Do you suspect your teen has a substance abuse problem? Parents approach this issue in myriad ways. Some of these approaches are effective...and some aren't.
Let's dig in.
Avoid These Common Pitfalls
Using ineffective methods can escalate the problem and cause unnecessary conflict. To truly help your teen, avoid making the following common mistakes concerning substance use:
- Mistake #1 - Ignore It
Parents often dismiss the signs that are right in front of their own eyes choosing to ignore the problem altogether. They'll tell themselves things like, "So they're experimenting a little – it’s no big deal” or “They just tried it once – it’s not like they’re an addict or anything.”
Teen substance use is not something to ignore. If you suspect your teen is using drugs, take action. Have intentional conversations with your teen about the very real dangers of substance use. Ask him about his own use and let him know this is a big deal. If needed, seek professional support for your child and help him get to the root of his substance use.
- Mistake #2 - Be Their Friend
It’s likely some of his friends are encouraging him to do drugs. He doesn’t need another friend right now, he needs a parent. Yes, it’s okay to “invade their privacy” and search their room, car, and other belongings for drugs. Yes, it’s okay to tell him he needs to get help. You're the parent, so be the parent. He isn’t in a position to make the best decisions right now, so you’ll have to step in.
- Mistake #3 - Discuss the Issue While They’re High
If your teen comes home drunk or high, it’s tempting to confront the issue right then, but this won’t be productive. You need to have conversations about your concerns when he's sober. This is not ignoring the issue, it’s simply confronting it at the appropriate time – when he's coherent and can be fully present for the discussion.
- Mistake #4 - Shame Them with Anger
Your teen’s drug use may elicit feelings of anger and fear. You may be confused, blindsided, or disappointed. While these emotions are normal, don’t let them guide conversations with your teen. Yelling matches won’t help. Anger and fear only make your teen defensive and encourage him to shut down.
Instead, approach him with concern. Show compassion. Remain calm. Explain to him the changes you’ve noticed and the concerns you have. Let him know you are a source of support rather than guilt or shame.
- Mistake #5 - Hide Family History
Is there a history of chemical dependency in your family? Educate your teen about genetic vulnerabilities toward substance abuse. If you have personal experiences with recovery, share them. Don’t hide valuable knowledge you’ve gained from experience in an effort to maintain a perfect image. Your teen can learn from your mistakes – but you have to be willing to share them.
Image Source: iStock