Parenting 101

June 2011

1.   Our 16yr old daughter has started dating an 18yr old “boy” who we hear has been known to drink and use drugs. Although our daughter exhibits no symptoms or behaviors suggesting she’s using too, we are anxious and worried about how to handle this situation. What should we do?

You have good reason to be concerned. Teens who socialize with others who drink and use are far more likely to do so themselves, but the danger does not stop there. If this boy is drinking and using, she’s at much greater risk for being involved in an automobile crash, being a victim of dating violence and/or rape, or facing legal consequences secondary to being around illicit substances or intoxicated minors. The first step should be to sit down and have an “adult” conversation with your daughter. Do your best to use only statements that start with ‘I’ and avoid saying ‘you’ – this will prevent you from making any accusations, either intentionally or unintentionally. If your daughter does not feel attacked, judged or criticized, she will be much more likely to listen to what you have to say. Carefully share your concerns about the situation, including the legal ramifications for him, if anything should happen to her.

Use statements such as: ‘I understand that older boys are more attractive because they’re more mature and experienced, however, I also understand that he is in a different place in life, that he is considered an ‘adult’ legally, and will want to seek out adult activities and interests which are not appropriate for someone who is 16”; and other statements like, “ I cannot know for sure, but the word from others is that he is not making very good decisions and chooses inappropriate activities.  It would devastate me to learn that he may try to involve you in these activities.”

Then allow her to talk and carefully listen to see if she seems fully aware of the issues that are involved with dating an older person.  Based on what you daughter tells you, you can decide whether to restrict this relationship.  It’s obvious that any unsupervised time they spend together is potentially dangerous.  While it’s not necessarily true that she is joining in his activities, it is true that he is not to be trusted.

Discussions of the same nature with this young man (and his family) are also in order. If he denies drug use, ask him to take a urine drug screen (most effective if done without prior notice). Although these measures are certainly not the most comfortable to take, you owe it to your daughter to do all in your power to protect her. She is still a child and it’s your responsibility to provide that protection.

2. The other day as I was putting away my 14yo son’s laundry, I discovered plastic baggies in his drawer – one contained several different kinds of pills and the other had what I assume to be marijuana. I haven’t said anything to him yet – I’m terrified of his response. His behavior has been somewhat rebellious lately but nothing I would consider uncharacteristic for a 14 year old boy. I don’t know how to handle this. Help!

98% of the time in this type of situation the young person is definitely involved in using illegal substances and has been for some time but has successfully deceived his parents.  What allows this behavior to not only continue but to also develop, is the fact that most parents have this same reaction – they are terrified and do not know how to proceed without fear of losing their loving relationship with their child.  His response is likely to be extreme, substance abusing or addicted children are volatile far in excess of the already significant amount 14 year olds are. Those who begin using drugs by age fourteen have a strong chance of developing an addiction, far greater than if that use does not start until later years. His current use is doing serious damage to the development of his brain, which is in a critical stage at this period of his life.

We strongly suggest you seek professional help.  Both parents should not waste any time in taking this child to an adolescent drug treatment center, where each person will be interviewed and the teen will be drug tested (so don’t tell your son ahead of time).  He will likely not understand or grasp any of this and be highly resistant, but remember he is a child and he needs you to be a parent, which means often being unpopular with your child. If his reaction is extreme, look at it and ask yourself this: Is this a child in control and healthy, or is this a child in desperate need of help? The center will provide assessment, evaluation and suggestions.  This process is free at many centers in the area and works best because it is far more objective in the evaluation and suggestions.  It will avoid arguments about what is true and not true because chances are great that your child will deny any ‘accusation’ you make.  It is critical to know that the longer parents wait the more difficult it will be to remediate the situation.  It will not be a pleasant experience for you, but it is your duty to deal with this and it will be far less unpleasant than attending his funeral or sentencing. Please confiscate the drugs and call your local treatment center immediately for a referral and/or assessment!

The questions above are from parents who live in the South Bay. The responses have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention. The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth. For local resources or more information, please visit our website www.thefutureiswatching.org or contact: events@sbcoalition.com

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