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A Crash Course In Teen Drug Use

Maybe you saw the title of this article, and you thought, “Well, this is one I don’t need to read.  My kid would never do drugs!”  I’m not here to frighten you, but if you believe your son or daughter will never be tempted to use harmful substances, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.  We might like to think it’s the other kids who are using, and not our own.  But according to recent studies, 1 out of every 5 teens is abusing alcohol, illegal, or legal drugs on a regular basis.  Even high school students that aren’t presently using are telling researchers that they get offered prescription narcotics at least twice a day!

In a culture that fosters anxiety and promotes instant relief, drug use is becoming an acceptable method of coping.  Thirty years ago, smoking pot was done in secret by a select few potheads in tie-dye and polyester.  But today, recreational drug use is common in every social strata, including among teens.  And the issue is not going away.  More and more states are feeling increased pressure to legalize drugs like marijuana, stripping parents of their ability to forbid pot use because it’s “illegal.”

In a world that increasingly embraces drug and alcohol use, moms and dads need to understand that this issue will come up in their child’s life.  Parents also need to learn how to identify and discuss with their teens the many social pressures they will face to participate in substance abuse.

What’s Out There?

Off the top of your head, what would you say is the number one drug abused by teenagers today?  Marijuana?  Nicotine?  In reality, more common than both of these are prescription drugs!  Narcotics like Vicodin, Oxycotin, Ativan, Valium, Ambien, Adderall, and even Ritalin are popular medications being used recreationally among today’s adolescents.  There is a huge market for sedatives, painkillers, and anti-depressants, so keep a tight lid on your medicine cabinet, and realize that those bottles on the shelf can be just as damaging as the dealers on the corner.

Next to prescription drugs, Marijuana is the second most common drug abused among teens.  And you can’t turn on the television, listen to music, or read the newspaper without seeing prominent people coming out in support of legalizing this drug.  As pot use becomes more common, teens who’ve never tried it may start to think, “Well, it can’t be too bad if that person is promoting it!”  Parents, it’s not enough anymore to say, “it’s illegal!” We need to learn how to engage in a conversation about the dangers of marijuana in a different way.

Another growing trend in narcotics is designer drugs.  These are fairly common substances that have had their chemical structure altered in order to create a new product.  These drugs are often sold in powder form, including LSD, PCP, Ecstasy, and Ketamine.

This list of drugs and narcotics is not an exhaustive collection by any stretch of the imagination.  But it’s a crash course for the uninformed on what’s being offered, pushed, and abused in our culture.  The more you know about what is out there, the better prepared you will be to handle a teen who is caught in addiction, or tempted to experiment.

What Are the Signs?

When the issue of drugs is brought up, the most common question parents ask me is, “How do I know if my child is using drugs?”  Here are a few telltale signs to keep watch for:

  • Constant use of eye drops.  Smoking pot dries out the sinuses and causes bloodshot eyes.  If your teen is going through bottles of eye drops, it might be a sign that they are using marijuana.
  • Use of Goldenseal vitamins.  Goldenseal is an herb that aids in fighting in the common cold and may help with digestive disorders, as well.  But this herb is commonly believed to mask the presence of illegal drugs in urine.
  • Overuse of air fresheners or incense.  If you get into your teen’s car, or walk into their room, and it’s perfumed with heavy aromas, it may be a sign your child is trying to hide the smell of smoke.
  • Drinking vinegar.  Many people use vinegar for medicinal reasons, but for a teen using drugs, consuming vinegar could be an attempt to mask the smell of drugs on their breath, or hide the presence of narcotics in their urine.
  • Small burns on their fingers.  I’ve had teens tell me, “I burned myself on the hot stove,” when I’ve asked about marks on their hands.  But as parents we need to use discernment.  If you regularly notice small burns on a teen’s forefinger and thumb, that’s a strong indicator of drug use.
  • Rapid weight loss, lack of energy, heavy perspiration, or small bruises on the arms, legs, or feet, are also signs of drug use.
  • Emotional changes.  Does your son seem to be depressed or angry?  Is your daughter avoiding her friends or seem listless all the time?  While these are signs of normal adolescence, don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Wild swings in your child’s emotions could be a sign that they are turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with their problems.

What Do I Do?

If you’ve discovered that your teen has a problem with drugs, or you’ve caught them experimenting with harmful substances, your next question is, “Now what do I do?

First, if you’ve had a history with drugs in your past, don’t be afraid to share that with your son or daughter.  Many parents are extremely hesitant to volunteer that kind of information to their kids, in fear that acknowledging mistakes gives kids license to repeat history.  But that is simply not the case.  Admitting why mom and dad know what they’re talking about actually adds credence and value to their words.  You can relate to your son’s struggles with marijuana.  You can understand your daughter’s temptation to have a drink after school.  Don’t glorify your past, but rather share the mistakes and regrets you have in this particular area.  Your history with drugs can help your teen avoid the same mistakes.

