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Experimenting With Drugs

prodigalIf you’ve seen an unexplainable or drastic change in your teenager’s honesty, grades, behavior, attentiveness, or friends, it may not be hormones.  It could be that they are experimenting with intoxicating substances that are as close as your kitchen drawer, medicine cabinet or garage.

It used to be that older teens were most susceptible to drug experimentation, but kids today are experimenting earlier and earlier.  In fact, 10 to 14 year-olds are now the most likely to begin experimenting with one intoxicating substance or another.

One fad is a throwback to the 60’s hippie culture, marked by an increased popularity, availability and use of marijuana (pot), as well as the more seriously addicting 60′s drugs like heroin and LSD (acid).  Today’s pot is several times more potent than it was just a few years ago and heroin is even more accessible in some schools today than alcohol.

Illegal drugs get a lot of news coverage, but there are literally thousands of less sinister, but potentially more dangerous, ways for kids to get high, including:  potent concoctions of common household glues, solvents and aerosols, prescription pain medications like Oxycontin and Vicodin, or even some of the plants found in your yard.  Some kids even get a buzz off of massive doses of certain vitamins.

Most teens think they’re invincible, so their drug history is their badge of courage.  They learn about every source of intoxication from the Internet and then try them one after another.  So, they could be experimenting with huffing aerosol propellants, glues, gasoline, or paint.  Or, they could be crushing cold medications and sniffing them like cocaine or guzzling liquid cold medicines.  They could be taking your prescription drugs or taking nothing at all and just playing the “choking game” to get a temporary high from near asphyxiation.  Still others show their courage by experimenting with the harder drugs like ecstasy, crystal meth, crack, cocaine, LSD, or heroin, which are all highly addictive.

When Does It Start?

When I ask kids in our counseling program the age they started experimenting with drugs or alcohol, they usually report it was in the 7th or 8th grade; and some as early as the 5th grade. Most say they were introduced to drugs or alcohol when staying overnight at a friend’s home or other overnight youth event; or, at their friend’s house after school when their parents weren’t home.  Others were introduced to drugs or alcohol when attending parties … usually parties where older teens are present and parents are absent, distracted, or don’t care.

Fact is, parents today who allow their teenagers to stay overnight with friends may be putting their teen in peril.  After the parents are asleep, the kids try to outdo each other in regard to how far they will go, armed with the latest vices from the Internet.  That’s why I recommend putting a stop to slumber parties at age ten.  Stop at age 10 for a couple of years …..slumber parties where the crowd influence is greater than just sleeping at someone’s house.  From then on, the normally innocent agenda of pizza and pillow fights tends to shift to more sinister things these days.

By the time most parents first discover their child is using drugs, the child has usually been involved for several years.  But if parents can be diligent in keeping their kids from experimenting with intoxicating substances before age 14, they’ll be less likely to get started at all, so it’s important to be the most vigilant in the critical tween and early teen years.

The Addicted Teen

There’s obviously a difference between experimenting with drugs and being addicted.  However, experimenting is no less dangerous, since we hear stories every day of deaths of first-time users.  And some drugs are so addictive, that they can lead to a lifetime addiction with their very first use.

There’s nothing more gut-wrenching for a parent than to deal with their teenager’s drug addiction.  Just watch a few episodes of the show “Intervention” on television and you’ll see what dealing with an addict is like.  It’s a constant nightmare, not just for an addict, but for the entire family.  The lying, stealing, fits of anger, run-ins with the law and constant fear that the child will overdose can destroy and bankrupt a family.  And it won’t get better without treatment and ongoing support, sometimes spanning the addict’s entire life.

Sadly, each year more than a million teenagers need to go into substance abuse treatment programs.  And just like alcoholism, many of them will struggle with that addiction throughout their entire life.  That’s why it’s far better for parents to prevent kids from experimenting with drugs early on, before they get a foothold.

Why Do They Experiment?

