“It’s not mine. It’s Sally’s – she just asked me to hold it for her.”
“It was my first and only time.”
These are but two of the plausible excuses parents have shared with me as having been told to them after they’d caught their child drinking or using drugs. I know my daughter gave me a similar explanation after she was caught and suspended for drinking at the high school dance.
Parents also share with me how things spiraled out of control as their child made up one excuse and/or promise after another, and they (the parents) believed (or tried to believe) them. This is normal. We want to believe our children. It’s what parents do. But when it comes to drugs and alcohol, it’s important you understand some of the new research so that if the need ever does arise, you’ll know…
What to Do if You Catch Your Child Drinking or Using Drugs
1. Stay Calm – Breathe – DON’T REACT
The best thing you can do is nothing, other than to tell them you need to think about what they have said, welcome any further explanations they would like to share and that you will get back to them when you are ready to talk about it. This buys you much needed time to do what is suggested in #2. You will be so much more effective if you are confident in your reasons so that you can talk in a calm, reasoned manner when you’re ready. And likely you’ve not heard of the new brain science that is really changing how parents understand and can talk to their teens about underage drinking or drug use, which is what is shared, next.
2. Get the Facts
Know that it is normal for teens (especially in their early teens) to take risks and turn to their peers (such as drinking or using drugs because that’s what their friends are doing). Risk taking and turning to their peers is what their brains are “designed” to do. To understand this concept, please read “What Were You Thinking? – Understanding the Teen Brain.” These two additional resources can also help, “The Partnership at DrugFree.org, A Parent’s Guide to the Teen Brain,” and “Want to Get Through to Teens | Talk to Their Brains.”
You will also want to understand why alcohol and drugs interact differently with the adolescent brain than they do with the adult brain, as well as the contributing risk factors that can cause one teen to cross the line from substance abuse to addiction. Additionally, check out “Five Things to Know About Adolescents’ Brain Development and Use” and “Adolescent Addiction: Reducing the Risks of Adolescent Substance Abuse.” While you are on The Addiction Project’s website (the source of the last two links), you may wish to continue browsing some of the other information they provide.
And just so you know, the Europeans have significant problems with underage drinking. In other words, lowering the drinking age is not the answer. Check out this blog post, “Would Lowering the Drinking Age Solve the Underage Drinking Problem.”
3. Don’t Believe Them
This may be the toughest one of all. But don’t. It’s not that they’re bad or evil. Rather, as Michele Ranard, MEd explains in her, “Why Teens Lie,” “…the most common reason for the teens’ deception was actually: ‘I’m trying to protect the relationship with my parents; I don’t want them to be disappointed in me.’” Ms. Ranard goes on to share in her article suggestions for what parents can do to “create a climate so their teens lie about less.”
4. Don’t Let it Pass
By this I mean not to take it at face value or believe once the initial conversation occurs all will be fine. It’s important to have ongoing conversations and to be solid in what you want to say in the first conversation that follows the initiating event. The Mayo Clinic offers some great information and tips on how to talk with your child in their article, “Teen Drug Abuse: Help Your Teen Avoid Drugs.” The Partnership at DrugFree.org offers some great tips, as well, starting with “Help Teens While Their Brain Develops.”
5. Provide Them With Information
Share with your teen the information you’ve learned in numbers 2 – 4. Teens especially appreciate the brain science behind why they do some of the things they do, why the adolescent brain is not the brain of an adult, and how it is that alcohol or drugs interrupts the brain’s natural communication system. This short video may help you prepare for this effort, It’s Time We Tell the Whole Truth About Puberty, as well as this longer one, “The Teen Brain and Addiction.” The same is true of this article, “A Different Kind of Conversation About Underage Drinking.”
Even if you believe your child has never entertained the idea of drinking or using drugs, sharing some of this new research may help them to stay strong in their decision.