June 29, 2011 —

It’s important for parents to build positive relationships with their teens, and for parents to learn how to listen with what I call a “quiet mind.” When our teens are struggling or tempted to make bad decisions, what they need most is the calm, sane counsel of their loving parent. We have to make it safe for our teens to talk with us, even when what they have to say may not be easy to hear.

By building and maintaining a positive relationship with your teen, you make it possible for them to offload difficulties and upsets, making them far less vulnerable to the influence of peers who may be pressuring them to try and abuse substances like non-prescription cough medicine.

One of the best ways to talk to your teen about dangerous behaviors is to find a time when you and your teen are already in synch and in each other’s company. It might be that you’ve taken a walk, or you’re playing with the dog; make sure you’re both feeling comfortable and connected. Then open with something like: “Honey, there’s something I’ve wanted to talk with you about—don’t worry, you’re not in trouble or anything. Would now be a good time?” so your teen doesn’t feel cornered.

You should let your teen know that you are glad to see them making good decisions, and while they probably know your stance on alcohol and drugs, you’re not sure if they’ve heard about the dangers of nonprescription cough medicine abuse. Briefly explain what your concerns are, describing some of the awful consequences of other teens who thought cough medicine might be a safe and easy way to get high.

You’ve got to accept that if you’re a parent, you cannot maintain a consistent friendship with your teens, and it’s important to define and enforce clear boundaries. They are heavily influenced by their peers and the media, which often suggest that to be cool or accepted by others, you need to engage in risky behavior.

When parents stay connected and involved in their teen’s day to day life they help their kids stay safe. Don’t be intimidated by their aloofness, or back off from knowing what they’re doing if they withdraw or pull away. While it’s important to give our kids more space and freedom as they get older, teens do need their parents to help them make good choices when their own judgment may be lacking.

Susan Stiffelman, MFT, is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child therapist, a K-9 credentialed teacher, an educational therapist and a highly regarded parenting coach. Susan is the weekly parenting advice columnist for AOL's ParentDish, and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.You can connect with Susan on Facebook and Twitter.