Kids are usually motivated to experiment with drugs by curiosity and the need to fit in.  They want to try what their friends are trying, and they have a great need to belong.

Some kids experiment because they are seeking relief from anxiety or emotional pain.  In essence they are self-medicating or using drugs or alcohol to cope with the stresses they are feeling.  For instance, many kids use marijuana to reduce their anxiety, but medical studies show that the prolonged use of the drug has the opposite effect, leading to heightened anxiety, depression, nervousness, mental disorders, paranoia and panic attacks.  While some parents diminish the seriousness of use of marijuana, they should pay attention to what the National Institute on Drug Abuse says are the effects of its prolonged use.  They report it can cause, “… impaired attention, memory problems, diminished learning capacity, interference with the formation of memories and the ability to retain knowledge, a general apathy toward life events, poor coordination, diminished interpersonal skills, and poor judgment.”

Sadly, other kids experiment with drugs to tempt their fate.  Teens with more serious emotional and psychological problems turn to dangerous concoctions or massive doses of drugs as a form of “Russian Roulette.”  They reason, “If I die, then so be it.”  Not a week goes by that I don’t receive a message from a parent or grandparent, heartbroken that their teen overdosed and died.

Signs of Drug Use

There are many signs of substance abuse that a parent should watch for, but the only way to know for sure is to take your teenager to get a full-spectrum drug and alcohol test (a test for many types of drugs).  To be sure, have it done professionally by a local lab that processes tests for businesses.  Give your teen little forewarning to prepare for the test, since they can usually find ways on the Internet to falsify the results.

A substance abuse test is warranted if you see any of these signs:

Masking – you notice that they are consuming mega doses of vitamins, teas and herbs in attempt to mask drug use.

Increased lying – not just once or twice, but chronic dishonesty, especially if lying is new for your teen.

Breakdown in normal habits – drastic changes in sleep, appetite, the ability to complete schoolwork, loss of interest in things they once loved, extreme forgetfulness, and marked decrease in hygiene.

An unusual odor on clothes or in the room — frequent use of incense or deodorizers to mask the smell, frequent use of eye drops (to alleviate bloodshot eyes), extended periods locked alone in their room or the bathroom, frequent use of the garage or shed or other vacant buildings.

Change in friends – your teen exchanges healthy friendships for fierce loyalty to questionable people you don’t even know.  They may even run away, or disappear with their new friends for long stretches of time.

Stealing or sudden wealth — shoplifting, credit card abuse, valuables disappearing from the home without explanation.  Or, you may see unexplained money, jewelry, new clothes, or new gadgets from the selling of drugs (even from selling your prescriptions).

Change in schedule – up all night, or up very late at night, sleeps for days, misses work, misses appointments, wants to be on the phone late at night or regularly wants to stay overnight at a friend’s house or out camping.

Aggression, anger, mood swings, disrespect, and blaming – to an unreasonable degree, and directed against you and your family or other authorities.

Drug paraphernalia — pincers or paper clips for smoking, empty or disassembled pen cases for snorting, empty aerosol cans, burnt spoons, homemade pot pipes, steel wool, hypodermic needle parts, unknown prescription bottles, empty liquid cold remedy bottles, cold remedy blister packs, missing glues or solvents, or knives and spoons used for crushing and sniffing pills repeatedly show up in their room.

Dropping grades– lack of care for school, sports or other healthy pursuits.

Drugs May Be the Behavior Issue

It’s easy to identify bad behavior and blame drug use on teenage rebellion, but it could be that drugs are what’s affecting your child’s behavior.  The real dilemma comes from the parent not believing their child might be experimenting with or using drugs in the first place.  This is simply denial.  Until a parent understands the real possibility of drugs use — even if their teen has good Christian friends and is active in church — they won’t be able to get to the root of the problem.

