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Is Your Teen Really Listening to You When You Talk About Drugs?

What do conversations with your teen typically look like? Are they one-sided? Does your teen receive instruction well? Do her eyes glaze over the moment you open your mouth? Does she cross her arms and stomp away?

Many times, the cues teens offer aren’t so obvious. The trick is to watch for subtle cues to discern how your teen is responding internally. This is especially important when talking with teens about the dangers of drug abuse. Learning to read their verbal and nonverbal cues will help you determine if they’re lying, how they truly feel about drug use and whether anything you’re saying is getting through.


As you have crucial conversations with your teen about substance abuse, be aware of the following B.A.T.T.L.E. signs – they’ll help guide your dialogue.

(B)ut: If your teen agrees with something you say, then adds a “but,” their next statement is usually what they fear. Explore their beliefs around this statement; help them see if there’s any truth in it or only fear of what might happen.

“Will you say no if someone offers you drugs?”
“Of course, but…I probably won’t have any friends if I keep saying no.”

(A)utomatic agreement: While you hope your teen agrees with you about substance use, you should be wary of an easy, quick agreement. Lack of discussion or questions could indicate they’re simply trying to appease you and get to the end of the discussion. Ask them to restate, in their own words, what they’re agreeing to. Talk about what obstacles they might encounter while trying to stay drug-free.

“Do you think drug use is a bad idea?”
“Oh yeah; very bad.”
“Why do you think abusing drugs is a bad choice?”

(T)wist: If your teen twists your words and turns them into a negative or accusatory statement, they’re on the defensive. This could mean several things. It’s possible you didn’t communicate clearly, so start by restating what you said and then explain further. If they still twist your words, you may have hit a nerve. Calmly explore the feelings behind what they’re saying and try to understand the root issues. They may feel guilty because they’ve already tried drugs. They may be scared they’ll get caught if they’re currently using.

“What do you think about drug use?”
“Are you asking me if I use drugs? Why do you think I’m using drugs?”

(T)one change: Did your teen’s tone of voice lower or did he start speaking faster? These are often indicators that they’re telling you what is most important to them. Don’t hurry past this point in the conversation. While you may have more to say, it’s important to fully understand what caused their change in tone and explore the topic more.

“Have any of your friends tried drugs?”
“I-I-don’t-really-know…I’m-not-sure. I mean, probably-some-of-them-have-but-I’m-not sure…I think – maybe – maybe Austin did…maybe once.”

Drug addicted women sitting at the center of the road(L)aughter: It’s easy to get offended when someone laughs at something you didn’t intend to be funny, but keep in mind the common occurrence of nervous laughter. This could be happening with your teen. They may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. View their nervous laughter as a sign they are feeling badly, not disrespecting you. If the conversation makes them nervous, maybe you should try to talk to them more often and make significant conversations feel more “normal.” It’s also possible they are nervous because they’ve been using drugs, which makes these conversations even more important.

“I wanted to ask you what you thought about drug use.”
Laughter. “Drug use?” More laughter. “Okay.”

(E)ye contact: This can be difficult to interpret, but a few cues are typical. If your teen’s pattern of eye contact in a conversation suddenly changes, you may need to stop talking and give them a chance to speak. If they suddenly look away, this might mean you hit on something significant. The same goes for a long, unyielding stare.

“I want to make sure you understand that friends who use drugs can have a negative influence on you.”
No verbal response. Unblinking, five-second stare in the eyes.

Becoming a Reader of Signs

While it may seem that teens are impossible to read, cues can help you discern how your conversations are going, find out if your teen’s telling the truth and what issues you need to discuss further. Keep in mind, even if they don’t seem to be listening, it’s still important to have these conversations to educate your teen about the dangers of substance abuse.

Remember: If only half of what you say gets through, that’s still fifty percent more than if you never spoke at all.