In recent years, the average age of the drug abuser has dropped dramatically. In fact, we’ve seen shocking evidence that drugs are often consumed by children beginning during their middle school age years. Yes, times are changing. The culture has grown tolerant of experimental drug use at a younger age and kids have access to drugs long before they reach puberty.
Every parent wants to guard their children from the insidious destruction drugs unleash. So, how do you know whether your teen is using drugs? And if they get caught using drugs, how do you help them get back on the right track?
In today’s brief article, we’ll attempt to answer both of those questions. Over my years at Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school for teenagers, I have seen many students come to our program with drug issues. We have found that drug abuse is always a mask for disguising deeper problems that need to be exposed and dealt with.
Take the Initiative
If you have any suspicion that your son or daughter might be using drugs, don’t be shy about snooping around their bedroom and belongings to find out. At Heartlight, we use a few different approaches to ensure our kids remain safe. We do random drug testing and also bring in drug dogs to sniff out backpacks, living quarters and typical hiding places. But the drug test isn’t the first sign we have that tells us that the teen is using.
Signs of Drug Use
You know your teen better than anyone else, but even so, if your teen is using drugs they will be part of a culture that helps them hide what they are doing. Lying, hiding and keeping secrets are all part of the game. They may also be feeling shame over their drug use. Whatever the case, they are probably working overtime to keep their new habit a secret from you.
One common trick is for teenagers to cover up their drug use by consuming counteractive things. For instance, some vitamins can fool some drug tests, so if your teen has started some new vitamin or supplement, do your homework and find out whether there’s a tie to drugs. Or you may pick up an unusual odor on their clothes or be using something obnoxious to mask the smell. Has your teen started using incense and candles or placed dryer sheets in his clothes? All of these help a teen veil the obvious scent of drugs.
You might notice a change in your teen’s regular routine. Has his schoolwork slumped? Has his sleeping pattern changed? Usually there’s something behind these new behavioral patterns. Your teen could also exhibit a lack of motivation. He’s become lazy. Or he could care less about the things he once enjoyed, like sports, friends or hobbies.
Teens are created to be relational beings. Most kids don’t do things because of their friends. They do things with their friends. So if friends are using, they may give it a shot. It’s amazing how many kids say they started using when they were at a sleepover at someone’s house. If your teen has new friends or has shifted away from other friends, you might begin to suspect their motivation.
If your teen begins lying to you, he might be using. Or it could just be a shift in attitude. Your teen could show aggression, anger, or have unreasonable mood swings. If you built a strong relationship and have created reasonable boundaries for the people in your household, then when your teen starts using, or breaks any of these boundaries, he may shift blame to someone else or something else.
Here’s the point. Even if you have nothing more than a gnawing feeling in your gut, or a parental hunch, I would suggest you follow your instincts. If these clues persist, you might start doing random drug tests on your teen. Maybe not with drug dogs like we use at Heartlight, but they make convenient at-home drug tests (similar to pregnancy tests) that you can administer. Using them can alienate your teens, but it can hold them accountable. If you have built the relationship with your teen, the drug tests won’t be punitive. Instead, it will deter him or her from taking that dangerous step towards drugs. That’s part of your role as a parent – to build boundaries that your teen is still learning to build on his own.
Not My Kids!
Parents, if you’ve found yourself in this unenviable position of discovering drug use in your child, you may feel like a failure. Look, don’t waste time beating yourself up. Instead, try to spend your time in more productive expressions of recovery. Try to help your teen understand what he or she is trying to anesthetize. Drugs are just one way to find relief from the pressure they feel. It’s an escape, like video games, hobbies, sports, or any other getaway.
If you have a solid relationship with your child, it’ll help you when she or he comes home and confesses to a drug problem. Or you discover their secret. When the cat’s out of the bag, it’s very important to determine if it’s simple experimentation or a heavy pattern of abuse. Either way, you’ll want it to stop, but the way you handle it may be different. If it’s just experimenting, try not to overreact. If you crush their spirit, your child may not come to you again when life gets difficult and they’ve done something they want to confess. If your teen comes to you with a heartfelt confession, it’s certainly not the moment to reinforce your standard. This is when you reinforce the relationship. You want your children to tell you the truth and come to you. If it happens again, then you’ve got a problem that requires deeper action.
Obviously, every situation is different. And as I write these thoughts to you, I realize there’s so much more to be said and much more to be explored. But I hope some of the things you read in this article will draw you closer to your teen and to help them be all God intended.
As a parent, you want good things for your teen. We all do. Your relationship with your son or daughter won’t change because they’re using drugs. You still want the very best for him or her. Just as God’s relationship with us remains unconditional, we should also remain in relationship with our teen. No matter what they’ve done or how bad they’ve blown it, your son or daughter desperately needs you to remain in relationship with them.
I hope you’ll listen to the upcoming radio program on this subject. The Parenting Today’s Teens weekend broadcast will go deeper into the issues of drug use in teens. Visit www.parentingtodaysteens.org to find a radio station near you, or to sign up for the podcast.
If you are in the Laredo, Texas area, we will be having a Turbulence Ahead Seminar on Saturday, January 28th in the United Middle School.
Tickets: $10/person and $15/couple. Call 956.726.3899 for more information or to purchase tickets.
If you have any questions about bringing a Turbulence Ahead Seminar to your city, please contact Sam Sheeley in our office at 866-700-3264, or e-mail him at Sam@TurbulenceAhead.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, 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.