Jun 112014

Use Your Words

Last week I told my therapist that even though I’m too busy, I continue to say yes to new responsibilities. In my head, I mean nope – but I say okay, because I feel on the spot. I panic. Every time.

She and I talked about how in the absence of a plan, even intelligent humans don’t know what to say under pressure. We aren’t great at thinking fast – at considering all the consequences of our decisions in the midst of a loaded moment. When put on the spot, we tend to say whatever we think will please the other person, even if it means going against what we know is right for us. So together we decided to create a non-committal response that I could pull out and use – as a space saver, a time buyer –whenever a new request was made of me. We needed a phrase that would allow the pivotal moment to pass smoothly without making me feel compromised or the other person feel rejected. Together we decided on: “Thank you so much for considering me. Let me think about that and I’ll get back to you.” I’ve said this seven million times during the past week. Even when my kids ask for breakfast. I feel drunk with time-buying power.

Yesterday I was on the phone with a friend whose teen daughter is one of my favorite people on Earth. My friend was beside herself because her precious girl had come home drunk the night before.  My friend wailed to me: “How many hours have we spent talking about alcohol during the past decade? And the first time she’s offered beer, she takes it. She TAKES IT!”  I said: “Crap. What was her excuse for taking it?” My friend said:  “All she could come up with is:  ‘Mom – I DIDN’T WANT TO SAY YES- BUT I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO SAY.’” My friend thought this excuse was a load of crap. I wasn’t certain about that. It sounded quite familiar to me.

You know, Just Say No sounds good in theory.  But it implies that saying no is as easy as saying yes. It’s just not. In practice, saying no begs an explanation and saying yes doesn’t. Just Saying No makes for an awkward moment, which makes it an unhelpful suggestion to teens (and people pleasers like me) who often care about avoiding awkwardness even more than they care about their own well-being.

My friend and I talked about this fact: Yes, we spend hours talking to our kids about WHY to say No, but we don’t tell them HOW to say no. When they are put on the spot – they don’t have hours to explain their decisions to their peers. They have a split second. And while our teens and ‘tweens want to make the right decisions, they often want to avoid awkwardness even more. In the absence of a plan, they’ll likely default to yes. Just like we so often do. Maybe they’re not saying yes because they want to rebel – maybe they really do say yes because they don’t know what else to say. They need help knowing, preparing. That is where we come in.

When our babies are little, we help them understand and navigate their world by giving them language. We point and name: “Look. A Bird! A BLUE BIRD!” Then we help them make sense of who they are in relationships to others by modeling appropriate communication. “Say hello to Mrs. White, Jimmy. Hello, Mrs. White!”  When our kids become adolescents, their world changes so much that sometimes it feels to them that they’ve landed on a new planet. They are babies in this new complicated world of teen-dom. And so we need to start over, because a more complicated world calls for a more complicated language. We need to point and label: “Look. A Beer! A whole keg of beer!”  And we need to model the new language they’ll need to find their way.  If we want teens to use their words – we’ve got to provide some words for them that they can keep in their back pocket and pull out at the right moment. Because we’ve taught them how to get along with others, but now we need to teach them how to get along with others while also taking care of themselves. On their OWN. That’s new.

So my husband and I sat down with our ‘tween and we talked about how he was going to be put in LOTS of awkward situations in the coming years. We told him that being a teen can feel like one long experience in being put on the spot. We told him that he was going to be asked to make big, important decisions under intense pressure and even though his heart and brain are huge, he’s human – and humans make bad, people-pleasing, status-quo-keeping decisions under pressure. We told him that he’ll find himself in situations in which his heart will be screaming NO but his head and voice will have a hard time keeping up. We told him that things aren’t all good or all bad. For example, a GOOD, KIND, WONDERFUL friend could ask him to make a BAD, DANGEROUS decision. Sometimes it can seem to us like the best idea to keep peace and keep our friendship is just to say yes and hope for the best.  But we talked about how wisdom is knowing that peacekeeping and peace making are two different things. We talked about how people pleasing is often a human weakness, and how wisdom is making a plan in advance to work with our weaknesses.

So the three of us dreamed up inevitable awkward situations, and together we thought of sentences he could say that would buy him time but not alienate him from his friends or make anyone feel like he was judging them. We also tried to weave in humor to make sure his responses would be in keeping with his personality.

Here are some we decided upon together:

When you notice a lonely kid: Hey! Here’s a seat for you. Come join us.

When someone offers you a beer: No, thanks. I’m allergic to alcohol. Totally Blows. (Then go fill up a cup with water and nurse that all night to avoid 40 million more questions)

When someone offers you weed:  My mom used to smoke pot when she was younger and now she can smell it from a mile away. She checks my clothes every night. Can’t do it, man. (That’s the one that won, but I liked: HEY! How about we put down these joints and go volunteer at the dog shelter! He liked the first one. Whatever, his show.)

When someone starts texting while driving: Hey, I just saw a movie about a kid who got killed because he was texting and driving. I don’t want you to get killed because I plan to ask you for many, many rides in the future. Pull over if you need to text – I’m not in a hurry.

You find yourself in a sexual situation you’d prefer not to be in: Hey, I like you too much for this to go down this way.

A kid is being teased by another kid in the hallway: Hey. I don’t want anybody to get in trouble here. Why don’t you follow me out of here? I’ll walk you to class.

Someone is about to drink and drive: Don’t risk it, man. My dad’ll get us home- no questions asked. He’d rather pick us up here than in jail.

I don’t know if my ‘tween will use these life preservers we made together. But when that moment comes he will know that they’re available if he wants to save himself. And when he leaves the house in the evening and I say to him, just like when he was two, Use your words tonight – I know he’ll have words to use.

