Why You Should Assume Your Teen is Using Drugs

A chat board post written by an anonymous high school student was stunning in its honesty and directness. It should act as a wake-up call for parents who remain blissfully ignorant about their teen’s probable drug use.

“Way too many of my friends’ parents seemingly couldn’t care less where their kids are on the weekend. I’d say out of all my different friends…from different social groups, different races, both sexes, etc., I would be hard-pressed to find 10 people who don’t drink.”

Many parents would be shocked to learn how plentiful drugs are in their children’s world. The average age at which teens start using tobacco is about 12 years old. The average age at which they start drinking alcohol is almost 13. And the average age at which they start smoking marijuana is 14.

Those tempted to think, “My child would never do anything so risky at that age,” should wear a big bright button that reads, “I’M IN DENIAL.”

Here’s what you need to know.

Your teen is struggling through a prolonged period of extreme stress. Everything is in someone else’s control. Their bodies are in a biological upheaval accompanied by mood swings and aggression. There are school issues, family problems, and friendship pressures.

Teenagers are their own harshest critics. They tend to hide who they think they are and act like who they think they should be. Many teens would give anything to shed their skin and start over.

Without a doubt, this is the most dangerous point of a young life. Unfortunately, many teens choose the path of self-destruction to cope with their pain. These children need reliable parents who are empathetic and focused on parenting.

How to start? The following five steps should be in every parent’s playbook:

1. Take an active role in all facets of their life. Know your child and pay attention. Share stories about your day – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Get them laughing and they’ll open up. Make it a point to get to know their friends and introduce yourself to their friends’ parents. Encourage them to surround themselves with friends who see and value who they are. Know where they are, what they’re doing and with whom every minute.

2. Discuss drugs specifically. Practice is the name of the game. When you talk with your child about drugs, you are rehearsing for future discussions they’ll have without you. Ultimately, you want them to have readily available answers when peer pressure begins. It shouldn’t be a lecture and parents should avoid accusations, sarcasm and blame. Instead, be open-minded, supportive, understanding and firm. You’re providing the information they’ll use to form their own opinions and make their own decisions.

3. Lead by example. A lack of restraint can lead parents to inadvertently introduce their children to drugs. Creating a positive environment for your teen requires never abusing alcohol or other drugs yourself.

4. Set clear rules and enforce them with swift, consistent and meaningful punishment. The key is that everyone needs to know the rules. A great way to do that is to involve your child in making the rules. They’ll be more likely to follow the rules because they’re invested in them. The consequences should be fair and appropriate to the crime. And no punishment should last more than a week.

5. Use “youthful indiscretions” as teachable moments. Teens ultimately make their own choices and, despite your best efforts, they sometimes will stray. You have to be their advocate no matter what. Treat these moments as opportunities to learn about your teen’s struggles, express your unconditional love and provide firm guidance.

By reading this, you have admitted to yourself that drugs are plentiful in your child’s world and there’s a chance – even if it’s a small one – that your teen is among the majority who have used drugs. I applaud your honesty and courage. I also know you want to blame someone – the media, their school, their friends, and even yourself. But that’s the easy way out. Instead, determine what you can do directly and get to work.

As parents, you are entitled to parent. That means knowing all about your child so you can detect the significance in miniscule changes. It means paying attention to what’s happening in your child’s life as well as how your child perceives your life. Finally, it means taking action with an emphasis on being reliable, empathetic, and meeting your child’s needs.