Build up a close relationship
A close relationship isn’t something you build, just like that, over the course of an afternoon on the sofa. It’s more about building confidence and trust and about accepting the relationship on the young person’s terms. A lot of parents feel that their teenagers are shutting them out of their lives, but that’s not actually the case. They still need their parents as much as they ever did.
The best way to win your teenager’s confidence is to show them that you care, that you’re interested in what they think and what they’re going through. You can talk about your own experiences, but you don’t have to go into detail: it’s enough to tell them that you understand.
A teenager will listen to an adult who knows something and is happy to talk about it. It’s as simple as that. They need the support that comes from the safety and security that an adult can provide and which they, themselves, lack.
Bengt Grandelius, Reg. Psychologist and family therapist
Tell them why you’re worried
Simply forbidding things and telling children that they’re not allowed to do something is not an effective approach. If they’re going to listen to what you say, they need to understand why you’re saying it. Explain why you’re worried, how it feels to be a parent, and what you’re afraid of. At the same time, knowing that boundaries exist and where they lie is obviously important to your child, and reassuring too.
Try not to make a big thing of your teenager’s attitude towards alcohol, or to worry yourself sick about it. Talk a bit about it from time to time and show them that you understand what it’s like when their friends are pushing them to try it. That’ll help your child to talk about it on their own accord. And don’t assume that all young people, or your particular teenager, drink. But if you are worried, air your concerns together with your teenager, rather than launching some kind of cross-examination – all that will do is create a distance between you. And trust that your teenager will listen to your concerns.
Reassure them that it’s ok to tell you things
It’s important that your teenager understands that you will still love him or her, whatever happens. Children need to feel that they can be honest without their parents losing their temper or throwing a fit. This might sound obvious, but it can actually be one of the hardest things about being a teenager’s parent. On the one hand, you’re worried about what might happen and really would prefer not to hear about drunken parties. On the other hand, you’d probably like to know what’s going on in your child’s life. But you have to be prepared to handle the truth and the child has to feel that he or she did the right thing by telling you.
My paremts don't talk to me about alcohol very much. The only thing they've said is, "Of course, you know it's wrong."
Adrian, aged 15, Umeå
When you hear things you’d rather not hear
When your child tells you what’s happening, you might get to learn about things that you’d really rather not have known. Sit down with your child and tell them how worried you are. Try and stay calm and determined, so that your child knows where they stand. Sometimes, that’s just not possible, and you have to allow yourself to shout or cry for a while. But even if you don’t always manage to stay calm, your child will understand that you care.
Discuss everything under the sun
The basis of a close relationship is often the fact that you are in the habit of talking about everything under the sun. It might be how their day went at school, what your child thinks about something, or how their friends are doing. Basically, anything at all that shows that you’re interested. If you’re in the habit of discussing things, talking about alcohol and other drugs without it being such a big thing becomes a lot easier.