You may not understand the reason your child has chosen drug use as their way to “cope” with some giant in their life, but that’s another matter altogether.  And because it is inconceivable that your child would ever do such a thing, you may fail to consider it, discuss it with him or drug test him to find out.  I’ve found that parents with kids in Christian schools are the least likely to admit their teen has a problem.  After all, they are in a “safe” environment, right?  Wrong!  Kids that have come to our program with drug issues tell me that the drug problem is more prevalent, not less, in the Christian schools they’ve attended than in public schools.

Before Counseling, Get the Drug Use Under Control

Since drug use may be the cause of behavioral issues, all the behavioral counseling in the world will have little positive effect until the drug use is stopped and the lingering effects of the drug are out of the teenager’s system.  Depending on the drug that was used, the after-effects can last several months.  That’s why at Heartlight, we require that kids with known drug dependencies first go through a separate addiction treatment program.  We cannot deal with their inner issues until the drug issues are taken care of.  Likewise, don’t attempt to get counseling for your teen until the drugs are out of their system.  It’s a waste of money and time.  The best plan is to have the two therapies work hand in hand, ensuring that the ongoing support of an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous program continue in tandem with your teen’s counseling for emotional and behavioral issues.

If your teen is showing any of the signs I’ve already mentioned, I recommend that every few weeks, unannounced, you drug test your teen.  Make it a prerequisite for using the car.  Hold them accountable to the results, just as if a court would hold them accountable if they were on probation.  Test them even when they squeal in protest or appear disappointed that you don’t trust them.  Easy-to-use home drug and alcohol test kits can be bought in almost any drug store that can be used for regular monitoring.  And when you test them, stay in the room.  Don’t trust them to give you a valid sample.  If they are getting caught up in that culture, they’ll also know ways to get around the test and they’ll have no trouble lying to you about it.

Overall, your teenager needs to know you will do everything in your parental power to keep drugs from becoming a part of their history, even if it means putting them in an addiction treatment program or reporting them to the authorities and landing them in jail.  Better a few days in jail and a time on probation where they’ll get tested regularly, than a lifetime in the grip of drugs.

Don’t stick your head in the sand or otherwise pretend that your teen knows better than to try drugs.  If you are dealing with an out of control teen, and there have been no other traumatic events or psychological problems in your child’s life, you are most likely dealing with the effects of drugs or alcohol or other intoxicating substances in one form or another.  The sooner you know what you are dealing with, the better the chance you’ll have for finding the right kind of help for your child.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.

 


Parable for Dads

prodigalHave you ever considered the father figure in the Parable of the Prodigal to be the focus of that story, not the wayward son?  After all, the word “father” is mentioned many more times than the word “son.”

A “prodigal” is defined as one who “spends extravagantly.”  While the son spent his inheritance; it was the father who was the most extravagant, both with his money and with his love.  It was the father who was the prodigal.

Whether or not Jesus’ parable was taken from a real life example, I imagine it wouldn’t be easy for any father to see his son live a sinful lifestyle and waste his inheritance.  But there is no mention of the father bringing brute force or threats to bear to hold back his son or to bring him home, any more than God forces Himself on us.

Oh, how much would he have liked to pull (him) back with fatherly authority and hold (him) close to himself so that (he) would not get hurt.  But his love is too great to do any of that. It cannot force, constrain, push, or pull.  It offers the freedom to reject that love or to love in return.  It is precisely the immensity of the divine love that is the source of the divine suffering. God, creator of heavens and earth, has chosen to be, first and foremost, a Father.” – Henri J.W. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

When the son came to his senses, the father again showed his prodigal nature by extravagantly welcoming him back into the family with fanfare and rejoicing.  There was no demand for repayment, no warnings, no threats, and no expressions of disappointment … just love and grace.  He threw a party and lavished all the same rights and privileges on the son as if he had never left the fold.

