Practicing Good Listening Skills with Teens

Strong relationships and family connections support your teen to make healthy choices and feel confident, especially when faced with decisions around substance use. Build a good relationship through learning and practicing good listening skills, which are fundamental to any relationship, especially with your teenagers. Taking the time to really listen to your teens shows them you respect their thoughts and opinions. Good listening helps build trust.

An example:

A teen is putting on her shoes, getting ready to leave for school. Her parent notices that the friend her teen usually walks to school with isn’t waiting in the foyer. Come to think of it, the friend didn’t show up the day before either.

Parent: Where’s Diana today?
Teen: She’s not allowed to come over here anymore.
Parent: Why not?
Teen: Because of the party we went to on Saturday.
Parent: What happened at the party?
Teen: Nothing. Well, you know. Some people were drinking and using drugs. She didn’t do any, but her mom doesn’t approve and she knows I sometimes smoke pot. There were also kids who took some Oxys and Diana’s mom found out.
Parent: She doesn’t want her to come here because she thinks you are a bad influence on Diana?
Teen: I guess so. She lied about where she was going. She told her mom she was going to Sherry’s. When her mom found out Diana lied, she was really mad.
Parent: She’s mad at Diana because she lied to her about going to the party?
Teen: Something like that. I don’t know why they’re mad at me. I didn’t lie to my parents.
Parent: What did you think when you saw kids taking pills at the party? Did you talk about it with Diana?
Teen: Yes. We both know they are dangerous and we didn’t feel like trying them. But I think her mom has made her feel really afraid of these things, especially with everything that’s been going on in the news lately.
Parent: I see. I think it’s good if you can chat with her about these issues, so that she has someone she can talk to about it. And I’m always open to talk about it as well if you feel like it.
Teen: Thanks mom!

You know you’re practising good listening skills with your teen when you strip away your part of the conversation and your teenager’s story flows and finds its own form of resolution.

Talk When it Makes Sense

Every child is different, and there is no “right time” to start a conversation about opioids or other drugs. But engaging children early in open exchange about important things that may touch their lives is a supportive way to help them address those things.

Even young children know substance use is a part of society, whether it is coffee, alcohol, cannabis or other drugs. They are exposed to drugs on TV and in other media. This can actually make it easier start the conversation. Try bringing up the topic of opioids or other drugs when:

  • there is a news story on TV about drugs,
  • you see drug use in a movie you’re watching together,
  • opioids or other substances come up in a post in social media, or
  • you’re chatting at the dinner table about what happened at work and school that day.

Talk with teens about opioids or other drugs as the topic presents itself in daily life. Then your teens will have this life experience to draw on as they make their own choices in life. This will help them develop personal standards, minimize risk and critically assess popular assumptions about substance use. If you keep the conversations going by using good, respectful listening skills, you can continue to be an important sounding board for them to try out their thoughts and ideas.

For More Information

For more information about how to talk to your teens about substance use and overdose, see the following parenting articles:


Last Reviewed: December 2016

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