Me and My Boy

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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  293 Responses to “The One Conversation That Could Save Your Teen’s Life (and Your Own)”

  1. Hi I’m a 15 year old girl, and I’ve got some issues with anxiety and I tend to be a little bit of a people pleaser. I liked what you wrote until the part of lying about why you don’t do stuff. Why should one say : “No, I’m allergic to alcohol, it sucks. So sorry but no” or “I’ll grab one later” which was what I think one of the commenters said. WHY. I shouldn’t have to explain why I don’t drink, just that I don’t. When people offer me a beer or a cigarette I say no and when they ask me why I say “I just don’t drink/smoke and I don’t want to either. ” Teach your kids that saying no isn’t something embarrassing or wrong so they have to lie about it. Teach them that it’s brave and strong of them to stand against the group-pressure. Just yesterday my best friend asked me several times if I wanted to drink “Oh c’mon, just one sip, just a taste.” and I still said no, everytime she asked. Teach your kids how to stand their ground and be strong instead of thinking that saying no to something they don’t want to do is weak or lame or needs excuses. If I don’t want to drink, I’m not going to. I don’t need any excuses because I know it’s brave of me to say no, no matter who’s asking. And I know that people respect me a lot more now that they’ve realized that I’m not going to say yes. Even the drunk kids in my age think it’s “hella strong and well done of me” to say no. It’s difficult, but I’m doing it.

  2. I only wish that my teen had been offered alcohol or drugs. I often even wish for a teen pregnancy instead of what happened. My daughter was shy and did not really like to go to parties. She didn’t hang out at the mall. She wasn’t boy-crazy. She was a straight-A, AP student and an excellent athlete. She did want some friends her own age. Most of friend were kids she had had classes with since she was young. They were primarily boys and they did not live nearby. it was getting to be that time in her life when she needed a same gender friend. She was 15. I had known a woman at my health club for years. She had a 16-year-old daughter. I asked about them getting together. She suggested the girls ride bikes. I thought — okay — we had a very nice community with paved off rode bike paths all over. My daughter rode a couple of times. She said the older girl led her around. She used a map-your-run website to plan a bike route for their next ride. They met at 6 AM — yes AM, my daughter had already been for a run that day (I followed her on the bike), she was training for the school cross country season. The other girl did not agree to use my daughter’s route. My daughter was led three miles in the opposite direction to the absolute busiest intersection in the whole area. The other girl led her across that busy road, against the light. They made it to the middle and then the other girl took off. In one split second my daughter had to make a decision: follow or be left alone in the middle of the road. She thought the other girls was older and more experienced and followed her. I never dreamed my daughter would be in danger that day. I never thought their would be a reason to coach my daughter to say “no” that day. My daughter had never been in a situation where someone put her in danger. I agonize over what her last thought were. Two-and-a-half years later, I am still a caregiver to a rehabilitating teen. I survived the initial horror, the cooling to keep the brain from swelling, monitoring the ICP monitor, the four major surgeries to repair an ankle, a knee, insertion of life support tubes, and a craniotomy (removal to two pieces of my daughter’s skull to allow room for brain swelling – when the cooling didn’t work). I slept in a hospital chair for 6 months. I left my 12-year-old home to stand vigil in a hospital 60 miles away. I saw my husband for 30 minutes per week. I waited an helped until my daughter was able to swallow and eat real food again. I waited for the trach and feeding tube to be removed. The hospital care was not great — the nurses were overworked and it is noisy. We came home well before we should have. I waited and helped while my daughter learned to speak again. I am helping still with handwriting. I am waiting the longest and most agonizing wait for her to walk again. I am also waiting for my daughter to be herself again. In all of this, with all the pain, horror, and grief, for what is turning out to be a 3 year (we hope no more and not lifetime) recovery, the girl riding with my daughter sent one card a week after the accident that said: Get Well Soon. I thought there should be more and said so — her parents disagreed — their daughter was a victim of seeing the collision. You never know who is going to be the bad influence on your child. You never know where the bad thing will happen. I never ever thought of this. I was ready to fear the driving and the parties, but not this. personally, I think there should be stronger laws about peer influence — especially reckless endangerment.

    • This is a sad story. My heart goes out to you. You and your daughter have both been through a lot. You need to try and stay strong for your daughter and yourself.

    • Dear Shocked and Grieving, How are things going?I know there are no words to describe what your precious daughter and the rest of your family are going through. You and your family will be in my prayers. I sincerely hope you are seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

  3. I love this!! I used to tell my daughter she could ALWAYS blame me and make into whatever bad guy she needed to get out of potentially horrible situations. It worked. She had a much better sense of herself than I did at her age in high school. I wish my mom would have been like this. But I turned out okay-it just took me awhile :)

  4. I know it won’t work forever or with the same people over and over because they eventually catch on and give you a hard time, but something I used to say at parties to avoid drinking without having to explain myself further is: “I’ll grab something later.” People usually accept that response as a “cool” one.

  5. Totally wish you had been my mom. Or at least a close friend of my mom when I was growing up. I needed such advice and thoughtfulness.

