Being a teen today is tough. Being the parent of a teen can seem impossible. Both of you are navigating the unchartered waters of adolescence with its rush of hormones, thrills of new freedoms and pressures from a world that pulls in 50 directions all at once. At SADD, Students Against Destructive Decisions, we’ve been working to empower teens, engage parents and mobilize communities for the past 36 years. What have we learned? The teen years are the best of times — they are the worst of times.

Teens empowering teens

Be engaged in knowing the friends your teen has, since they are likely to be the second most powerful influencer in their lives.

The solution is two-fold. More so now than at any other point in our history, we need young people who are empowered, engaged and mobilized to keep themselves and their friends safe. We need young people to have the knowledge and courage to speak up when their friend is driving unsafely; to know how to get out of a moment of peer-pressure; to have the confidence to turn-down that first drink or first cigarette. Real change always starts with teens talking to teens.

Adults as influencers

The second part of the solution is parents and other caring adults. At a young age, we learn what is acceptable based upon the behavior we see. When parents drive distracted, teens subconsciously learn that it’s acceptable. The same is true for attitudes around alcohol, substance use and personal health and safety. Parents cannot forget the powerful influencer they are — the same is true for grandparents, clergy, coaches and other adults that we look up to in our communities. Attitude change can start with a simple conversation talking about these risk factors.

It may seem like the last thing your teen wants to do is talk about their day, their friends or the highs and lows of their day — but that’s exactly what parents need to hear. Try a conversation based around the high points and low points. Be engaged in knowing the friends your teen has, since they are likely to be the second most powerful influencer in their lives. By having these conversations, you cement a relationship of open, honest communication.

It’s true that there will be many ups and downs in adolescence, moments when you want to pull your hair out (as a teen and as a parent). Just remember to speak up for your friends and talk to your teenager — that’s the secret to making the worst of times the best of times.