Second, don’t engage in an argument about the morality of using of drugs.  Yes, marijuana is an herb; yes it’s been successfully used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years.  Yes, many people want to legalize it.  And yes, many successful and prominent people in society openly admit to smoking pot.  But these are not the arguments that matter.  What’s important is your son or daughter’s relationship to drugs.  Always bring the discussion back to that personal level.  The fact is, all drugs are addictive and can be destructive.  Explain that you care for your teen, and don’t want them to be held captive to any substance.  Narcotics are designed to dull our senses and trick our minds into feeling a certain way.  Drugs don’t improve our lives in any way.  Their purpose is simply to alter our emotions, and eventually they hold us prisoner.  Many teens have told me that after using drugs for awhile, it got to the point where they needed those crutches to go to school, deal with their family, or relax.  As you talk to your teens about drugs, put yourself in the same scenario.  What would your teen say if you needed a couple of beers for breakfast before going to work?  Or you needed to pop a pill in order to sit down at the dinner table and relax?  Wouldn’t they be concerned for you? 

Lastly, seek help.  Drugs have the capability to sink their claws into our kids so deep that it can be extremely difficult to pry them loose.  If your child is caught in the snare of drugs, enlist some allies to help you free them.  Find sponsors or programs that give them tools to overcome cravings and addictions.  Read books or articles that delve deeper into counseling teenagers dealing with drugs.  You don’t have to face this alone.

If you have a teenager that ventures outside at all, the chances that they will be exposed to drugs and a drug culture are very high.  So take the time to learn about what is out there so you can help your teen avoid making choices they will certainly regret.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


When Nothing is Working

What if nothing seems to be working to encourage your teenager to head in a better direction? Perhaps you’ve applied consequences to correct their inappropriate behavior, and have progressively taken away many or all of their privileges, but they still break your rules and they still defy you.

Having a child who is struggling will wear you out.  The parents who drop off their teenagers at our Heartlight residential counseling program are at their wit’s end, tired, and frazzled.  They’ve literally spent every ounce of emotional energy in a struggle that has taken place over many months. It’s not easy for any parent to leave their child in the hands of strangers, but at that point, they are desperate for solutions.

There is never a good time in our busy lives to be faced with a crisis like dealing with a teenager caught in the spin cycle.  Most parents describe the struggle as a “roller-coaster” or a “powder keg.”  It can either be a time of the whole family banding together, or it can tear them apart.  With what is at stake, the most important thing you can do for your teenager is to keep your relationship strong and prevent the struggle from becoming the focus of your life.  You’ll have those “valley” days.  Walk through the valley, and keep on walking, for as long as it takes.

One question I am often asked is, “What if my teen simply won’t talk to me?”  My response is for the parent to look inward in this case to determine if there is anything they are doing to spark this behavior.  Keep in mind that you can only change one person in this world — you.  You cannot force your child to talk. So, ask your spouse or other family members if they see something in the way you are relating to your teen that may be turning them off. Or, maybe you haven’t spent enough time building a relationship, so you really shouldn’t expect your teenager to relate well to you. Remember, in their growing drive for independence, you’ll simply become a babysitter in their eyes if you have no relationship.  You’re the one who keeps them from doing what they want to do, instead of the one who is helping them get to where they want to go in life.

To get teens to open up, I recommend you spend more time with them, as difficult as that can be.  And spend more time asking questions than talking.  In fact, I never share an opinion or my advice with a teenager unless it is asked for.  I find that teens won’t listen to or heed my advice if they don’t ask for it. They may even feel like I am trying to control or put them down when I force my opinion on them.  So, they put up their defenses; like a Texas Armadillo, those defenses can be formidable.  They’ll roll up in a ball and not let anything break through their tough armor.

I also tell parents to pace themselves when things are out of control. Give it a break. Like any other activity, burnout can happen if there aren’t rest periods.  Remember the timeouts you likely gave them when they were little? Well, maybe it is time for you to give yourself some timeouts, away from the stress.  Even a night away can be enough refreshment to break the tension for a week or two. If not, in your fatigue, you will become more emotional, you’ll respond defensively or overreact, and you’ll come across in a worse way than you intended.  You need some periodic rest.

One thing that can help at the low times is to pull out old pictures and videos to remember the good old days when your teen didn’t treat you like dirt.  It will give you better perspective and strength to keep fighting for what’s right for your teenager even though it may be a totally one-sided and unappreciated fight for his future.  Celebrate the good days.  They’ll likely be few and far between for a time, but that’s okay.  Let them prop you up.  Enjoy each victory.  Laugh with your teen.  Reflect on the good, and hope for a future filled with more days like it.

Be sure to give the reins to God, and He will give you peace, strength, and the right perspective to deal with your teenager. Look at what may need changing in your own life.  And finally, no matter how they’ve hurt you, and no matter what they’ve done, love your teen unconditionally, as God loves us.

