If your child is between 12-18 years old, then I have some news for you: Your child will probably be exposed to drugs and/or alcohol in the near future, if they haven’t already been. Now, you may be one of those parents who might believe that your son/daughter knows better and won’t find themselves in a situation where they could be exposed. “Look Mr. Blea,” you’d say. “My son/daughter is a good kid and wouldn’t be around those types of kids who know about that stuff. Thank you anyway.” If you would say this to me, then I have something to say: If your kid walks through a doorway to enter a school, then he/she will be exposed. Guaranteed.
Now, while that news may scare you, it’s better that you know that it could happen and what you can do about it than it is to bury your head in the sand and pretend that drugs/alcohol are something that other kids deal with. I’ve always agreed with those old episodes of SchoolHouse Rock that taught that knowledge is power. While exposure to drugs/alcohol is likely, actually using them doesn’t have to be.
So, now that you know that your child will be exposed, what can you do? Well, the first thing I recommend is to know your child’s friends and habits. If one day Johnny or Betty Sue starts wearing shirts from bands you didn’t even know he or she knew about, there’s a good chance that he or she is trying to impress a new group of friends. Teenagers have a basic need to belong and to fit it so it’s only normal that they try new things to become a part of a group. However, if Johnny or Betty Sue start lying to about who they’re hanging out with, to me that’s an indication that he or she may be ashamed of what they’re doing with their new friends.
The second thing I would look for is whether Johnny or Betty Sue are involved with school activities. Turns out, the Beach Boys were right: Being true to their school is an indication that they see school as an opportunity to belong something and if they do identify with their school, kids are less likely to seek deviant groups with which to join.
The third thing I would advise is to create an environment in which your child can talk about drugs/alcohol (and other risky behaviors) without fear, shame, or judgment. If I had a dollar for every teenager who’s told that he or she wishes they could talk with his or her parents I could buy a home in Belize and retire to fish my days away. See, kids want their parents to be a source of safety and reassurance. Irritability and moodiness may be calling cards of teenage angst, but they should stop you from being a resource for your child to discuss stuff that they probably don’t really understand. Plus, even if they find themselves in unsafe situations, chances are that they want you to ask them about their days and friends. Even if they seem to resist, at least they know you’re paying attention and that knowledge can go a long way towards building their confidence in you.
Yes, teenagers will be exposed to drugs/alcohol, but denial and fear only make that exposure more risky. It’s absolutely true that involved parents are a huge protective factor, so be engaged, be vigilant, and rely on the most powerful tool on the planet to guide your kids: Love.
For more information check out this post about other things parents can do to keep their kids safely away from drugs/alcohol…