Parenting a teenager can be tricky. The adolescent years are often filled with phases of self-exploration and experimentation. Your teen may pick up vices such as smoking/ vaping, drinking and drugs just because his friends asked him to. Addiction to these substances can be dangerous and even deadly. So how do you protect your teen from this triple threat?

A good place to start is put yourself in your teen’s mind and try to understand why these substances may appeal to him.

Related: Have a Minute? Talk to Your Kids about Smoking

Understanding the Allure of Smoking/ Vaping, Drinking and Drugs

bullied student 

Reason #1: “Don’t be a wimp” — Peer pressure

If your teen’s friends are interested in smoking/ vaping, drinking and drugs, they may pressure him to experiment with those substances. The need for acceptance and fear of being outcast can make it extremely hard to say “no”, causing your teen to go along with what his friends suggest.

Reason #2: “I’m bored” or “I’m stressed” — In for a thrill

Some teens turn to substances to cope with stress and boredom, and their influence among each other can be strong. If you keep hearing your teen saying he’s bored or stressed, take heed. It may be a sign he is ready for anything that excites, including harmful substances. The emotional high that comes from doing something thrilling and forbidden, especially in a group, can be just as addictive as the physiological high that these substances produce.

Reason #3: “Must try once in my life” — Ignorance and curiosity

The National Council Against Drug Abuse’s Perception Survey reveals that Singapore youths display more liberal attitudes towards drugs, and many do not fully understand the danger of drugs such as cannabis. Therefore, do not assume your teen knows the dangers and health hazards that these substances pose. Out of curiosity, they may feel that trying it once or twice just to have fun is no big deal, until they become addicted.

Reason #4: Trying to be an “adult” and look cool

Some teenagers want to look and feel grown up and may see drinking and smoking/ vaping as marks of adulthood. Perhaps your teen is modelling his behaviour after his favourite movie stars and think they can be as cool. Or they may simply be copying what dad or mum does, if they frequently see you drink or smoke.

Reason #5: A rebellious phase

Sometimes kids know how to push your buttons, whether it’s to get back at you or to get your attention. Picking up vices such as smoking/ vaping, drinking and doing drugs is a surefire way to upset parents and force you to take notice.

Related: Help Your Child Cope with Puberty and Self-esteem

What Can You Do?

a girl holding hands with father 

Your child’s teenage years are when he is forging his own identity. However, teens still look towards parents and other adult influencers, such as teachers for guidance. Here’s what you can do to steer your teen away from harmful substances.

1. Educate yourself about smoking/ vaping, drugs and alcohol

Do you know the dangers of tobacco, the effects of alcohol and how drugs can be deadly[1]? Stay updated with the latest knowledge so that you can identify tell-tale signs should your child dabble in substances. It’s wise to engage your teen early, before they start experimenting with this triple threat. If you are not sure how to bring up the topic, check out useful tips on how to talk to your child about smoking and drinking, and tap on the preventive drug education resources[2] from the Central Narcotics Bureau for more ideas. You could enlighten your child about the harms of vaping.

2. Be aware of their activities

Know what your children are up to such as what they’re reading or buying online. Pay attention to their emotions and the kind of influence their peers may have on them. Should the opportunity arise, talk to your children about choosing friends and emphasise that substance abuse is not the right way to fit in. Encourage them to join healthy group activities to widen their circle and boost their self-esteem.

3. Find teachable moments

Conversations about substance abuse need not be heavy-duty talks. Find teachable moments such as when you come across relevant news reports or walk past people smoking at the kopitiam. Use these to find out what your child knows about substance abuse and thinks about it. Listen with an open mind and guide him to his own conclusions about the negative consequences.

4. Be a role model

Your kids will more likely follow your behaviour than merely do what you say. Parents who use alcohol and tobacco to relieve stress can send the wrong message to children and lead them to think that substance use is not harmful. Evaluate how you would like your child to cope with the challenges in life and do the same yourself.

5. Stay calm and help them quit

If you discover your teenager is already into these vices, stay calm! Find an opportunity to speak to him about it to understand his motivations. If your teen feels that his views and needs are valued and heard, he is more likely to take your advice to quit. Help him come up with a quit plan and motivate him to stick to it.

Visit Parent Hub, for more useful tips and guides to give your child a healthy start.

Read these next:


  1. Central Narcotics Bureau. (n.d.). Drugs and Inhalants [Website].
    Retrieved January 2020 from

  2. Central Narcotics Bureau. (n.d.). Preventive Drug Education Information Brochure for Parents [Website].
    Retrieved January 2020 from

  3. Promises Treatment Centers. (2013, Oct 24). 10 Reasons Teens Abuse Alcohol or Drugs [Website].
    Retrieved August 2017 from

  4. Engels, R. (2015, Feb 06). Three Crucial Steps to Prevent Young People from Smoking, Drinking and Taking Drugs [Website].
    Retrieved August 2017 from

  5. HealthHub. (2015, Jan 13). Have I Got a Friend in You? [Website].
    Retrieved August 2017 from

  6. Central Narcotics Bureau. (n.d.). Preventive Drug Education Handbook for Parents [Website].
    Retrieved Janaury 2020 from

  7. National Council Against Drug Abuse. (2017). Youth and Public Perception Survey 2015/2016 [Website].
    Retrieved August 2017 from