by Chris Taylor, MFT, Author “Back to Basics”
As parents we are tasked to protect our children from mistakes that can have repercussions that last their lifetime. We understand that most poor choices can offer excellent learning opportunities but there are some pitfalls that keep us up at night with thoughts of dread. In my experience, there is no greater point of worry than the thought that your teenage son or daughter is experimenting with drugs. This is a very real fear and with the recent legalization of marijuana in many states young people are being sent a dangerous message that drug use is ok.
We all know the terms, weed, pot, Mary Jane, but do we know trees, bud, 420?
Do we know that when kids are talking about bars that they are referencing Xanax, which is an anti-anxiety medication that has become a common drug of abuse in the teen community. Are we aware that our teens are going on craigslist to purchase Xanax from strangers, and subjecting themselves to dangerous situations? In addition, the opioid crisis has spurned a heroin epidemic among young people. LSD has been sensationalized by Steve Jobs and other silicone valley “visionaries,’ and crystal meth use continues to rise. Unless we are aware, then we are choosing to live in the dark.
To ensure that teens are not experimenting even one time with drugs of any type, I encourage parents to have open communication with their kids about drug use. I caution approaching the conversation from a “drugs are bad,” or “if I ever catch you,” position. A more constructive approach would be to remain curious about the pressures your teens are facing. Explore their value systems and engage in meaningful dialogue with your teens about the choices they are having to make. The choice as a parent is to draw your child in with your genuine curiosity or to alienate them with judgment. When a teen feels validated and they feel like their parents are truly wanting to understand their experience, they are more likely to share intimate details of what they encountering in their peer group and at social gatherings.
When teens perceive judgment or are being lectured they often “tune out” and have already decided that they have parents who don’t get it, or don’t understand. The final pitfall for parents to avoid is the “I was your age once,” line. Although true, the exposure to information and the pressures that teen’s face in today’s society have never been seen before.
They need to know that you don’t understand but care deeply about trying, so they can be the experts to teach you. As a last resort for ongoing use I encourage consequences that remove the access points, the most effective are phones and transportation. Earning them back with compliance should be the focus so that kids internalize positive decision-making and responsibility taking.