It’s the kind of prodigal grace and attention fathers need to lavish on their teens every day today.  In our counseling of teens at Heartlight, the most often mentioned desire of teen girls is, “I want more time with my Dad.”  They want time together, even if they don’t act like they do.

If you are a dad, take your teen to lunch, grab a snack after school, attend all games or school events, find things you can do together, and communicate with them online.  Send daily text messages to say “Hi” or, “I love you.”  Make sure your teen knows your desire to continue to be involved in his or her life even if there is a split in the family.  Do it, or they’ll seek validation from someone else, and that can lead to bigger problems than you ever want to have with your teen.

The Missing Dad

I asked one young girl in our counseling program how she was doing.  It was a simple question in passing, and I expected a simple “doing okay” answer.  Instead, the young lady proceeded to tell me everything about herself, everything she ever did, everything she ever accomplished, everywhere she had ever traveled and every talent she had.

She reported how she could play the guitar, the cello, the violin, the piano, the harp, the drums, the trumpet, the bass guitar, the flute, the clarinet, and the tuba.  She told me about all the things she likes to do, and all the things she doesn’t like to do.  She talked about how she is a swimmer, a gymnast, a dancer, an equestrian, a pianist, and a volleyball queen.

She “shared” how she was homecoming queen and the “most likely to succeed” in her class.  She told me what she wanted to be, and what she did not want to be.  She told me all her hopes and dreams, and all her disappointments and failures in one breathless dissertation.

I quickly realized that this one-way “conversation” was a desperate cover-up of what was going on inside her.  She wanted me to know she is worth something and she plead her case based on her accomplishments.

When she took a breath, I finally got a chance to wedge in a better question that might open a real dialogue.  Her demeanor completely changed when I asked, “What’s been the most difficult thing that has happened in your life?”  Her chattering stopped, her eyes welled up with tears, and she replied, “When my dad left, I felt all alone.”

Suddenly, there was silence. I stood looking at her for a few seconds and instead of trying to come up with the right words to say, I just gave her a hug.  She wanted to talk, but I encouraged her, “Hey, hey, hey … you don’t need to say anything.”  Finally, a real connection was made.

When dads are missing, problems will usually follow.  Why?  Because moms are the ones who instill a sense of value, and dads are the ones who validate it.  All children need their father’s blessing.  When dad’s stamp of approval is not there, the child will look for validation somewhere else.

This is especially true of teenage girls.  They need their dad to meet that need for validation – something only he can really fulfill.  And with 12- to 14-year-old girls, this need is greater than ever.  But sadly, many dads get too busy or otherwise emotionally move away from their daughters at this time in their life.

Learn to Listen Extravagantly

Dads are usually weak at listening.  They’re made that way.  They aren’t easily distracted from their focus on whatever they are doing and they’re always doing something.  It’s a great asset to have in the business world, but it’s a liability at home.  Many times dads are concentrating on something else when their teen attempts to talk to them; or they are only thinking one way and anything different fails to get through their filter.

You don’t have to work so hard to listen to your children when they’re little, but when they enter the teen years, you have to work at it.  If you are willing to just listen, you might touch the heart of your teen and convey a sense of value.  Don’t try to fix their problems like when they were young – not unless they ask for your help.  And don’t worry about what your answer is going to be; we can’t all come up with the scripted responses of TV dad’s like Ward Cleaver, Ben Cartwright, or Heathcliff Huxtable.  Focus on your teen and offer your attention as a wordless message of support.

Have Fun Extravagantly

“Life isn’t about how to survive the storm but how to dance in the rain.”  Author Unknown

Years ago, I listened to a man on the radio that I’ve been a fan of all my life, Chuck Swindoll.  He stated in so many words, “What I want written on my epitaph is that ‘Dad was fun!’”  Does that surprise you?  It did me.  I thought what every good Christian parent was supposed to want written on their epitaph was something to the affect of how godly or spiritual a person they were, or some thought about how they provided for the family.  And here was one of the godliest men that I ever listened to sharing how he wanted to be known forever as a “Dad of fun.”

