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Start Talking Drugs

By UMM Team Lisa Jancarik and Ulash Dunlap, with UMM guest writer Neha Navsaria

As a high school psychotherapist, Ulash spends all day talking to teens. South Asian students often tell her their parents don’t understand the types of drugs teens use, and so they feel uncomfortable talking to them about it.

According to research, family conflict during the process of acculturation increases likelihood of drug abuse. However, Gauri Bhattacharya (2002), a researcher on South Asian immigrant families at Columbia University, found that when parents are able to communicate strong anti-drug messages to their adolescents, they did not use alcohol or drugs as often as those who did not get the same message from their parents.

Very few South Asian families talk to their teens about drugs. We hope this article will help you start the conversation.

Tip: Learn About Drugs

Many teens report their parents are not aware of the different types of drugs. The drugs teens use depend on access, availability, and what drugs their friends use.

Quiz time! Do you know the slang terms for Marijuana and its effects? Visit for the answer to this question and facts about inhalants, stimulants and commonly abused prescription medications.

Educating yourself on the types and effects of drugs will help to ease anxiety and make you more knowledgeable when you have the conversation with your teen about drug use.

Tip: Start Talking Early

Are you worried that if you talk about drugs your kids will start using them? This is a myth. The more you talk to your teens about drugs early in life, the more they will be educated about the risks associated with drugs. Are you wondering, ‘How do I strike up this conversation?’

You can choose the formal approach by sitting down with your teen and asking them if they know about drugs. Or you can take the relaxed approach; as you are doing an activity with your teen (i.e. cooking) casually bring up the drug topic. Examples of questions include, “I am curious, I hear so many teens are using drugs, is this true? Do you know about drugs? I read that marijuana makes you drowsy, do you know if that’s true?”

Tip: Connect With Your Teen

Do you remember being a teen? Today South Asian teens are overwhelmed with studies, family pressure to do well in school, as well as going to college, getting a good job, and taking part in extra-curricular activities. At the same time, they are figuring out their identities, coping with peer pressure, and wanting to fit in at school.

Connecting with your teen through communication is the first step in helping your teen feel understood. Teens may be resistant to parents asking questions or sharing personal information. However, keeping the communication line open is most helpful so the teen knows they can come to you if needed.

Tip: Take a Drug Stance

Teens need clear instructions on rules and expectations from their parents. Set boundaries and be firm about your drug stance. If you believe your teen should not be using drugs, let them know, but also provide support and start dialogue. And do not be frustrated and disappointed if your teen seems like they are not listening to you and saying “whatever.” Teens are listening to what you are saying, but developmentally they are trying to assert their independence.

Tip: If Your Teen Is Using Drugs

Do not be afraid to ask for help and support from the community. Schools can provide parent workshops on drug education, and connect you to community resources. You can contact your private health insurance or community clinic for more information and workshops. Or contact your local mosque, temple or community center to see if they have any support and resources.

Sources and Resources:


About Understand My Mind (UMM)

At, we explore current topics in psychology, education, health, marketing, parenting and the wider world. Through podcast interviews, articles and resources, UMM’s goal is to help the website’s visitors understand how societal trends affect individuals’ perceptions, thoughts and behavior. UMM guest writer, Neha Navsaria, is a psychologist at the Washington University School of Medicine, and researches issues related to resilience, parent-child interactions and South Asian psychology.

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