Written By School Mum Contributor Carla Morris
I’m not going to skirt around the issue, nor my experience with it. I’m going to tell you straight. Thinking about this will be confronting for some of you. However, It’s better to be proactive than reactive. I’m going to give you some practical advice on how you can prepare your family if you THINK your child is using drugs and for those who KNOW their child is using drugs. The fact is it is more likely that your child has or will be introduced to drugs at some stage in their life than not. Don’t disillusion yourself into thinking that your child will escape without at least an introduction; it won’t do either of you any good.
I come from a family of 4 kids; 2 boys, 2 girls. I’m the eldest. It’s an interesting nature verses nurture story, mine. You see I grew up with hippie parents who openly used drugs in my early years. Marijuana was as common as smoking and being high was nearly as regular an occurrence as having a glass of wine. My parents were hippies in the truest sense of the word until my sister was born when I was 7 and from there things changed. My parents “found God” and my family became devoted to the church, my Father often worked 2 jobs while my Mother was the home maker and we lived in a small community surrounded by family whereas we had been living in another country far away from everyone related until that point. The community my siblings grew up in was different to mine and I was long gone by the time the youngest had become a teen. It’s interesting to me that I did not find myself trapped in addiction where as other members of my family have embraced drugs and have struggled with mental health issues, relationships and employment their entire adult lives. One member of my extended family did not make it out alive and drugs were to blame. Addiction is a family trait and we have all suffered on some level because of its hold on us.
Now as a parent myself I have some experience the Father to my children doesn’t have but I don’t think it matters. I don’t think it matters that he easily turned away while I was tempted and succumbed moderately (I was one of the lucky ones to get out as I did.) I don’t think my hippie upbringing is any more helpful than his private schooling and sporting achievements. The world we live in today is different to the world my parents grew up in and it’s different to the world I was introduced to drugs in. One thing remains the same. Preparation and communication is the answer. Let’s play out 2 scenarios. You THINK or you KNOW your child is using drugs.
What do you do if you THINK your child is using drugs…
- ASK: Come straight out and ask. Opening the lines of communication with your child will set you up for open discussions in the future. Do so without anger, frustration or judgement though. And if you do get angry, tell them you need a time out but you DO want to TALK. Breathe and start again.
- LOOK FOR SIGNS: Keeping in mind that having secrets, needing more sleep, isolating oneself and moodiness can also be a sign of being a teen. Familiarise yourself with what to look out for before you jump to conclusions. Talk to your Dr if you need some advice. Things like a significant drop in grades, red eyes; sudden weight loss or outright lying could be something’s to raise an alarm or two.
- LEARN RISK FACTORS: Does your child fit into any of these categories? Is there a family history of addiction? Do they have friends who drink or use? Are there family breakdowns causing rebelliousness? Do they not “fit” in or are they feeling depressed or isolated? Look at the individual, peer group, family, school and community.
- WHY TEENS USE: Wanting to fit in may be obvious but there are some NOT so obvious reasons. Prescription drug use can be abused to achieve higher grades or pass a test for example. Familiarise yourself with the myriad of reasons teens use drugs or alcohol BEFORE you try and talk to your teen. You’ll have a much better chance of making them feel like you “get it” if you do.
- MYTHS vs. TRUTH: The truth is much of the “harmless” teen stuff like having a drink on the weekends, experimentation or allowing them to have a taste at home can and often does lead to very harmful and dangerous lapses in judgement, boundary pushing and long term consequences that just aren’t worth it. It’s a MYTH if you think these things don’t matter. Do your research. Don’t go by what you were told by your parents or what you got away with as a kid. Today’s dangers are different and if you are supplying your kids with a phone, an allowance, a car and/or a reason to get away with it and you suspect your kids are using drugs or abusing alcohol, take these things away for their own protection until they understand your rules are not for bending.
What do you do if you KNOW your child is using drugs…
- Prepare. Execute. Don’t go in without a plan. Get your research done before hand. Know what you want to say and say it. YOU are the parent.
- Talk to your spouse, your Dr, your Pastor or your best friend. Get your support systems in place and have numbers for people if you need to make a call for advice or support.
- Be prepared to be called out on things you have stuffed up on as a parent. Be prepared for it
to have the intention to hurt. It will happen and that’s ok. This is not about your parenting; this is about the protection of your child. Stand your ground. Stay calm. Breathe.
- Gather your evidence and submit it to your child. Remember this is YOUR house and everything in it is yours. You DO have every right to open a drawer or lift a floor board for the protection of your family. You might find soda bottles or CD cases used for things other than their intended purpose.
- Expect them to be angry and come up with a number of explanations that may seem reasonable. Stand. Your. Ground. You KNOW your child and you KNOW your child is using drugs.
- Make clear your expectations. “I don’t want you to use drugs” is one way of making your wishes clear.
- Have a specific outline of what the rules are and what the enforcement will be. Try negotiating the rules together and make the consequences something you can carry out. Both parents need to be in agreement on the rules and what happens if they are broken. It’s no good one parent having a no underage drinking rule while the other buys the child and friends their weekend stash.
- Be a role model for your child. Is there a history of alcohol abuse or “addiction” in the family? Is this something you need to work on yourself and perhaps admit to your teen? Do you need help?
- Remind your teen that you LOVE them. Explain you are concerned because you care about their well being. Tell them you will not give up on them.
- Keep track of what the agreement was and whether they are on track. Don’t hesitate to look at their phone or through their drawers (refer to point 4.)
- DO get professional help. Find out how bad the problem might be. Find out why and who can help your child. Get support for the whole family.
Lifeline Australia Home 13 11 14
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
Family Drug Support 1300 368 186