You want the best for your teen - the best education, the best extra-curricular activities, the best friends. And, ahhh yes, the best dating relationships. This is often one of the most significant factors in her overall health, yet it’s one of the factors you have the least control over. You can send her to a great school, pay for soccer, help her find a great job. But when it comes to matters of the heart, things get a bit more complicated.
You hope she makes healthy decisions when it comes to dating but, what should you do if she doesn’t? What if you find out she’s dating someone who is abusing drugs? You realize your daughter could be in danger – emotionally and physically. She might be starting down a path that leads to years of bad decisions and heartache. What can you do?
If you react poorly, that can make the situation worse - teens are notorious for doing the exact opposite of what their parents tell them to do. To carefully handle this delicate situation, keep the following tips in mind:
- Educate them: It's not a fun conversation, but you have to educate her about the effects of drug use. Get her to a support group meeting. Take her to a seminar. Get the facts in front of her about her date’s drug of choice. Approach her with an attitude of “Let’s learn more about what your bf/gf is struggling with, so we can help them.”
- Set boundaries: Since teens are known for rebelling, it makes your job very tricky - especially when you want her to stop seeing a current love interest. An ultimatum might only encourage her to run right into their arms - and stay there. However, you can’t toss your hands in the air and give up. You can set rules that make it very difficult for the relationship to continue. One essential boundary is no drugs in the house. This should be especially easy for your daughter to accept if you have other children. “The rule in this household is no drugs are to come under this roof. My job is to protect this family, including your little sister, and to do that, I have to insist on a no-tolerance policy.” If her significant other brings drugs into the house, they’ve broken the rule and are no longer welcome in your home.
- Be consistent: Once you set boundaries, you need to stick to them. Don’t cave when it’s time to enforce consequences. Backing down sends a message that you aren’t serious about the rules and tells your teen that she’s free to do what she wants - without fear of repercussions.
- Focus on the drugs: Express concerns about her choices, but keep the focus on the drugs, not the boyfriend or girlfriend. That way, she won’t feel you’re attacking her “soul mate.” You’re simply discussing the dangers of drug use.
- Involve friends: If she has friends you know and trust - kids who don’t do drugs - they might be good allies. In some cases, one of her friends may even approach you with concerns about your daughter’s significant other. Her friends involvement will help avoid a “parent vs. child” dynamic. Instead, you create a scenario where her loved ones are all expressing concern about her current dating choices.
- Be a doormat: If you know she’s dating a someone hooked on drugs, don’t simply lie down and let her. Acting like nothing’s going on isn’t a healthy solution. Yes, with teens, we have to pick our battles, but this isn’t one to simply lay down your guns and hope for the best. However, it’s a battle that requires careful strategy.
- Enable: Is she asking for money? Rides? Permission to invite her date to your house? Remember your boundaries. Consider raising them if your current actions are enabling drug use. You don’t want to fund the drug habit or make it easier for her to get involved in drug use.
- Forbid and forget: “You’re not to see him/her, and that’s final!” End of discussion. End of consideration. Life moves on. Yeah, right. It’s not that simple. We already know that teens tend to do the opposite of what you say. So, why assume that such an ultimatum and no follow-up will result in obedience? This situation takes more finesse. If you find yourself at a loss, go back through the “Do’s” list and see if there’s anything you missed or you could try again.
- Do it alone: Don’t overlook potential community resources. Reach out to support groups. Find a family counselor. Seek the help of a youth pastor. You aren’t the first parent to face this challenge. Help is available, if you’re willing to reach out.
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