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attitudes and values

  • Why getting clear about attitudes, beliefs and values is helpful in looking at drug issues

  • The Drug Triangle model: drug, person, environment

  • Using 'The Drug Triangle' to think about drug using situations

  • Drug issues and ways of addressing them

How to respond to the demands of teenagers is altogether a more complicated and challenging matter than responding to the relatively straightforward demands of small children.

  • 'I don't need to be home that early!'

  • 'It's not fair if I can't use my phone when I want to.'

  • 'Why can’t I take alcohol to the party? Everyone else is!’

  • ‘I’m old enough to go there by myself!'

The issues sheet Decision-making and responsibility is a starting point for working out what you can leave to your adolescent to have control over, and where you want to set boundaries.

Assisting our teenagers to make decisions about drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, can be particularly difficult for parents. Even though this is a society which tolerates the use of some drugs in some circumstances e.g. alcohol, people have very strong opinions about others. But where do these ideas come from? To be able to usefully communicate with your teenager on this subject, you need to be aware of your values and attitudes and how they may influence the communication. This issues sheet suggests that parents try to be clear about what is most important for them in relation to drug issues, and their reasons for holding these views.

What is most important?

For most parents life is hectic and full of pressure, meaning that every day they have to work out what needs to be dealt with now and what can wait, what needs to be negotiated with others and what needs to be acted upon without question. In an ideal world we would decide such things logically and consistently.  But life isn't like that. What seems obvious one day can look quite different from the point of view of the next day's challenges.

For example a parent may have decided to give a teenager responsibility for managing their money for leisure activities. Everything goes well until the teenager runs up a large debt on their mobile phone. What is the parent to do? If they pay off the card and rescue the teenager they are being inconsistent with the value they place on learning from experience. If the parent doesn't pay and the teenager has no mobile the value they place on ensuring their child’s safety may be compromised. How do they make the right decision?

Why getting clear on attitudes, beliefs and values is helpful

As a parent thinks about their attitudes and beliefs in relation to a range of topics, they may find that some of their opinions are inconsistent. It's quite common for people to hold many different attitudes at once, even if they contradict each other. Values refers to the beliefs and behaviours that are most important to a person, the ones they turn to when they need to work through contradictions and conflicts.

The case of the teenager with the mobile phone debt shows the kinds of choices that parents can be faced with. In this example the parent respects the teenager's need to make their own decisions and live with the consequences. This respect is an important value. When the huge phone bill comes in, the parent has to think again about values. Is it an important value to protect their teenager from harm? Will there be more harm done to their teenager if they can't use their phone to call home? If the parent thinks that this is so, they might pay the bill, even though this conflicts with their value about decision-making. They have worked out what their primary value is.

Values and drugs

Getting clearer about values means looking at your attitudes and beliefs in relation to drugs (including alcohol and tobacco), and also looking at other attitudes and beliefs that it is possible to have. You will need to think about what the possible results of various beliefs and resulting behaviours might be and how they impact upon your values.  These results might take the form of a harm experienced by your teenager.  There may be some issues on which you are prepared to change your mind when you bring this perspective into view. But during this process you will ask yourself which beliefs are the ones that are most basic and important, the ones you would not want to give up, the ones that you would stick to when you can't stick to everything because they correspond to the values that you hold.

You can begin by asking questions such as: Where does my information about drugs including alcohol and tobacco come from? How does my background and experience affect my thinking about these drugs?  What would influence the way teenagers regard particular drugs?  What opinions would they be likely to hold and why?

You may have had personal experiences with certain drugs; you may have been close to someone who had a drug or alcohol problem. Perhaps you have been brought up to have certain opinions and beliefs about a drug, for example because of religious faith or cultural beliefs.

You may have developed your attitudes and beliefs without consciously being aware of where they come from for example - from hearing other people talk, from the media, from knowing that the drug is legal or not legal, from attitudes your family held.

Working out where your beliefs come from, whether they are soundly based and the values that are now most important to you are key steps in the process of making decisions about drugs.

