Talking To Your Child About Substance Abuse And Risky Sexual Behaviour

The urge to seek thrills and risks can drive a teen to indulge in unsafe sex or substance abuse. Keep your child safe from harm by talking about these two topics.

By Jasmine Kaur

Talking To Your Child About Substance Abuse And Risky Sexual Behaviour

Teenage is the time when children set off on a journey of self-discovery. It is also the phase when they experiment, explore and test the boundaries — all of which play an important role in shaping their personality and identity. But teenage is also a period of confusion, doubts and uncertainty. Moreover, some teens are prone to putting up a brave front and indulging in unsafe behaviour like substance abuse or risky sexual practices.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare did a survey from 2015 to 2016 and found that 18.5% of 15 to 19-year-old boys used tobacco while only 1.6% of girls of that age group, did so. It also found that 0.5% of girls and 8.9% of boys, in the 15-19 age group, consumed alcohol as well. Mehta et al published a study entitled, 'Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health in India: The Need to Focus', in the Journal of Young Medical Researchers (2013). The study notes that "there are 49,000 adolescent males and 46,000 adolescent females with HIV positive in India."

These facts may be alarming. But keep in mind that an open conversation with your child can guide them towards safer decisions and behaviour.

Why you should talk to your teen about risky sexual behaviour

There are several reasons why teens resort to risky sexual behaviour. The urge to show off, take risks, curiosity about sex and hormonal changes, make teens especially vulnerable. They may even get trapped into sexually compromising situations. Therefore, it is vital that you talk to your teen about sex as well as the dangers of unsafe sexual encounters. 

Here are a few points that you should include in your discussion.

How to talk to your teen

  • Do it at the earliest: Don't delay talking to your teen due to hesitation or until you find that he has been indulging in risky sexual activity.
  • Break down the lesson: Most parents make the mistake of giving long lectures or exaggerating the 'talk'. This can make your teen feel disinterested, overwhelmed or uncomfortable. The best thing to do is to look for opportunities in everyday conversation to casually introduce the topic.
  • Talk about consent: Make your teen understand that consent is an important part of sex. He has the right to say 'No' and pull himself out of a sexually risky situation — even if he had said 'Yes' before or is being pressured into it. Similarly, he should also respect his partner's right to say 'No'.
  • The dangers of cybersex: With most teens hooked to the Internet, it is important to talk to your child about the dangers of risky online sexual encounters. Persuade your child to turn on the safety features of her browser. Also, ask her to cover the laptop webcam with a sticker to prevent hackers from spying on her. Inform her about the dangers of accessing porn, frequenting dating sites, and the legal implications of online sex.
  • Teach safety techniques: Tell your teen that not just strangers but even those she knows well, can sexually assault her. Make her understand the danger signs to watch out for —  someone trying to take her to a deserted place, compelling her to consume drugs/alcohol, and not respecting her consent or right to privacy. Encourage her to immediately get out of such a situation and seek help.

Why you should talk to your teen about psychoactive substance abuse

Some teens are prone to using psychoactive substances, which can affect brain function and cause changes in mood and behaviour. They do this for many reasons such as the urge to experiment, feel good or fit into a group. Or it could be due to peer pressure, for instant gratification, under the influence of media or even, as an escape from stress. While most teens indulge in substance abuse out of curiosity and stop after a few attempts, there are some who get addicted right from the first use. Therefore, it is imperative that you talk to your teen about the dangers of substance abuse.

How to talk to your teen

  • Choose your moments: Make sure that you choose the right moment to initiate the conversation — for example, when you and your child are watching TV together and there is an advertisement about the dangers of smoking. Or if your child is talking about someone in his circle who is addicted to substances, use the opportunity well. Try to find such moments in everyday interactions.
  • Understand your child's thoughts: Your teen likely knows a few things about psychoactive substances. When you initiate a conversation, he may be willing to share his concerns and ask specific questions. Use these to better understand your child's thoughts and feelings. 
  • Stay calm: An important topic like the abuse of psychoactive substances merits a serious and open discussion. So, be calm by reading up and preparing yourself. Do not lecture or overreact, when talking with your child.
  • Talk about the dangers and consequences: Apprise your child of the dangers of using psychoactive substances — for example, smoking causes cancer and heart disease, alcohol harms the liver, and drugs affect the brain. Let her know that she can get into trouble with the law if she is found using substances. For example, she could be subjected to fines or even, imprisonment.

It is always a good idea to initiate these conversations as early as possible. But along with talking to your child about substance abuse or risky sexual practices, you should also model the responsible behaviours and values that you want your child to follow.

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