  6. This is AWESOME! I have 3 kids (a tween, a 10 year old Aspergers/ADHD boy, and an 8 year old social butterfly/people pleaser boy). I worry about the 2 boys more than my tween in regards to drugs/alchohol/peer pressure, but the truth is, these scenarios are very likely and very dangerous for all 3 of my kids. I’ve always worried the Aspergers/ADHD boy would inevitably end up using drugs because of his social issues, but the other 2 kids could sneak up on me in the same situation when I am too busy worrying about the one child. I am a recovering drug addict. We have addiction & alcoholism in our family. I know the genes are SCREAMING in their little bodies somewhere. I have always assumed by sharing my experiences and our family history with them that they would be protected. As if by becoming a drug addict and then finding my way to recovery automatically cancelled out the chance for them to go down that path. But I never thought — until today — how pervasive peer pressure is REGARDLESS of your family history and upbringing and religion and honesty and, and, and…We have never given them the exact way(s) to respond WHEN (not if) these situations come about. THANK YOU for this. I am completely 100% ok with my kids saying, “My mom is a recovering drug addict and it wreaked havoc on our family. I know that I would be an instant addict if I tried just once, so no.” If I can’t use my experience, strength and hope to raise up my own children in this world, what was it all for? I have NO ISSUE sharing this information with my kids. This is reality. This is what our kids WILL face at some point in their lives. To pretend that it won’t happen, that I didn’t go through what I went through, to quietly hide my past in order to “shield” my kids would be a HUGE disservice to them. Throw my history out there, throw me under the bus. If it saves their lives, I am all for it! During one of the best recovery seminars I have attended, a mom asked the presenter, “At what age is it appropriate to start discussing drugs, addiction, your family history with your children?” The presenter wisely responded, “At what age do you tell your children that smoking is bad?” We can no longer afford to pretend that drugs and alcohol are not out there everywhere. We can’t wait until the “appropriate age” to bring it up. We need to be able to discuss it as early as we teach them cigarettes are bad. Don’t be shy/embarrassed/too conservative to save your kids’ lives.

  7. I have three young adult children. I always told them, blame me or your dad. Go ahead, throw us under the bus. I don’t care what your friends think of us. As far as telling your kids about drug/alcohol consumption..I think it’s a bad idea. My husband used to joke about how much I smoked cigarettes until I got pregnant with my first child and I can’t hep but think that is why my oldest is a smoker. He has ADHD and took to it like a fish to water…one of my many parental regrets.
    You are fabulous! Keep up the great work.

    • Please don’t feel guilt at your oldest being a smoker. While definitely a unhealthy habit, and a HARD one to quit. A LOT of ADHD kids pick up the habit. I can’t point you to any studies, but I can tell you from MANY kids with ADHD (including myself) smoking is a calming experience. The act slows us down and allows is to think. Its a form of self medicating. NOT ADVOCATING smoking. Just throwing it out there that you being a past smoker probably has nothing to do with your oldests decision to smoke.☺ Keep encouraging your oldest to quit! Its worth it!!

    • I’ve said that too and my kid has said she isn’t comfortable telling people it is my fault. Not quite sure where to go from there.

  8. “Thank you so much for considering me. Let me think about that and I’ll get back to you.”

    Just please remember to actually get back to people with that honest no. You shouldn’t be ashamed to say no, but to put someone off with this sentence and then never get back to them is very hurtful and rude. You might have removed your awkwardness with not being brave enough to say no in the moment, but if you don’t actually “get back to you” you have made that other person awkward as they await your answer.

    • I didn’t see anything in Glennon’s post that indicated that she doesn’t get back to people with her answer. This is a pretty critical and unfounded assumption to make.

  9. These are GREAT! My mom had a conversation similar to this with me as a young girl. The best thing she EVER said was that someone who respected me would never push me. And if they were not respecting me then why would I even be trying to please them? If someone was making me uncomfortable she gave me full permission to lie my heart out to end the situation as quickly as possible, “I am allergic, my uncle was killed by a drunk driver, my grandpa was an alcoholic”- they all worked for me and people didn’t ever push further.

    She also showed me the greatest trust when I asked what she would do if I came home drunk/high. She responded, “I would take care of you until you felt better, then I would ask you what was wrong.” I was confused by her answer and she simply added, “I know you would never do those things unless something was very wrong”

    That trust got me through many tough situations.

    • I just copied and pasted this into an email to myself for a folder I call, “To say to her”. She is two. You’re awesome and so’s your mom!

  10. I train middle school kids in conflict and prejudice reduction techniques and I can verify that practice practice practice is the difference between hearing something and learning something. We do a LOT of role plays and practice situations because experiential learning is proven to work better than lectures.

  11. In high school, I was pretty confident and ambitious, and I didn’t want to do drugs or alcohol because I didn’t want to lose brain cells. (Seriously.) But I wasn’t quite socially confident/socially awkward enough to admit this. Finally I hit on this idea: when I got to a party, I would grab a beer in an aluminum can or bottle, go to the bathroom, pour it down the drain, fill it up with bathroom tap water, and sip it all night. People didn’t bother me for not drinking, and I watched with much amusement the shenanigans around me as one does when one is sober and everyone around her is drunk. Some of you might say this, too, is “dishonest” or “bad parenting,” but I have told this trick to my daughter, and I hope it works for her as well as it did for me. If any of you think that a teen can really go to a party and say “Alcohol and drugs are wrong and I don’t do them!” then you don’t remember what it’s like to be a teenager. Thanks, G!

    • Just a caution–our school’s athletic code has a “guilt by association” clause and kids can be busted for just being at a party with alcohol, even if she/he is drinking water.

    • I used to do the same thing! I’d take a wine cooler, dump it, fill it with Mtn Dew and wrap a paper towel around it- no questions asked!

  12. Whether he uses those answers or others, this is a great conversation starter and a great way for him to start thinking about those situations and how he might want to handle them. And when they come up, or new ones, he will know that he can talk with you. Great idea!

  13. I’m surprised by all of the negative feedback on this one. I am a people pleaser myself and my default is yes. It would have been really helpful to me to have the words I needed to say no without awkwardness. (or with less awkwardness) My oldest is definitely a people pleaser too plus he has a lot of anxiety – he definitely struggles. He didn’t want to tell the Sunday School teacher he was going to church with me because he didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I think this will really help when he is a tween. In fact I’m going to work more on giving him words now.

  14. People seem to have strong feelings about this. And that’s good. It’s important.

    Well, I’ll just add that I was a teenage drug addict and alcoholic, and I wish my mom would have had the guts and the thoughtfulness to have the conversation you had with your son.

