Drugs and alcohol are big worries for parents of teenagers. Some teens are crystal-clear about not experimenting with mind-altering substances, and those parents are very lucky. For most kids, though, trying something is a real possibility.
Talking to teens and keeping track of where they’re going and who they’re with are good strategies. But try as you may to keep tabs on them, you actually have very little control over where they go and what they do after they leave the house. The realization that they can be anywhere and with anyone is terribly unnerving.
As of yet, there isn’t a reliable formula that keeps kids from experimenting with drugs or alcohol. Married, divorced, religious or not, strict, lenient, involved or uninvolved parents can have kids who do drugs or drink. Some adolescents experiment – no matter what you say or how often you say it. Regardless of your warnings, nothing can ensure that your teenagers won’t take foolish risks.
Credibility is a big problem. Starting in elementary school, children are taught about the perils of alcohol and drug use. But when they get into high school (or earlier) and try drinking or smoking pot, nothing bad actually happens. It turns out that it feels good. It’s fun. Their life, at least for most kids, doesn’t fall apart.
So to them, it seems parents and teachers have made a big deal about nothing. The discrepancy between what you say will happen and what kids discover for themselves translates into many an anxious evening. What will they try? Will they drive under the influence? Will someone under the influence be driving them? Why aren’t they answering their cell phones?
By adolescence, you hope they’ve accepted, as their own, the values you taught them when they were younger and were more receptive to your influence. Simply trusting that they have, though, is difficult particularly when they’re being rebellious or secretive. Left in the dark about so much of their lives can leave you feeling worried and suspicious.
Their emotions (like yours) are all over the place. Discerning when their moodiness is normal, when their depression is part of their maturational process, and whether it’s a good idea to give them the space they’re demanding is complicated. Under-reacting feels risky, overreacting is ineffectual, and most teenagers don’t know themselves well enough to ask for help.
“We need to talk” is something parents say a lot. In protest, kids roll their eyes, as teens are prone to do. Don’t let that dissuade you. You never know how much your talks will influence them. And if you can remain calm and be open to what they have to say, it will help you stay connected as you travel this rough road.
Your focused attention and concern are absorbed by your kids in some indefinable way. Demonstrating that you’re thinking about them and are committed to them is emotionally meaningful. You may not realize the fruits of these talks right away, but these conversations communicate your dedication and love. Knowing that you’re solid enough to rebel against and feeling unconditionally loved make a big difference to teenagers in their ongoing emotional development, even if they’d never admit it.
- Teenagers need you to be emotionally stronger than them. They won’t shape up because they feel sorry for you.
- If you suspect they’re drinking or getting high talk to them about it.
- Wait up for them until they get home.
- Anger is not an excuse to lose control or be mean and hurtful.
- If things are spinning out of control seek help.
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