I agree with that philosophy, balanced with everything else that it means to be a good father.  You may be pretty good at maintaining parental authority and discipline in the home, but are you making a connection with your teen in a way that is fun – fun for them?  Sometimes it’s okay just to sit and watch a movie together.  You could go fishing somewhere or take blankets and go out and see the stars in the middle of the night.  You may see a meteor shower.  These connections are manufactured times and they just don’t happen automatically.  Come up with a list of ideas that you’ve got to make happen for that special time with your child — even when they don’t want to do it.  Build up to it, “Tomorrow, we’re going to do this,” and then make sure you do it, without fail.

Right the Wrong

Dads can be great at checking out or avoiding issues.  They can boil, stew, hold a grudge, and allow unresolved issues to destroy their relationship with their child; or, avoid conflict by compromising their standards.  Then there are those who cover up problems by overindulging their kids … deflecting the problem temporarily and causing even more problems in the future.

But dads can also be pretty good at correcting their own errors if they put their attention to it.  If you’ve not been the dad you know you should have been, will you take responsibility for steering your home in the right direction, fostering positive emotions and mutual respect?  Start by identifying where you have been wrong, and seek forgiveness from those you have offended.

I recently witnessed an entire family break down and sob when the father asked each member to forgive him for his failures.  He repeated his request with intensity and emotion.  It was a humble, sincere apology, and a good step toward healing the resentment of his children.  Every heart in the room melted and it was a new beginning for that family.

Dad, let me urge you to not despair and certainly not to quit.  Instead, choose to have an honest conversation with God about your struggle, just as your teen should be able to have with you.  Ask Him your questions, and tell Him how you feel.  He, too, is a Father.  Ask Him what you are supposed to learn and what you should do to make things better.  Be okay with life not always making sense.  Celebrate being needful of God’s care.  Our Heavenly Father shines best when our life is a mess, and I hope you’ll be your best when your teen needs you.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.


Balanced Parenting

The “Baby Boom” generation was so anxious to have good relationships with their children that they tended to set aside their primary role as parents.  Their desire to be their child’s best friend nurtured the advent of a self-centered, demanding, “Me Generation” who believes the world revolves around them.  But there’s hope!

Parenting in Past Generations — Too Rigid

As I’ve grown older, I see more with the eyes of my heart than I do with those on each side of my big nose.  And the aging process has brought me to a greater understanding of my own mom and dad’s parenting style.  I’ve learned that things really weren’t as bad as I used to think they were.

My dad, like yours, was less than relational; his focus was on providing for his family.  Working at the same job for 38 years; providing was his way of showing love for his family.  He demanded respect.  He taught us to be responsible because that’s the way he was taught, and he wanted us to live the same way.

My father worked hard because he grew up during the Great Depression, and he knew first-hand the challenges of having little to live on.  He also saw to it that our family was protected.  Food was always on the table, a roof was always over our head, we all went to college, and the enemy he fought in the South Pacific never marched on our homeland.

Parenting in Today’s Generation — Too Relational

Then, the 60’s and 70’s came along.  Some called it a revolution.  Millions of “Baby Boomers” fell head over heels toward relationships and feelings of love for all mankind.  Our music and lifestyle expressed our desire for universal peace and love.  We swooned to lyrics like “all you need is love,” and “smile on your brother; everybody get together; try to love one another right now.”  There was a “whole lotta’ love” going around.  And we “showered the people we love with love … showing them the way that we feel.”  Then we took our desire for peace, love and affection right into our parenting style.

Baby boomers as parents focused on maintaining peace and love, at all costs.  We determined to have better, stronger relationships with our kids than we had with our parents; carrying out these normally good and healthy desires to an extreme.  Out of financial abundance, we gave our kids everything they ever wanted, and more.  Modern conveniences allowed for more free time and less responsibility.  Soccer moms equipped with minivans shuttled kids from one event or activity to another, with stops at McDonald’s in-between.  We indulged, spoiled and provided too much “stuff” as misguided expressions of our love.