  15. Sorry but this article makes me want to pray for your son’s sanity as you try to come up with lies for him to deal with the “dreamed up inevitable awkward situations”. Hate to say it mom, but you are dillusional if you think your son walking around with a 40 oz glass of water while his “friends” are drinking is going to be the solution to the problem. Get your head out of your head and teach that boy to be confident in the right decisions as well as the consequences of the wrong decisions. Would hate to be your kid.

    • Ouch! One of the points here is to keep the communication open with your son/daughter. We’re not here to judge the writer and her effort to be a good parent.

    • This comment made me laugh, because of all the advice Glennon gave, this one has consistently worked the BEST for my almost 18 year old daughter. Many times she has been somewhere where there is alcohol and she’s said “no thank you” a dozen times to a dozen different people. Then people start looking at her and it makes her uncomfortable. So, she fills up her cup and stands there all night and no one says a darn thing to her.
      Sometimes it doesn’t mean you are not confident enough to say no, sometimes using this tactic just means that you are smart enough to know what actually works and what doesn’t. If your goal is to not drink, then use what you can to further that goal.
      I’ve had friends say that she shouldn’t be places where there is alcohol. And I wish it were that easy. So many parents figure it’s a right of passage and that as long as the kids are not driving then it’s ok. I don’t allow the kids to drink at my house – and since they turned 17, I have a lot less kids at my house sadly. So, I’ve had to talk to her and give her strategies in order to get through these high school years. First just say no, then if that doesn’t work, move on to things that do work. And if you DO say yes, don’t drive or get in a car with anyone, EVER. My daughter knows that she can call me day or night and I’ll be there without yelling. I have three more kids coming up the ranks and I plan to do the same with them.

      • Amen sister!

      • Just make sure you actually don’t yell if they call you to pick you up. My mother made the same promise to me, but when I called her to get me at midnight from a party because my date was drunk, she yelled and complained the whole way home. I never called her again, and never have fully trusted her.

    • I would hate to be you. You are very opinionated and unkind.

      • My comment was for ultimatemail-not Glennon or any of the positive folks. I can’t stand seeing someone be so downright mean.

  16. A dear friend suggested this to me after many years of parenting teens.

    We teach them right and wrong, right? The best lessons are taught by the way we live, not by what we say. What they actually “believe” as right and/or wrong, will probably determine what they “do”. If they don’t hold a moral teaching as true, ouch, they will probably do it behind our backs.

    Thankfully, they will grow in wisdom and understanding just like we have ~ just like Jesus did. By the time they are teens, we simply have to let go and trust them. Having a plan is good. When I want to hang up the phone, I simply say, “I am sorry to cut you off, but there is something I must do.”

    But, have you ever read a truth in scripture only to be tested that very day?. And have you failed? Putting teaching to the test is inevitable. That is how we learn.

    Alas, as Christians, we have hope! Hope in a future where our children will prosper.

    “Train the young in the way they should go;
    even when old, they will not swerve from it.” Prov. 22:6

    Trust. It’s all about trust. We can trust that they will know how to handle a situation. Trust that they will learn something if they fail. Hard.

  17. The narrator saw her mother searching through a dumpster. The narrator was going to a party. The gestures the narrator’s mother made were all familiar. The narrator’s mother appeared to be homeless. The narrator feared any kind of contact with her mother. The narrator is holding a secret. The narrator went home after thinking about going to see her mom. The narrator went into the apartment building. The narrator is married. The narrator is quite shaken up from seeing her mother. The narrator is quite shocked to have seen her mother, quite shocked by how her mother was digging through a dumpster. The narrator had to listen to music to calm herself. Seeing her mother was quite disturbing to her. She felt the need to help, but at the same time, did not want to, she was disgusted in a way. The narrator had vases, books, maps, rugs, and an armchair; she had tried to make herself at home, by making herself her own home and by putting her own items inside, tried to create a place where the person that she wanted to become would want to live. She hated thinking about her parents, homeless. The narrator worried about them, but embarrassed by them at the same time. She hated herself for living nicely, while her parents were living so poorly. The narrator’s parents did not ask for anything. The narrator wished to come into contact with her mother. They met at a Chinese restaurant. The mother seemed to be happy. The only time she was sad was when the daughter asked what she could do to help. The mother decided to add humor by not being serious. The mother said that the daughter’s value’s were wrong. The mother explained, this was her way of life. The daughter expressed her feelings of embarrassment, the mother said, accept it.

  18. So much to think about

  19. Love!!!!!

    Sending my Mother that e-mail about that place for making children with disabilities stronger shows how little you believe that my family and I can get me back. My mother is still crying.

    We continue to pray for you & your family:
    “May the Lord bless you
    and keep you.
    May He shine His face upon you
    and give you peace.” From Numbers 6:24-26

    Can you please not ignore how much my mother was hurt and that our peace and hope was greatly affected by the information that was sent. My first response was to say thank you, but my recovery depends on my mother’s strength. She has faith that I will recover completely, please do not hint otherwise.

  20. So true

  21. Thanks!

  22. I never drank, smoked or took drugs during the whole of my teenage years despite the fact that my friends did, and I still don’t now (mid-twenties).

    When offered anything, I always said, “No thanks.” If pushed it was “No thanks, I don’t like the taste.” If really pushed, it was, “No thanks, maybe some other time.”

    Some teens will actively want to try these things but it seriously is a problem wanting to say no but not knowing how. I took my fair share of teasing and pestering but the most important thing that got me through it was never getting into a conversation about it. I never gave any other reason or let myself get annoyed (even though the constant rounds of “Try XXX drink, I know you’ll like THIS one!” were downright insulting. It’s a two person game and if you just shrug and keep trotting out your set phrases they will get bored. I don’t think I could have managed, though, if I didn’t have the same thing to say every time.

