Teens

Two questions you should ask your teens about drugs and alcohol

Feb. 18, 2014 at 10:00 AM ET

Video: Logan Levkoff and Jennifer Wider, authors of the book “Got Teens?”, say parents should be frank when answering questions from their kids about drugs, alcohol and sex.

Having "The Talk" with your child doesn't necessarily just mean a conversation about sex. As kids get older, many parents wonder what they should say about drugs and alcohol to help them navigate their teen years.

Dr. Logan Levkoff and Dr. Jennifer Wider understand. They're the authors of the new book "Got Teens? The Doctor Moms' Guide to Sexuality, Social Media and Other Adolescent Realities." 

They told TODAY's Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb the two things parents should always find out from their children about alcohol and drug use, but may be too embarrassed to ask:

1. Have you ever posted something on social media while drunk?

2. Have you ever vomited from drinking too much alcohol?

So how do you pose those questions to your teen? Wider suggests always asking about a friend rather than your child directly. Once your child opens up about his or her peer group, it's easy for the conversation to get more personal — as long as you don't come off as judgmental. That's the key, she notes. 

Wider offers an example of how to broach this subject: "You know, I hear all the stories about how people are drunkenly posting things on Instagram and it makes me realize how lucky I was that I never had to deal with that in school. Does this ever come up with you and your friends? How have you managed this?" 

Some uncomfortable questions about substance abuse may be coming from the teens themselves. How should you respond if your children ask you about your past alcohol and drug use? Levkoff said it’s important to be honest, but to first find out why they’re asking. 

"Are they looking to justify their own behavior? Are their friends doing it? Do they have questions?" Levkoff said.

"It’s always in our best interest to model healthy drinking for them. If your kids sees you blacked out drunk, it’s not a great thing. But if you’re teaching them how to enjoy a glass of wine with a meal as part of an overall culinary culture, that’s a much better message."

Kids may also have questions about marijuana, especially now that some states have legalized the drug for medicinal or recreational use.

Levkoff advised telling kids that medical marijuana helps with certain conditions, but to point out that an adolescent’s brain is not as developed as an adult’s, so using the drug may be different for a teen than it is for an adult. 

The authors urged parents to keep the lines of communications open about alcohol, drugs and sex and not to just rely on schools to teach teens what to do when temptations arise.

"It is certainly a parent’s responsibility to teach values and to talk to your kids about what your boundaries are because at the end of the day kids sure are going to push the envelope," Levkoff said.

"You want them at that key moment to think, ‘What did my parents tell me again? What would they be OK with? And what are they not OK with?’"

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