This is new territory for our generation of parents. You might have had access to some things as a teen and even tried a few, but it was on the down low and away from your parents.

Do you remember seeing this ad on every channel all day?

I’m guessing your teenager hasn’t seen that.

You’ve done everything you can to steer them clear of substance use so when you find out it’s happening it can feel devastating and scary.

Teens are now growing up where vapes are easily accessible and more the norm (including high school bathrooms and change rooms) and marijuana is even more available having been legalized in many areas. Although there’s very real medical reasons and treatments using marijuana, many teens willing to hear about the risks making it even harder for parents to feel heard.

So where do boundaries and consequences come in?

The pissing matches and power struggles are exhausting and have taken a huge toll on your relationship with your teen, other children and your marriage. You’ve tried tough love, soft love and everything in between.

You feel trapped between knowing what’s best and laying down the law but your teen never comes out of their room and refuses to talk to you. Or setting boundaries about not using or storing their stash in your home so your teen re-engages with family, is calm, doing well in school, at work and even goes to counselling or therapy sessions.

Either way, you know you can’t control your teen and if you try, they might find ways to do it behind your back. The last thing you want is further disconnection and more lying.

But there has to be consequences!

Parents reach out to me daily in a desperate plea for help. I’m an expert on relationship dynamics, NOT substance use, so here’s what I tell them.

Source over symptoms

As much as knowing your teen is vaping or getting high is very concerning, it’s a symptom of something else. Setting fierce consequences focused on the symptom alone can make the source even worse, especially if they already feel alone and unsafe to share their feelings.

It’s no different than a friend shaming you for your weeknight wine habit. We all have vices for coping, numbing and escaping whether they work or not. What matters more is why.

Conversations over consequences

The majority of teens say they’re using to manage stress, anxiety and other emotional pain. Creating an emotionally safe space for your teen to share means asking questions and doing WAY more listening than talking. Listen with compassion and without judgement or shaming. When you think you’re done, listen some more, remembering your teen may not have all the answers you want or be able to articulate their feelings around this.

Conversations aren’t marathon sessions. They’re more likely smaller moments of listening and staying curious and compassionate.


  • tell me what’s been going on for you?
  • help me to understand
  • what do you like about it?
  • what got you started?
  • is there any way I can support you? This question is not referring to more substance use, it’s about any emotions, stress or anxiety your teen might be sharing.

Active listening

  • ‘Tell me more’
  • ‘That’s tough’
  • ‘That’s a lot to handle’
  • ‘I hear you
  • ‘I believe you’
  • ‘Thanks for sharing’
  • ‘Mmm-hmm’
  • ‘I’m sorry you’re feeling this way’
  • ‘I’m sorry you feel so alone’

I know this may sound trite and empty if you’re feeling lost in how to support your teen and you’ve already tried everything you can. Join my FREE masterclass and learn my 3 pillars for creating an honest, connected relationship that lasts a lifetime, WITHOUT having to be a perfect parent. Click below!

You’re not alone.

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