    Having a stock answer might not stop a teen drinking but at least it will give them a viable and accessible alternative.

  23. I think the best excuse is “because I don’t want to”. When I used this and they asked why I would just respond with “I just don’t want to”. If they ask for a reason I’d say “I don’t have a reason, I just don’t want to”. The trick is to not give them ANY reason because that is what they want. Those who are pressuring you know what to do with reasons, they don’t know what to do without one. Any excuse can be torn apart and tested. I have responded with that countless times and it has worked for me. If people continue pestering (which they sometimes do) I’ll follow up with “because I don’t like to be peer pressured”. I would use that only if they kept pressuring for a while. I might add something like “I’ll never do something that I’m pressured to do.” It sounds kind-of nerdy as I type it up but it was well respected and received. If they know pressuring doesn’t work for you, they stop. I remember thinking of it almost as a game as a teenager. I would always win the game because I wouldn’t give in. Many people who are trying to get you to do what you don’t want think of it as a game also “how many people can I get to drink, smoke, etc…”. or “this girl is saying no, I’m in for the challenge to get her to change her mind”. They are often used to winning. I think we should point out to teens or get them to think about why people peer pressure or why they care if you do something you don’t want to do. Thinking or them as being tactical helped me to be stubborn enough to not fall for their tactics.

  24. Great topic. However, we as parents need to also realize that sometimes our teens really do want to try alcohol and pot. Some teens at some point really to try it out regardless of all of the education that they have been given.We can’t go around thinking that their peers are putting them in a situation to say ‘yes or ‘no’ but that because of their brain not being fulling developed they are going to make wrong decisions and at times it will because they said “Please, give me a drink”. I would not believe in a million years that after all that I have discussed with my children that they didn’t make that decision on their own free will. The excuse of “I didn’t know what to say” can be an excuse. What is your friend’s daughter going to say when her mom freaks out on her about drinking? Her first excuse will be the easy one.

    However, I agree that we should start working on a dialog with our teens that creates a more open atmosphere. We can prepare them with a better script than “just say no” but ultimately, we have to be there for our teens so that they will come to us no matter what and to be there for our teens we have to have some REALLY uncomfortable conversations. Does my daughter come to me with everything, probably not, but she sure shares a lot with me and it does create teachable moments whether she realizes it or not.

    • So glad someone finally said this!

      Also, all of these comments and conversations assume, somewhat naively, that “our” kid will be the one rejecting the drugs / alcohol and will never be the one who is making the offer. I think we need to open our eyes and realize that it could go either way. Your kid may be the one resisting the peer pressure; or they may be the ones doing the pressuring. It isn’t always “someone else’s kid.”

      • Just what I was thinking. How many of ours will be the teen doing the pressuring. I think these are great ideas but I can’t help but think my son could easily be the hard partier even after all the talking. He’s 8 now and an only child, intellectually advanced, ADHD and very outgoing. We talk about everything, I just hope to keep that trust and dialog open for as long as possible.

  25. Great suggestions. I have been doing something similar with my son and he still snuck out of the house recently. Peer pressure is epidemic where I live in the SF Bay Area and lots of parents think drinking, drugs, etc. are normal rites of passage. For my son, getting caught led to some great conversations and genuine sharing about what we can do together to keep him safe. My son has 4.2 GPA and is usually smart and responsible. He told me the other night that while acting as the designated driver,he almost drove over a cliff as they ran from the law. He has asked us to drug test him so that he could tell his friends so they won’t pressure him to smoke pot. It also pays NOT to be in town every weekend/vacation and have fewer hours at risk. Much appreciated your article.

  26. I printed up your scripts and am going to go over them with my kids tomorrow. What a great resource. Keep up the good work!

  27. Great idea to give/ use scripts till you’re comfortable saying no. I think the best way to teach your children things is to show them. The more times you say no thanks while your kids are watching, the more they are likely to do the same:)

  28. Thanks Glennon! I teach drug prevention in the schools in Bend, Oregon and we’re working on refusal skills to teach the kids. Great material!

  29. I like this so much. My oldest is headed off to kindergarten in the fall, and we spend a lot of time talking about how to respond to kids who take his toys, hit, say something mean, and what to do if someone touches him in a way that makes him feel uncomfortable. I completely agree that kids need the language to communicate what they really mean when it comes to confusing situations and that it is up to us adults to give them the language. I will keep these responses in mind when I talk to my kids as preteens and teenagers!

