How to talk to a teen you’re worried about

Are you worried about a young person in your life? Are they making decisions that put their safety at risk? Maybe they’re not acting like themselves, or are struggling in school. You may be wondering if they have a mental health problem or could be using drugs.

It’s not always easy to figure out what’s going on. Their problems might be due to natural changes in their body, stress, mental health problems, use of drugs or alcohol, or any combination of these.

Parents and young people may have difficulty talking about their experiences with mental health and substances. Many feel shame—or feel like they’re alone. However, both substance use problems and mental health challenges are actually quite common and can happen to anyone.

The good news is that people can and do get better—both from mental health challenges and substance use issues. This website will give you some tips for starting a conversation with the young person you are worried about, as well as provide resources for professional support.

Having the Conversation

Before you talk with your child or a young person in your life about your concerns, take a moment and make sure you’re prepared for the conversation:

  • ​Pick a time and place where neither of you is distracted or are likely to be overheard by others.
  • Make sure both of you are rested, have eaten, and aren’t in a stressed or heightened emotional state.
  • Provide a calm and safe environment for them to talk openly. Show them that you can handle whatever they might say with understanding and kindness.

Say This…

Start by naming the specific reasons that you’re concerned. For example, you might say: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been sad and not doing stuff you usually enjoy.”

Don’t use the conversation as a way to vent your feelings of anger or anxiety, or generalized statements like: “What is wrong with you lately?”

Ask about your concerns calmly and directly: “Have you been drinking alcohol?” or “Are you thinking of suicide?” Let them know exactly what you’re concerned about and that you can handle a truthful answer.

Not That.

Don’t shut down conversations by using statements like “You’re not using drugs, are you?” or “I hope you’re not thinking of doing something stupid.”

Try to listen twice as much as you talk.  Offer factual responses when asked. If you don’t know the answer, say so and offer to find the answer together.

Don’t lecture or use scare tactics—both have been shown to be ineffective and may actually increase experimentation with substances.

For more information on how to have a conversation about substance use problems, visit:

For more information on the warning signs of suicide, how to have a conversation, and where to get help, visit or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-8355 (TALK)

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