Talking to Your Teen About College Pressures: The Dos and Don’ts of Productive Conversations

Posted by Prelude on Aug 17, 2016 10:29:33 AM


Life as a college freshman isn’t easy. 

Living on your own for the first time is hard enough without the additional pressures of college. On top of academic demands, work, and learning to live independently, teens are at their peak social years and are still developing their sense of self. Without the structure of home life and with the new anxieties that accompany college, it’s easy for students to be swept away by the pressure to drink and take drugs—both recreationally and as a means to enhance their academic performance.

It may seem like sending your child off to college is your last big step as a parent, but college is a transitional period where young adults require more emotional support then they may be willing to ask for. It’s important to start an ongoing conversation about making healthy, long-term decisions BEFORE you pack that suitcase into the trunk of your car and head off to the dorms. And in order to do this, you have to have an open discussion about drugs and alcohol.

In this blog, you won’t find a magical script that tells you exactly what to say. Every child is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all speech guaranteed to get your child to behave a certain way. In fact, the conversation shouldn’t be about making your child behave this way or that; it’s about helping them to make healthy choices on their own and lending the support that enables them to do so. 

So instead of telling you what to say, we’ll offer you these tips and pointers on how to actually start the conversation—and keep it open and productive.


Preparing for Your First Discussion

  • First, do some research on the subject. Read a few blogs and see what’s been successful with other parents. Just keep in mind that what worked for some isn’t guaranteed to work for you, but it may give you some insight.
  • Plan your first discussion at a time when stress is low and distractions are at a minimum. Turn your cell phone off before you begin so you’re not tempted to put the conversation on hold. Keep this time open so you can have an uninterrupted discussion that neither you nor your child feels pressured to wrap up.
  • Keep the mood relaxed and open. You’ll be talking about important and sometimes heavy topics, and you put extra pressure on your child when the mood is tense and severe. Plus, it’s difficult to be open when you’re on the defensive. Setting the right mood can make your child feel more comfortable opening up to you and sharing their opinions.


During the Conversation

  • The most important thing to keep in mind is that this is a conversation—not a lecture. Ask questions to get their opinion and actively listen. Don’t talk over them, and give them time to process what you’re saying before expecting them to answer questions. Don’t be afraid of an awkward pause here or there.
  • If you want respect, show respect. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they say—it’s about showing you have faith in them, and trust their ability to make healthy, positive decisions.
  • Keep your cool even if you don’t like what you hear. Take your time to respond constructively and reward honesty with an open ear. If you hear something you don’t like, instead of reacting with anger, ask questions and try to get at the “why” of what they’re saying.
  • Don’t worry about covering every point you planned to discuss. You can always come back to a certain topic at another time. Instead, show willingness to take the conversation in the direction that’s important to them.
  • Focus on positives, not negatives. While you should certainly educate your child about the potential consequences of substance abuse, it’s likely they already have a pretty good idea of what those are. Instead, focus on the benefits of healthy behavior and give them good reasons to abstain.
  • Be honest. Exaggeration, scare tactics and stereotyping aren’t effective ways to gain your teen’s trust. If you want your child to be open and honest with you, lead by example. 
  • When the conversation ends, thank your child for their time, for opening up, and for their attention. Show that you value their time and their honesty.


The Discussion Is Over—Now What?

Let your child know that if they ever want to return to the conversation, you’re willing and ready to lend your ear and offer your support.

After each discussion, take the time to write down what you covered, what you want to talk about next time, and how you feel it went. It will help you to assess which direction you need to take the follow-up discussions.

If after the conversation you’re left with concerns, don’t keep them bottled up. Reach out to your supports at Prelude—we’re happy to answer any questions, steer you towards helpful resources, and explore your options.


Download our Parent's Guide on how to talk to your kids about addiction.



Topics: Prelude

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At Prelude, we work tirelessly to improve the lives of individuals, their families, and members of their communities.

From prevention to intensive residential care, Prelude offers a range of services to help you and your loved one lead a full, productive life.  Prelude Behavioral Services has been providing comprehensive services since 1969. We are committed to serving hard-to-reach and disenfranchised populations and to breaking down barriers that hinder access to behavioral health care for all Iowans.



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