  30. I’d like to start with a big “Kuddos” to Glennon for making a pro-active effort to find solutions that will work for her son and still accomplish the overall goal of keeping her kid ALIVE! On that note, I would also like to give a huge Kuddos (and RESPECT) to Mark who contributed an intelligent, not to mention, studied perspective that needs to be considered. I did NOT see his comments as “pick- aparts”, or in any way undermining the efforts of a parent who sincerely wants to simply share something she found very helpful in her household.
    I am a parent of three children; one in college majoring in art, another in college majoring in Christian ministry, and then my youngest who recently attempted the Navy but was unfortunately sent back home, (another story for another time). Each of them are very different, and have very different goals, interests, personalities, and friends and COMFORT ZONES. They have one very important thing in common; ME.
    I however am not just their mom; I am also a Special Education Co-teacher that works in a Junior High school. I have also volunteered for several years in the youth ministry they “grew up” in. As a mom, I know for a fact that every child (or teenager) is different. Even their developmental stages are a little different, but only because at that age they tend to fluctuate up and down the developmental scale on a daily basis (sometimes several times a day). If you have raised teenagers, you have experienced this personally. One moment they do something that makes you think “wow, he’s growing up so fast!”, then the next minute you realize he just digressed, by a few years!
    In my own experience, If you really want to know what will work best for your kids, then know your kids, and make sure they know you. Talk to your kids, and let them talk to you. And LISTEN! Often your kids are trying to tell you things about their lives that are bothering them without letting you know that they are in fact bothered! Make that okay! I found out by accident (because I’m not THAT smart), that if I just sit and listen to my daughter long enough, she’ll tell me everything she needs to hear. She’s just a few months shy of 23 and that still works. My almost 22 year old son (going into ministry) will actually call and say “Mom, I need your advice about something”. As thankful as I am for that, again, I have found this is usually a signal that it’s time to listen. Meaning, he too usually has his own solution; It just needed to be voiced. Even my younger son, who never tells me anything, much less asks me anything, has his own way of retreating back to what I call “the moral compass”.
    That “moral compass” is not ME so much as it is the place where their instinctive “boundaries” originate. It’s the place where they were taught right from wrong, where they saw the examples that formed their picture of what life is about. My point is this; NEVER under estimate the influence you have on your own kids, or their instinctive desire for it.
    As a co-teacher that has had the opportunity to observe thousands of kids over different periods of time and in different settings, I can honestly tell you the kids who have “involved” parents and those who don’t is more apparent than you would think. The parents that check on their kid’s homework, have kids who do their homework. The parents who support their kids in band, cheerleading, football or art, have kids who are willing to be involved in activities that require and respect, standards, rules, and authority. Parents who contact teachers to question grades, disciplinary issues, or any other concerns at school have kids who are willing to raise their hand in class to ask questions. They are also the students who have the courage to say “I don’t get it” (an extremely valuable asset in any aspect of life).
    That’s not to say that a kid who never asks questions has a neglectful parent. Remember my youngest; yeah, his teachers never could figure him out, but they all liked him, and they all would tell me “But he’s a good kid”. He was a good kid, and still is. But after about the 7th grade, he stopped “doing” school. He was there, every day. Never caused a problem for anybody but himself, and he did eventually graduate. All my “involvement” seemed pointless and unproductive, at the time. Looking back on it though, he graduated, and eventually made his own choice to join the Navy. Even though that didn’t work out the way he wanted it to, HE made a choice that was noble, and HIS.
    None of us are perfect or have perfect wisdom. None of us have perfect lives or perfect children. There is only ONE who was ever perfect, and HE still is. HIS is the only perfect plan, and NONE of us follow it perfectly.
    I have only one tried and true method that I feel confident will work for all of us; PRAY! Pray for your children daily and don’t stop. Pray that God will give you the wisdom and words that are needed for each of your children at the time it is needed. He WILL answer. Just as you want your children to trust you and your wisdom, He wants you to trust Him and His wisdom. NEVER under estimate the power of your relationship with Him and your relationship with your children. I have one other “side-note”, or “motto” I have developed from years of teaching, volunteering in youth ministry, and parenting; “A child who is constantly testing his/her boundaries, is usually in search of the”. Be that boundary! Nothing in this world will make your child feel safer or more secure. And no job you will ever do will be more hard, more important, or more rewarding.
    Thank you Glennon for sharing what worked for you. I have no doubt God has brought someone to this sight whose children need the same method. And to Mark, thank you for adding the perspective on developmental reality that we simply cannot take out of the equation. To the rest of you, I felt compelled to contribute. If it helps only one of you, then it was worth it. If it somehow offends you, it was not my intention. May God bless you all in raising your children, and may you seek and hear His voice in doing so. :)

    • Lolly, I wanted to thank and commend you for your post. It is informative, well thought out, and full of wisdom you have gained thru your experiences.

      It brought to mind one particular thought which I share with every family and parent I work with. I tell them parenting is a crucible. A crucible where the parents are shaped and refined just as much if not more than their children. Like you, we have raised three very different kids who are now 32, 28 and 21. Each presented us with different challenges which can either shape you into a better person or harden your heart toward those closest to you. The choice is your own. It was by grace that we were able to see our three kids become happy, well adjusted adults.

      Your notion of a “moral compass” is another point I would like to touch on. In Glennon’s post, she wisely equipped her tween with some scripts which could be used should he find himself in situations where he was at a loss for words. Those scripts are important to younger children and tweens as they become Mom’s and Dad’s voice in the child’s head when decisions have to be made. But, somewhere along the line, those external scripts have to become internal, self owned moral choices–their own voices. Having raised three teens, you know the process each of your kids went thru as well as when (the age) each was able to create and hear his or her own voice is very different. And like you said, your relationship with each child is fundamental to understanding how to nurture each one’s personal voice.

      You hit on a key truth which has been proven time and again in the parenting and adolescent research literature and in life itself. The absolute best defense a teen has against the dangers of peer pressure is a relationship with his/her parents which is built on complete trust, unconditional love and open communication. Emotional intimacy and making oneself vulnerable in relationships is a two way street. Other than marriage, there is no other human relationship where this is more important. When a teen doesn’t have that type of a relationship with a parent, he/she will seek to find it amongst his/her peers. The consequences of doing so are rarely, if ever, positive.

      Glad you shared, Lolly. I am sure others will find your post was of benefit to them.

    • I watched my husband’s mom (who raised 7 kids) do just what you said countless times at their kitchen table. One of them would start talking about a problem and she would lovingly listen. I was listening to and I noticed they always worked the problem out themselves while talking to her! She was very loving, happy and patient! She didn’t give them advice she just kinda nodded and encouraged them to keep talkin! She had done the same for me and I didn’t notice it — that’s a really good listener! Wish I had seen that example before mine were grown.

  31. This is on of the hardest things in the world to do: Talk to a teen about tough subjects. Thank you for the walk through!

  32. I may be looking at this wrong but I think kids need more than clever excuses to say no. They need a genuine reason to say no. If you can instill proper self confidence , individuality and a general distaste for being forced to fit in – your kids will be more likely to say no when it matters. Pretending to have an allergy can leave a kid open for some bullying. However is rather see my kid simply say – no – not in the mood or – I just don’t want to – and not feel ashamed to be that way. I would like to see a discussion also include just how we get kids to that state.

