Crucial Conversations About Drugs With Teens


White House Urges Parents to Sharpen Conversation Skills, Monitor Teens’ Activities

(Washington, D.C.) – The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is urging parents to sharpen their conversation skills and monitor their teen’s activities, after a new poll shows that most parents have difficulty getting through to their teens about important subjects, especially drug use. According to a new Crucial Conversations survey from VitalSmarts, most parents of teens indicate that they are even afraid to talk to their teens about everyday issues.

The survey shows that a majority of parents (57%) admit to having some degree of difficulty in getting their teens involved in meaningful conversations about their concerns, such as who their friends are, how they dress, and how school is going. An even greater number of parents (74%) have difficulty getting their teens to respond to these concerns and are not sure their teens are even listening when they do talk.

And when it comes to tough topics, like drug use, most parents (52%) admit to some degree of difficulty with those conversations. Even more troubling is that parents know drugs are part of a teen’s world today. More than half of parents surveyed (56%) believe their teen goes to parties where drugs are available and nearly half of parents (48%) believe their teen has friends who use drugs. Despite that, few parents are doing anything about it.

“This poll reinforces a disconcerting trend we’re seeing with parents today. Too many parents are avoiding tough conversations – or tough stances – because they’re afraid of jeopardizing their relationship with their teen,” said John P. Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy. “Parents must follow through on their responsibilities and set clear rules against drug use.”

According to the Crucial Conversations survey, the strategy most often used by parents to monitor their teen’s activities is to keep the fridge stocked with food so teens and their friends will be more likely to hang out at home under parental supervision (52%). Few parents are checking up on their teen (7%), asking questions to try to find out what’s going on when it comes to drugs (21%), or going through their teens’ belongings (29%), even though research shows that teens who are not regularly monitored by the parents are four times more likely to use drugs.

And when parents have wondered if their teen might be exposed to drugs, 26 percent of them did not speak up because they did not believe their teen would be influenced by drugs. Others did not speak up because they had already discussed drugs with their teen in the past (20%), they worried that their teen would deny there was a problem (17%), or that initiating the conversation would communicate a lack of trust to their teen (13%).

“There isn’t a more crucial parenting conversation than talking to a teenager about drugs. And most parents feel entirely inadequate, so they procrastinate it or speak up badly,” said Joseph Grenny, co-founder of VitalSmarts and author of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. “Our research offers good news to millions of parents – we’ve found the difference between success and failure in these crucial conversations is a few powerful and learnable skills. Many parents feel like they have to choose between peace and parenting, but that’s not true.”

Grenny has some tips to help parents improve their conversation skills about drug use:

  1. Keep your best motives in mind by asking yourself what you really want.
  2. Make it safe for your teen to talk; state what you don’t intend and what you do intend.
  3. Confront with facts about what’s happening, not judgments.
  4. Discuss, agree on, and stick with boundaries.
  5. Evaluate the dialogue to make sure it’s a two-way conversation.

Parents can visit for additional advice and information from Grenny and the Crucial Conversations team, and the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, including sample conversation starters and a tip card that parents can download or order for free.

To raise awareness among parents and provide them with tips on honing their conversation skills, ONDCP is publishing an Open Letter to Parents this week in 41 local newspapers nationwide as well as select national newspapers and magazines. Ten family and medical organizations signed the letter, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, Children Now, Dads & Daughters, National Center for Fathering, Partnership for a Drug-Free America, PTA, VitalSmarts, and YMCA of the USA.


About VitalSmarts

VitalSmarts specializes in corporate training and organizational performance, with award-winning training products based on more than 25 years of ongoing research. VitalSmarts is home to the award-winning Crucial Conversations® Training and New York Times bestselling book of the same title, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, a powerful set of influence tools that build teams, enrich relationships, and improve end results.

About White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign

Since its inception in 1998, the ONDCP’s National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign has conducted outreach to millions of parents and teens and hundreds of communities to prevent and reduce teen drug use. Counting on an unprecedented blend of public and private partnerships, non- profit community service organizations, volunteerism and youth-to-youth communications, the Campaign is designed to reach Americans of diverse backgrounds with effective anti-drug messages.

For more information on the ONDCP National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, visit

Contact: Jennifer de Vallance, ONDCP (202) 395-6618 Wednesday, December 6, 2006 Rosanna Maietta, Fleishman-Hillard (202) 828-9706 Mary Dondiego, VitalSmarts (801) 724-6323

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