This is how NJ parents need to talk with their teens about substance abuse

Many years ago, when my own children were small and I had just begun working in the field of prevention, I was often asked to speak with parents about youth substance use. I came across a copy of those remarks recently and was curious as to what I might say to parents today after 25 years in the field.

First, the good news. Underage drinking among teens in New Jersey has been trending downward over the last 10 years, although two key indicators — the percentage of students having their first drink before age 13 (12%) and the percentage of students binge drinking (15%) have remained stable. While teen misuse of prescription medications and use of illicit drugs has declined, underage use of marijuana has also remained stable (17%). Similarly, rates of teen cigarette smoking are at an all-time low (4%), but vaping has remained unchanged with nearly 1 in 4 teens reporting current use.

Beyond statistics, however, these talks offered an opportunity for me to encourage parents in the vitally important role they play in preventing their child from trying substances — and 25 years later, that role has not changed.

Illegal, disposable, flavored e-cigarettes remain the top choice of American middle and high school students who use tobacco, fueling youth vaping.

Illegal, disposable, flavored e-cigarettes remain the top choice of American middle and high school students who use tobacco, fueling youth vaping.

It is common for parents to feel they have very little influence over their teens’ behavior when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Perceptions of risk and parental disapproval are two long-established protective factors in preventing youth substance use that remain to this day. What has changed, however, is a decline in the perception of parental disapproval of teens’ use of certain substances, specifically alcohol and marijuana.

Despite having nearly all the information in the universe at their fingertips, teens still need to know — and do care — about what their parents think, and it’s more important than ever for teens and parents to share their opinions with one another in a productive manner. But with so many competing influences for their teen’s attention, and so much information and misinformation online, how are parents to know what to say and how to say it?

The New Jersey Prevention Network, a non-profit public health agency that focuses on strengthening the continuum of addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery in New Jersey, has developed Connect.Guide.Empower. as a resource for parents in supporting these important conversations.

On the Connect.Guide.Empower. homepage, parents will find accurate, scientifically proven information on alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs along with tips on how they can connect with their teens, guide a productive, non-judgmental conversation, and empower their teens to make positive, healthy choices.

By utilizing the resources on Connect.Guide.Empower., parents can learn how to engage with their teen in a manner that builds trust, even while sending a clear message that they would disapprove of a decision to use substances. Not saying anything at all is often taken by teens as indicating approval.

It is more important than ever for parents to feel supported in this effort. Connect.Guide.Empower. also provides parents with critical and timely information about teen mental health, a major contributing factor to youth substance use, along with links to resources and supportive services.

Andrea Zapcic

In addition to these important facts and tips, you can also easily download and share content on social media platforms to help other parents who may be wondering ways in which to approach this difficult subject and encourage them to take the next step and engage with their child.

Please visit to learn more.

Andrea Zapcic is prevention director for New Jersey Prevention Network.

This article originally appeared on NJ teen substance abuse: New strategies for parents

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