    • The allergy excuse is just… horrible. I was a drinker a bit in high school (I’m 30 with kids now) and we’d never let an alcohol allergy excuse fly. Prove it, how do you know, what happens when you drink it? Oh that doesn’t match what my iphone says you’re full of shit. Take a sip of this beer, prove it. etc.

      Personally I think it’s best to blame it on your parents or older siblings/cousin or something tragic that happened. My cousin from (states away) drank and got in a car accident and killed someone and is in prison for 10 years, it happened about 4 years ago now (teens are more scared to go to prison than dying typically). I’ll drink when I can get away with it when I’m not living with my parents and can afford a cab and not get in trouble with the police.

    • While I agree with your statement of having a genuine reason to say no, I think that applies more to adults than to teens/Tweens/ kids. A youngster is very unlikely to develop a “genuine distaste for being forced to fit in” because fitting in is EXACTLY what they want at this stage in their lives.

      As an adult (I was 21), I decided to stop drinking to see if I could. My father had expressed concern that I was going out partying every weekend and drinking quite a bit. So, since everyone says they can stop drinking if they want to, I decided to test it – you know, to see if I was an alcoholic. I didn’t touch a drop for about 3 years. But even as an adult, there was peer pressure to have a glass of wine at a party or a beer with the gang. And I had to repeat my “no thanks” over and over. It was annoying.

      I can’t imagine a young person doing this.

      Now that I’m 40, I can say that I don’t like to drink and have people stop pestering me, but this is after decades of practice. I wouldn’t want to put those same expectations on young people.

  33. Question for you and your readers…do you know of any books or table topic like cards that could be used for this?? I would love to have a list of questions/situations to go over with my kids.

  34. Boy, lots of points I could make regarding this post. It is a relevant and necessary topic for discussion. IMO this is a classic example of a teen who has been raised by “the law” (whether one is speaking about faith and/or the family values). The teen knows the law/rules but knows not how to live the faith in this example –real life, where faith is “lived.”

    More importantly, the post has one weakness. Adults have a hard time when it comes to seeing thru the eyes of their teens. Ones recollection of his/her teen years is usually in variance with what sense a teen is making of his world today. It is very deceptive because teens look so much like us, like adults.

    But, teens are not adults. Teens see the world very differently than do their parents and other mature adults—not as a result of defiance or rebellion, but rather as a result of the developmental limitations that come with being a teen. They are motivated by different urges, have a yet incomplete set of reasoning skills to bring to bear on complex problems, and they make choices based on a very different set of priorities which come with being a teen who is working his/her way to becoming an adult.

    • You claim that you could make lots of points regarding this post, then proceed to simply state that adults don’t think like teenagers, and vice versa. Most parents are very aware of this issue, but, short of traveling back in time to become teenagers again, what are we to do?

      You seem to want to be applauded for finding fault with this article, but do nothing to further the conversation. Where are your pearls of wisdom?

      How should we talk to our children so they listen?

      What verbage should we use?

      How do we teach and encourage our children to “live the faith” in real life?

      Do you have anything constructive to add, or do you pick apart other peoples’ suggestions and parenting styles while you yourself have a dearth of tangible ideas that would improve the conversation?

      • Hi Wendy,

        I meant no offense by my post. Nor was it an attempt to “pick apart” anyone’s suggestions or parenting style. It was an attempt to highlight a point which I thought deserved more attention and consideration than was given by the author.

        Yes, I spoke in generalities as the subject of the developmental abilities and limits of teens as a rather broad, deep subject.

        I will address a couple of your questions here and welcome a conversation on other questions you raise should you want to pursue them.

        As for “how” to talk to teens so they will listen and “what” verbage should be used, my answer is not based on a prescriptive list of hows and whats. Your ability to effectively communicate with your teenager isn’t a matter of using the “right” words. Effective communication is a function of the quality of the relationship you have built with him/her. Are power and responsibility shared? Are both of you able to be open and vulnerable which each other without fear of repercussions? Does the teen truly know the relationship is based on real, unconditional love and acceptance? The type of communication which goes on between any parent and his/her teen is dependent on the answers to those and some other important questions.

        One quick way of determining how your teen views your relationship is to learn who they go to when they need advice, have deep questions, or are experiencing social/emotional hurts.

        I will close with a couple of points regarding how you can better understand teens. One of the dominant forces in a teen’s life is what the literature calls novelty seeking. Most teens are naturally drawn to things which are unfamiliar and uncertain to them. It creates a sense of excitement, a feeling of really being alive so to speak. With this comes the understanding that teens will sometimes venture into environments and engage in behaviors which have risks associated with them.

        When you couple this with the teens new sense of having to test the status quo, to push the limits, to find out if the things they believe are really the way things need to be. They explore the possibilities to find out how things could be at the expense of conforming to what they have been told about their world. When you put novelty seeking and this urge to explore boundaries for oneself, there is great positive potential which can also produce stress for parents who misinterpret the resultant behaviors as defiance or rebellion.

        These are just a couple of the reasons behind why teens do some of the “confusing” things they do when attempting to define themselves as independent adults. Parents can either foster or inhibit teens as a result of how they understand these natural processes which allow the teen to become a happy, healthy adult.

        Hope that helps you in some regard, Wendy.

        • Your incomplete sentences and circuitous statements are actually pointless to this blog. The anecdotal observations you make do nothing to benefit the discussion, Mark. Glennon offered some helpful advice that may be useful to others. I suggest you do the same.

          • Hi Jo,

            Appreciate you taking the time to post your response. Hopefully others have found some value in what I shared here.

            Parents, the most fundamental key to having good, meaningful communication with your teen is the quality of the relationship you have with them.