Exploring your values andbeliefs

Imagine this scenario: You have a very strong opinion about a particular drug. You believe that it is a ‘bad’ drug and that there would never be any benefit from using it. You do not want your teenager to come to harm from using this drug. You also believe that it is most important to maintain communication with your child, and for them to feel that you will listen when they open up to you.

Your teenager tells you that his or her friends have used this drug. What will be your immediate response? Your immediate impulse may be to tell your child not to spend time with these friends.

Here is an instance of the usefulness of holding back and considering the situation in the light of your values. You don't want your teenager to come to harm. However if you rush in and lay down rules you may be missing an opportunity for them to tell you what is on their mind, how they are feeling and the full story. They may be more likely to come to harm if they have not been able to have an open and honest communication with you about the situation.


Exploring the drug use situation

It is worth exploring your attitudes and values in relation to drugs by using a simple model called the ‘drug triangle’.  This model illustrates how every drug experience (and its outcomes) is influenced by the interaction of three sets of factors – those centred around the drug, those centred around the individual and those centred around the environment.

The Drug

When considering your feelings about a particular drug think about how the possible harms caused by its use can be affected by:

  • The way the drug is taken (for example, if it is swallowed, injected or inhaled)

  • Where the drug comes from (its manufacture and resulting purity or corruption)

  • Its impact upon the body

  • How much of the drug a person takes (the dose)

  • What other substances are used at the same time.

The Person

When thinking about the use of this drug we should also consider how the potential for harm is affected by the state or situation of

  • The person taking the drug (such as your teenager, or yourself) for example:

  • How old the person is

  • What experience of the drug they have had previously (if any)

  • What gender the person is

  • How mature the person is 

  • What mood, state of mind the person is in (depressed, risk taking, happy and sociable, nervous and insecure)

The Environment

And how about considering how the place/ situation in which the drug is taken affects possible outcomes of drug use, for example:

  • If the drug is legal?

  • Where the drug is taken (for example in a pub, in a park, at a party, at a friend's house with adults present, at a friend’s house with strangers and no adult)

  • Whether the person is alone or with supportive friends

  • What current advertising is saying about the drug or recent media stories

  • Where the drug has come from – e.g. alcohol supplied by parents; unknown source; dealer

Using the drug triangle to think about values

When you as a parent want to discuss and set boundaries for your teenager in relation to their alcohol and/or other drug use, you need to think about the interaction of each of these factors on what could be outcomes of your son or daughter’s experience.  If you


Focus on the potential for harm and the possible risks – it can help you to ground your attitudes and values and assist in explaining your concerns to your child. Exploring questions about the drug, the person and the environment will help you to think about the reasons for your concern, and about strategies for maximizing safe outcomes. . For example you may be more likely to think about what harms the drug can cause, rather than simply focusing on the use of the drug.

As you work through this process you may find that you need more information or more accurate information. This will be valuable in understanding the situation and having a useful conversation with your teenager about drugs. Young people ignore statements that they know are incorrect and may react by disregarding what you have to say.

As a result of your exploration of the subject you may change some of your beliefs and attitudes; you may find some of them strengthened.

It will be very useful to go through this process of working through your attitudes and beliefs about drugs and considering how your values around your role as a parent match up with them before you talk to a teenager about alcohol and other drug use. It may also be useful to speak to other parents.

With a clearer view of what is most important to you, and the reasons for this, you will be in a better position to communicate with your teenager about drugs. You will be clearer about your beliefs and the reasons for setting any boundaries. 


Bui, C., Hough, A., Munro, G.D. & Peake, M. (1994). Reducing the risk: An alcohol action program for schools Australian Drug Foundation Youth Alcohol and Community Project.

Family Drug Help. (2003). Is someone you care about using drugs? A guide for families coping with alcohol and other drug use

Health Promotion Services, Health Department of Western Australia. (1995). Parents: Talking to teenagers about drugs

Health Promotion Unit, Health Department of Victoria. (1988). The Victorian Drug Strategy: Action Planning Manual

Simon, S.B., Howe L.W. & Kirschenbaum H. (1972). Values clarification: A handbook of practical strategies for teachers and students. New York: Dodd, Mead.

Prepared by the UnitingCare Moreland Hall

© Victorian Government Department of Human Services