It’s every parent’s nightmare. Your teen has confessed that they are tempted by sex, drugs, underage drinking or any other vice. You are terrified for your teen. What if they give in to those temptations? What if they get pregnant, become an addict or drive drunk? You feel guilty, like this is your fault. After all, no good parent would raise a teen who was considering using drugs. What did you do wrong? How do you fix this? Can you fix this? You are also absolutely furious. You taught your teen better than this! How could they even consider anything so reckless? Don’t they realize they are throwing away their life?

None of those emotions, however, help a parent handle their teen. Plenty of parents lash out either due to panic or rage. The terrified ones often end up grilling their teen for hours about the situation and “whose tempting you? Who’s hurting my innocent baby?!”. Others turn on their teen like an angry wolverine and yell at their teen, ban them from prom or any other punishment. Neither of these reactions, however, are helpful. Most parents even realize that their reactions are counterproductive or, at the very least unhelpful. Many parents, however, do not have any idea what to do in that nightmare scenario. Here are a couple tips on what to do if your teen tells you they are tempted.

Do Not Panic

Panicking is arguably the worst thing you can do if your teen tells you they are tempted. Handling teens can be difficult anyway, and temptation is an issue where even the most level headed teen can become irrational or unpredictable. To calmly handle the possible confusion, dismissal or defensive anger you might face from your teen, you desperately need your brain engaged, not silently screaming in parental terror. In fact, most bungled handlings of a tempted teen have their root in a panicking parent.

Regardless of whether your teen confessed because you found dirty magazines in his room, or she told you out of the blue, your teen was honest with you. They admitted their temptation to their parent. In your teen’s eyes, they admitted to weakness and disobedience to a person that most teens, whether they admit it or not, love and want to impress. Plenty of teens would have lied, obfuscated, hidden their temptation or claimed that they weren’t tempted. It was just a passing curiosity from ages ago, seriously chill out! Take a deep breath, and do not let any of those panicked questions or rebukes past your lips. If you cannot get control of yourself in a few moments, buy yourself some time by suggesting that the discussion take place in another room or later in the day. Use the extra time to calm down and remind yourself that your teen told you about their temptations when they could have hidden it. You have not lost your child to temptation yet.

Praise Them For Not Giving In

Truth time: even adults struggle with temptation. Even though they have fully developed brains, decades of practice with impulse control and have likely seen the consequences of drugs, alcohol, teen sex and other vices that wreaked havoc on friends or family, adults still give in to temptation. You probably know people who gave in and paid the price. You know the dangers. You’ve seen them first hand.

For your teen, however, this is all new. Drug addiction is a vague boogeyman parroted by teachers in the health classes that bore your teen. Pregnancy is an adult thing. Alcohol poisoning only happens to people who are stupid. Your teen has not seen friends arrested for drug possession or watched the valedictorian drop out of school to raise her child. The consequences are not real to them yet.

Despite this, your teen has not given in to their temptations. They have held themselves back by force of will or morality, not fear of the consequences. Praise that decision. Do not gush, and do not ignore the danger your teen is still facing, but recognize that your teen was faced with a choice and chose correctly. Make sure that your teen recognizes that as well.

Find Their “Why”

While being tempted by life-ruiners like drugs may seem baffling to a parent, your teen has a reason that they are interested in such things and, to them, this reason is perfectly logical and sensible. If you are going to help your teen deal with temptation, you need to know why they are interested in the first place. A teen that is considering underage drinking because “everyone does it” requires a very different approach than a teen who thinks “it’s not hurting anyone. What’s the big deal?” If you assume your teen has a different reason than they do, your arguments will mean nothing to them. Telling a teen who thinks that there is no harm in sex as long as they use protection that not everyone is having sex does not address the problem in the slightest. Your teen, however, is unlikely to offer their actual reason and get a second lecture. The onus is on you to reach out and understand your teen’s perspective.