            Jo, interesting that you should choose to classify the information I shared as anecdotal observations. Everything I mentioned comes straight from the latest research literature on adolescents. An objective reading of the recent literature will show that to be true.

            If anyone is interested in learning more about teens and their development, I think the book “Brainstorm” by Dan Siegel would be the best I could recommend. As a Developmental Psychologist with two post graduate degrees and over 25 years experience working with children, teens and parents, that is the best source I have found to help parents understand their teens. It was just released at the beginning of this year so it is very up to date.

            Wish all parents the very best with their children.

          • You know it’s OK for people to respectfully disagree with Glennon, right? I think it actually DOES benefit the discussion to have some of his points here. It doesn’t have to be that she is right and he is wrong, but I think that’s hard for Monkees to grasp sometimes.

          • I need to add one piece of information regarding Dan Siegel’s book. Dan is a neuropsychiatrist as well as a developmental psych and attachment specialist.

            His current work is in the field of neuroscience and brain integration. So, the book “Brainstrom” is an indepth look at the brain and neurological development of teens and how that affects their thinking, relationships, and behavior. It *is not* a general book about all aspects of teen development.

            Don’t be intimidated by this as he is very good at conveying his findings in language everyone can understand. He also gives lots of practical applications for how to use these new understandings.

    • I think the weakness you pointed out is actually a strength! Glennon met with her son to work together on his responses. She didn’t tell him what he ought to say (which would be a prime example of not seeing the world through a teen’s eyes), but she looked for his input and helped him create a response that was appropriate for himself.

      • Hi Becky,

        I don’t think we greatly disagree on this. Rather, I think we are using the concept of “seeing thru a teen’s eyes” differently.

        The 3 of them coming up with jointly decided upon answers was a wise approach. The parents handled this in a very good with respect to dealing with a tween. Teens are quite different than tweens with regard to these types of matters IMO.

        I can only respond to what was written in the piece. Here is where you and I have different ideas about the concept at hand. If you look at how the discussion with their son was described, you see alot of “we told him” statements where the parents explain what he may encounter in his near future. While it may be a minor point, I would have really liked to have heard more about how the teen was making sense of situations he had already encountered and those HE has knew he would likely face in the near future. The social/emotion needs of teens are very different than those faced by a tween. And, of equal importance, is the ability of a parent to understand and be attuned to meaning a teen is making of his interpersonal relationships with not only his peers, but also his parents.

        Often times the biggest rifts between parents and teens are a result of some basic misunderstandings between what a parent thinks is important in a social interaction vs the teen’s view of what he thinks is important in the scenario. You have to remember, teens think in emotionally charged ways first. If you can relate to what they are feeling first and then move them to a more rational way of viewing situations, then you can earn their trust and keep things from escalating into emotionally based confrontations which only produce greater hurt and relational distance. It is a skill which takes alot of practice, great patience, and the ability to be a very attuned listener and observer.

        Simply felt sharing some info in this regard would have made the original piece more complete.

        Appreciate your comment and hope you can better understand my point of view.

  35. Oh my gosh amazing! And so true

  36. These are great – I tended to just say ‘no’ and then when pressed for an explanation, just looked that the person. I mean, really? I’m not giving you an explanation, I just said no.

    My daughter (5) and I already talk about ways to let people know we aren’t going to do something they ask (jump off the porch, for example) and how it’s ok to walk away or for a friend to be mad at us. And how even, sometimes,when that friend may call us names, we still walk away.

    Thanks for showing up…

  37. When my son went off to college he knew that this first year would be critical in his life and he also knew alcohol and drugs would be around. When first offered beer or Marijuana he boldly stated, “My body is a temple, I don’t put that stuff in it!”. The guys ended up respecting that and his nickname became “Temple”. Someone took the trouble to get him a “Temple” hat from Temple University. Other kids hear of his individual decision and came to him for help,.

  38. Good post, I liked the main idea of it, because how to say NO is an annoying challange – and not only for teenagers! -, but I wouldn’t teach my kids most of your replies or rejecting lines. Even if they believe that you are allergic to alcohol or your mum can smell weed from a mile, these are lies, and whatever your first intention was, you should avoid lies. Otherwise, next time you can be the one whom your kid lies to!
    Instead of lying, you can simply declare in most of the situations that you are NOT in a mood of doing this or that. “Thanks, but I don’t feel like smoking weed!”, “Sorry, but I am not in a mood of drinking booze.” If they don’t accept it as simply as it is, you don’t need to go into akward explanations! Don’t start explaining and finding excuses, and especially do NOT say clumsy lies, it usually makes the situation worse. Draw your boundaries, and expect your friends to respect them. If anyone can’t, try to get rid of him/her.

    • My kids could go with the ” my mom can smell it a mile away” for both the beer and the pot, WITHOUT lying- because I can. And if you think ” I’m not in the mood” will end the question when your kid is the only one saying no, you haven’t been a teenager in a very long time. Or maybe you were one of the cool kids, and what ever you did was cool. For those of us who were not cool, who were trying to find our place in the crowd, saying ” no” was scary. Blaming your ” seriously uncool” parents is a good out. Like my parents explaining to me that my curfew was flexible, but my friends didn’t have to know that. That way if things were heading towards something I was uncomfortable with, I could plead curfew and leave. I think these are great words to give my kids, and I will.

  39. Oh my goodness I loved the “Let’s volunteer at a dog shelter instead!”
    What a great post! Parents need all the help they can get with their teenagers and I really think this method could help a lot of parents and teenagers!

  40. Best laid plans…….! Keep showing up

  41. Glennon, this is great stuff! Whenever I needed to say no to booze/drugs/whatever, I would say “No thanks,” and follow it up with “Hey, someone has to be sober enough to get you guys to the Taco Bell drive-thru later.” Worked every time!!

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