By Joanne Barker in conjunction with WebMD
If your child is lying about using drugs or alcohol, looking the other way is a dangerous mistake. Study after study shows that parents’ involvement plays an important role in preventing adolescent drug use. The earlier problem is addressed, the better your chances of containing potential damage. Here are six things you can do.
1. Trust your instincts.
Mason Turner, MD chief of psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco sees many parents discount their concerns about their child’s behavior. They say things like, “I’m probably just being an obsessive parent.” Or “Maybe I’m being hypersensitive.” But parents know their children. “If a parent’s gut is telling them something is off, there has got to be a reason,” Turner tells WebMD. If the cold or cough syrup in your medicine cabinet disappears or gets used up, ask about it. Over-the-counter cough medicines contain dextromethorphan, an ingredient teens can drink in excess to get high. Cagey behavior may have a simple explanation or a serious cause. Perhaps your child is stressed over schoolwork. Maybe she had a fight with a friend. Or she could have a problem she’s afraid to talk about. Turner counsels parents to make it as easy as possible for their teens to talk to them. Start by asking what is going on. Talk about specific things you see and concerns you have, and then be ready to listen.
2. Educate yourself.
There might have been signs, but parents didn’t know what to look for. Drugs rise and fall in popularity over time. It’s possible you have never heard of your child’s drug of choice. With time and research you can get to know the different substances available to kids today. Talbot Partnership’s website has information and resources. Also drugfree.org or drugabuse.gov provides drug guides that describe commonly abused substances and their effects.
3. Don’t take it personally.
If you find out your child is lying about drugs, you may see red. You may feel hurt, angry, guilty, and betrayed. All of these emotions are understandable. And none of them will help you help your child.
“First, recognize that lying is a normal teen behavior,” advises Turner. He goes on to say that normal or not, parents can and should teach their kids that lying is unacceptable. Your conversation with your child could cover the following ground:
- •Explore the reasons your child lied
- •Understand what is going on
- •Let your child know that lying is not OK
- •Talk about how to be honest in the future
4. Get help.
A lot of parents try to keep their child’s drug use within the family, Hedrick tells WebMD. “The idea that addiction reflects badly on the family keeps a lot of kids out of treatment until the problem is too big to ignore.” Like diabetes or a broken bone, treating drug abuse requires expertise most parents don’t have. If your child is using drugs, you’ll have your hands full, even with a professional involved. Start by talking to your family doctor or pediatrician. The counselor at your child’s school may be able to recommend specialists or treatment centers that can help both you and your child.
5. Leave room to rebuild trust.
When parents don’t trust their kids, problems like drug abuse can snowball. Strained parent-child relations typically cast a negative tone on any and all interactions. Families tend do fewer things together, leaving kids fewer opportunities to feel connected to their parents. “Parents need to build a safe space for the child, while also defining boundaries and limits,” says Turner. Try not to let the lies you’ve been told overshadow every conversation you have with your child. “So many kids in our groups say, ‘I never get a chance to talk. My parents cut me off all the time,’” says Hedrick. Open, two-way conversations can reinforce your child’s awareness of your family values and make the idea of drugs less appealing.
6. Expand your parenting style.
“A lot of parents are at one end of the spectrum or the other: overly permissive, or overly aggressive,” says Turner. Substance abuse requires a variety of parenting styles. Sometimes your child will need you to be warm and loving. Other times, you will have to enforce rules your child considers unfair.
Everyone interviewed for this article emphasized how important it is for parents to be their child’s parents, not their friends. There’s a significant difference.
- •Friends think it’s OK if another kid does drugs, puts himself in danger, and lies about it.
- •Parents love their children and are willing to set limits and boundaries to keep them safe, no matter much strife it causes in the household.
Talbot Partnership is Caring for our Community by providing information and resources about the dangers of drugs and alcohol at 410-819-8067.