.

Jacobs W, et al. What’s love got to do with it? Adolescent romantic networks and substance use. Int J Adoles Youth. doi: 10.1080/02673843.2015.1122643. Published online Dec. 24, 2015.