Is having a teen who is spinning out of control a serious threat to them, to your marriage and to your entire family?  You bet.  So approach it with the intensity and wisdom needed to move them to resolution.  Stick to your guns and get help from many sources.  If you simply cannot control your teen and you fear for their safety and their future, you might want to give our Heartlight residential program a call or visit the website at www.heartlightministries.org.  We’ve had over 25 years success in turning around thousands of teenagers. What you might save in the process is your child’s life and your family’s future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


Ending Family Chaos – Beliefs

When a teenager doesn’t know what is expected in your home, he does what seems right in his own eyes – and that’s a formula for chaos.

A good way to avoid chaos in the teenage years is to establish a system that outlines rules and consequences, which is a clear and undeniable plan for what is expected in your home. I call it a “Belief System for Discipline” because you have to base it on those dearly held beliefs that includes what consequences to expect if the rules are broken or boundaries crossed. The root of the word discipline is “disciple” – and discipline for your teen is best characterized by positive training or discipling, just as we saw Christ demonstrate with his disciples.

Having a clearly defined Belief System for your home helps everyone know how to act, where the “line” is so they know when they step over it, and what consequences to expect. Teenagers can learn from established rules and consequences, but generally get frustrated from rules and consequences that seem arbitrary or inconsistent.

Why is this so important? Because teens are prone to test their parents in every possible way. It is part of their built-in and growing need for independence, and they need to exercise their own free will. This is why parents need to take time to establish a clearly defined Belief System before their children enter the adolescent years. Doing so will go a long way toward avoiding parenting chaos and helping your teen eventually establish similar beliefs for himself.

A Belief System for Discipline is a set of beliefs, boundaries, rules, and consequences that govern the discipline in your home.

A Belief System for Discipline is the Remedy to Chaos

Relief from the chaos comes when a cohesive Belief System is communicated in advance, and everyone knows what to expect. It lends a sense of security to highly insecure teenagers to know what to expect – especially when it comes to discipline.

In other words, they know in advance whether or not experiencing the consequences is worth it when stepping across established boundaries.

Teenagers quickly learn… don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.

I realize that some parents face insurmountable obstacles that come about when a child spends time on alternating weekends with two sets of parents and two different sets of beliefs. This can be very difficult and confusing for everyone involved. So, even in the case of divorce or separation, caring parents should think about uniting, whenever possible, under the banner of one Belief System, for the sake of their children.

Your teen may not agree with your Belief System for Discipline. He may not like it and try to change your mind, but he cannot justify his misbehavior or avoid the consequences based on a difference of opinion. He knows well in advance what will happen if he transgresses the household Belief System, and can only hold himself responsible for the resulting consequences.

For example, let’s say that one aspect of your Belief System is that you believe that smoking is bad for your health, and therefore smoking is not allowed in your home.  Your teenager may not believe the same way – but it doesn’t matter because this is your home, and this is what you believe. The belief will probably not change, even when they are adults. Your teenager then needs to decide for himself whether or not to smoke – and suffer the consequences if he chooses to do so.

What you believe is the cause that eventually produces a desired effect.

Generational Beliefs – Family Background and Traditions

It’s a given that the source of your Belief System for Discipline starts with you and your spouse, and the way you were raised. You will probably not operate your home exactly the same way as your parents. But, you may adopt some of the same basic ideals you grew up with for your own home.

A simple example is the annual family vacation. Yes, that can be a part of your Belief System. If your parents provided for time away with the family on a yearly basis, and it worked out well for you, then you will probably establish in your own Belief System that an annual family vacation is important as well.

Or, if your parents believed it was best to teach you responsibility by allowing you to work for the things you wanted, you may likewise believe it’s best for your children to work for the things they want.  These are generational beliefs, or traditions passed down from grandparent, to parent, to child.

Spiritual Beliefs – Character and Spiritual Walk

The next place to identify your beliefs, of course, is your relationship with God. The Bible is full of training on how to live honorably and in harmony with both God and man. The Bible is a good resource for ushering God’s ideals for your home into your discipline structure. These are spiritual beliefs that address your child’s character, spiritual training, and how you’ll manage issues like honesty, obedience, and respect.

Functional Beliefs – Your Unique Likes and Dislikes

Functional beliefs relate to everyday living, like bedrooms need to be cleaned on a periodic basis in order to avert inspection by local health officials. Or, chores are a part of each family member’s duty in the home and must be done before anything else. Or, you believe a good way to encourage your child in sports is to attend as many of their games as possible, so you establish that own expectation for yourself. These are functional beliefs, and they address the daily habits and quirks unique to each individual in the family.

Summary and Assignment

This is your parenting homework assignment for the week: Take time to write down some of your own generational, spiritual, and functional beliefs. Think about why you believe them and why they are important to you.  Once you understand what you truly believe about how things should be in your home, you will have the basis for moving toward the next step, which is to create and implement some healthy boundaries, rules, and consequences.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.