Setting the Table for an Open Dialogue

White plate and cutlery on wood

Written by The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

Talking to teenagers is difficult to begin with. Talking to them about drugs and alcohol is even harder. As a parent you are often met with resistance. The good news is that there are ways to engage your teen that promote open and positive communication.

As you prepare for the National Night of Conversation on November 19th, here are some effective tools to set the stage for a conversation about substances:

Keep an open mind. If you want to have a productive conversation with your teen, one thing to keep in mind is that when a child feels judged or condemned, she is less likely to be receptive to your message. We suggest that, in order to achieve the best outcome for you and your teen, try to preserve a position of objectivity and openness. We understand this is challenging and may take practice.

Put yourself in your teen’s shoes. For instance, consider the manner in which you yourself would prefer to be addressed when speaking about a difficult subject. It might be helpful to think about how you felt when you were a teen.

Be clear about your goals. It may help to write them down. Once you know what you would like to get from the conversation, you can look back at these afterward and review what went right, what went wrong, what goals were met, which ones are to be saved for a later date, and whether you were able to deliver them effectively.

Be positive. If you approach a situation with shame, anger, scare tactics, or disappointment, your efforts will be counterproductive. Instead, be attentive, curious, respectful, and understanding.

To read more, download our free guide at

Talking with your teen about drugs doesn’t have to be awkward and uncomfortable. In this video, parenting expert Heather Senior, LCSW, explains how to set the stage to have a respectful, open conversation with your teen about pot, alcohol, or any drug.