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We can probably all agree that it’s hard to think about the day that our teen might drink alcohol or consume other drugs. It makes sense that you might want to avoid bringing it up until they’re older — but we can set up our teens for success by talking with them about how drugs and alcohol can affect decision making when it comes to sex.

Start the conversation sooner than later: Starting to talk about this stuff in middle school and continuing conversations into high school can help make sure these messages really sink in, and that your teen is well prepared whenever the time comes.

Making good decisions: By middle school you have likely already begun to explain that we make better decisions when we think them through. You can start there and go a bit deeper: discussing how to consider the pros and cons, possible risks and rewards, and how our decisions may affect other people. Talk about how difficult it can be to think things through  when you’re drinking or using drugs. 

Being responsible: You can talk about what personal responsibility looks like — and that doesn’t go away if you decide to drink or get high. When someone drinks and drives, they put themselves and others at risk — even if they think they're sober. The same can be true of someone who drinks or does drugs and decides to have sex. Your judgment is off and clear thinking becomes really hard.

Talking consent: Drinking or getting high isn't a free pass for sex. You can tell your teen that they may be more easily influenced to do things they wouldn't normally do. Explain that being  drunk or high will make it hard to pay attention to someone’s signals and language, so you may not notice if someone is pushing you away or telling you that they’re not interested. And this gets even harder if the signals are subtle, which often happens when there’s a social power difference between the people involved. 

Or you may feel you’re not ready to have sex, but then once you get drunk or high you go ahead with it when that’s not really what you want. Or the sex could be completely consensual, but you forget to use a condom and/or birth control because you’re intoxicated.

Listening: Discuss drinking and drug use often, and try to avoid a one-way conversation. Talking through these sorts of scenarios with your teen can give them the opportunity to think through what they might do, how to avoid these sorts of situations, and how to prepare for them if they do come up. And giving your teen the full story about how drugs and alcohol can cloud  decision-making and consent will help them stay healthy and safe — no matter when they decide to experiment. 

Learn more about how to talk with your high schooler about sex, relationships, and more

Tags: parents, consent, alcohol, decision-making

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