But Good Relationships Are Good, Aren’t They?

What’s wrong with too much love?  Nothing!  But there is something wrong with it if it is our only focus.  To put it bluntly, placing kids on a pedestal and focusing our lives on them created feelings of entitlement.  Kids began equating our love with our pocket book and our willingness to do things for them.  Their thrills in life came from getting new toys, new clothes, new honors, and new excitements.  They became demanding, selfish, adrenalin junkies, searching daily for new thrills.  When the excitement ended or the money train slowed, they became angry.  We wanted to be the best parents ever, but the more we focused our attention and our money on our kids, the more they fell into anxiety, depression, and outright defiance.  After all, they wouldn’t admit it, but deep down they were terrified for what they would do after they left the comforts and indulgences of home.  Perhaps you have a teenager fitting this description living in your home right now?

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know over 3,000 such teenagers in our Heartlight counseling program over the past 20 years. These are kids whose parents loved them greatly and gave them every convenience and materialistic advantage in life, yet they developed so many emotional problems that they had to be taken out of their homes.  So, I’ve seen this phenomenon thousands of times; and we continue to receive dozens of pleas for help from parents of out of control teenagers every day.

The crux of the matter is that it is hard to be a good parent when our focus is on having peace, love and friendship with our children.  This becomes especially difficult in step-families and some adoptive families.  The crucial role of correcting and holding children accountable is impossible when our overriding concern is to avoid any form of damage to our friendship.  But what we need to realize is that our children need parents first, not more friends.

So, the big question is this:  How do parents establish their position of authority, while also maintaining their relationship with their teen?  In other words, how do we find a proper balance without swinging the pendulum too far the other way?

Parenting the Right Way – Balanced

A simple answer is to say things like “No” and “Maybe” more often; and we need to apply boundaries and consequences when our kids cross over the line.  Balanced parenting is applying strength when needed; and tenderness at the same time.  It is not just one or the other, it is both.  The essence of balance in parenting is to stand beside our children and walk with them through life, while also determining to stand in front of them when we need to stop them from their foolish ways.

Kids learn quickly when they come to live with us at Heartlight that I am an authority in their life.  But that is always coupled with acceptance and love.  That’s why we continue to have great relationships with them over the years.  I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked to come to their college graduations or weddings, or who have connected with me on the Internet or by phone.  And most of them have turned out great, so I know there is hope, even with the most difficult and selfish teenagers.  There is a way to resolve this dilemma, but it takes a balanced approach.

Our goal should be to help our kids get to where they want to be, and keep them from going to a place they really don’t want to end up.  But since they are too immature to know any better, we need to remain in control, no matter how upset it makes them temporarily.  Then, as they mature in their thinking, the reins can be gradually released.  Believe me, your kids will express their appreciation when they are older for holding them in line as teenagers, and they’ll realize that you did it out of love, not to be mean or rigid.  In fact, they’ll ask for advice when they have children — and the beat goes on.

Scripture describes God as a mighty warrior and a fierce lion.  Scripture also reveals His softer side, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (Isa 66:13).  One purpose of parenting is to give a child a taste of the character of God, and that means giving them both sides of His character.

It’s never too late to start being a balanced parent; have a loving relationship, while also holding them responsible.  Your children need your correction, wisdom, and willingness to help them travel the path God has for them.  They need you to be gentle and loving, but also firm – a clear reflection of both sides of God’s character.

A wise man once told me, “When you’re called to be a servant, don’t stoop to be a king.”  Parents are never a more like a servant than when they willingly love a child through anything.  But don’t grow weary in doing what is right, since your first job is to be an authority in your child’s life.  Your teen needs a parent and a friend, but when push comes to shove, they need a parent more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.