Teen Substance Abuse: What can parents do?
It’s every parent’s nightmare facing teen substance abuse. As children enter their teenage years they begin to separate from their parents, explore the adult world and fashion an image of their place in it. Even the most conscientious parents may not be able to protect their teens from the predatory lure of drugs, readily available in or around all schools.
Borrowing a sports analogy, the best defense against teen drug abuse is a good offense. Parents need to equip themselves with solid information about teen drug abuse , a realistic view of their child and access to professional help if there are any early warning signs of drug use/abuse.
Parents need to begin their offensive preparations long before the teenage years. See the problem of teen substance abuse before it comes into your neighborhood. Be proactive and establish your own game plan for educating your child on the topic, handling the problem if it arises and limiting the damage.
Parents do not want to believe that “Little Johnny” or “Little Jane” is going to use drugs or is having a problem with teen substance abuse. That’s something that happens to somebody else. This is not true.
Drugs are everywhere, so parents need to be savvy and look for the warning signs. Don’t assume that the problem is going to pass you by because you’re the “right kind of parents.” Human nature hasn’t changed over centuries and if parents are honest, they will recall their own view of the world when they were teens.
Warning Signs of Teen substance abuse:
School: Is your child keeping up with his/her school work? Have they lost interest in going to school and look for excuses to stay home? Call the school and keep track of your child’s attendance in class. I coach football and basketball for middle school and high school. I get attendance records and if a teen has missed class, they don’t play in the games.
But do you know your child skipped second period math class?
Are there days when you think your child has gone to school, but the attendance records do not match up?
Children who are in trouble with drugs will often begin failing classes, not turning in homework assignments or in general just fall behind. “I can’t believe Johnny is failing math, it was always his favorite subject.” A new pattern has emerged and it isn’t pretty. Schools have open campuses, allowing kids to come and go. They can easily slip into the community and get into trouble.
Health: As a person slips into teen substance abuse a variety of physical signs point to substance abuse. Are they listless all of the time? Kids don’t want to get up in the morning anyway, but they don’t always refuse to get moving. Weight loss and weight gain are signs. Are there changes in eating habits? The eyes are an indicator. Has the life gone out of their eyes, or is there a major change?
Appearance: This can be a difficult area to discern, as fashions change and often times what adults feel is acceptable dress may not have anything to do with current trends. Watch for changes in dress. Does a child lose interest in how they look? Kids want to fit in and there is peer pressure influence on the way they dress. Girls, especially, are bombarded with images on appearance. Has there been an attitude shift? Have grooming habits changed?
Attitude and Behavior: As children enter their teen years it is natural for them to want to break away from the family. When kids go to extremes to make sure you don’t know who they’re with or what they are doing, the red flag should go up. When they become secretive and guarded, when their privacy at home prevents your open access to them, look for something beyond mere adolescent rebellion. Money can be a sign. If their only interaction with the parents is to ask for money, and when asked why they need money they refuse to answer, or become indignant, that is an indicator of possible substance abuse. Worse yet, they may steal items from home to buy drugs.
Communication is Essential
Communicating with teens can be a challenge, especially because they are beginning to spread their wings and desire independence from mom and dad. Stay calm.
The most common mistake parents can make is trying to force ideas and values on the defiant teenaged mind.
I was that way. There's a leadership responsibility that always needs to be in evidence, and parents need to be parents. Trying to be “best buddies” is not a good strategy. However, parents need to meet their children where they are at. That means trying to understand the situation from your child’s perspective.
Teenagers will probably come up with some very wrong reasoning, seriously flawed ideas and their whole world view will likely be counter to that of their parents. But they have a NEED to be heard and respected.
It’s one thing to accept an opinion counter to your own, and it’s quite another to approve of it. Try working with your teen’s ideas and concepts, and have an open and non-threatening discussion about them. You can establish rules of engagement with your teen and agree that both of you are allowed to express ideas and opinions without fear of retribution.
The key is to remember that the parent needs to be the one in control. As a chaplain, I do a lot of counseling work and my approach is entirely patient-centered. They establish the themes of the conversation, but even though I am not deciding the topic, or necessarily directing the conversation, I am still in control.
Remember that your teenager, like a patient in a hospital, is probably going to be very myopic. He/she will see things only from their perspective.
Take a step back and see the entire situation. Go with their feelings, their concerns and walk down their path. Share the experience.
Parents are the front line of the fight against teen substance abuse. Don’t push that responsibility off to the schools. Rather, partner with the school counselors, teachers and administrators, never forgetting that you are the one responsible for your teen. If substance abuse or abuse enters your home, seek professional help and form another partnership in the effort.
Be in control. Be honest. Be alert. Be proactive.
Have you ever wondered WHY your teens are more susceptible to substance abuse and abuse?
Teen substance abuse is common; read why...
Many parents have enrolled their teens into a program called Teen Challenge to help those with a teen substance abuse. This program is extremely successful and transforming the lives of Teens who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Click here to find out more about this excellent program to help overcome abuse teens!
Click here to find out more about this excellent program Teen Challenge!
My son/daughter is stealing from me and I think it’s to buy drugs. They won’t admit it.