Sue Scheff is an author, a parent advocate, and the founder of the Parents' Universal Resource Expert (P.U.R.E.). Scheff helps families with at-risk teens, and specializes in educating parents on the daunting industry of teen help and how to find safe and quality residential therapy programs—at a time when parents are at their wit's end.
Parenting a teen in today's society is not an easy task. Communication with your teenager is key to his success on many levels; however, as a mother who raised two teenagers, I know it is easier said than done. Drug and alcohol use among teens is an issue parents need to be aware of. There are many good kids making some very bad choices.
A common misconception among parents is thinking that a teen is only smoking marijuana as a phase. Marijuana and the substitutes for it, such as “spice,” are more risky and dangerous than what was available in years/generations prior. These drugs can be laced with higher levels of PCP, which can literally alter the mind of your teen and cause brain damage.
Drug use (substance abuse) is a serious cry for help, and making your teen feel ashamed or embarrassed can make the problem worse. Here are some common behavioral changes you may notice if your teenager is abusing drugs and alcohol:
- Violent outbursts, rage, or disrespectful behavior
- Poor or dropping grades
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Skin abrasions or needle track marks
- Missing curfews, running away, truancy
- Bloodshot eyes, distinctive “skunky” odor on clothing and skin
- Missing jewelry, money
- New friends
- Depression, apathy, withdrawal, and generally disengaged from the family
- Reckless behavior
My 10 tips to help prevent substance abuse:
1. Communication is the key to prevention. Whenever an opportunity to talk about the risks of drinking and driving or the dangers of using drugs presents itself, take it and start a conversation.
2. Have a conversation not a confrontation. If you suspect your teen is using drugs, talk to her. Don't judge her; instead, talk to her about facts behind the dangers of substance abuse. If your teen isn't opening up to you, be sure you find an adolescent therapist who can help.
3. Addict in the family. Do you have an addict in your family? Sadly many families have been affected by someone who has allowed drugs to take over his or her life. With this, it is a reminder to your teen that you want him to have a bright future filled with happiness. The last thing you want for them is to end up like [name of addicted relative].
4. Don't be a parent in denial. There is no teenager who is immune to drug abuse. No matter how smart your teen is, or athletic she is, she’s at risk if she starts using. I firmly believe that keeping your teen constructively busy, whether through sports, music or other hobbies, will put her at less risk to want to experiment. However don't be in the dark thinking that because your teen is pulling a 4.0 GPA and is on the varsity football team that he couldn't be dragged down by peer pressure. Go back to my number one tip—talk, talk, talk. Remind your teen how proud you are of him, and let him know that you’re always available if he’s being pressured to do or try something he don't want to.
5. Do you even know what your teen is saying? Listen, or watch on text messages or emails, for code words for medicaiton being abused or specific drug activity: skittling; tussing; skittles; robo-tripping; red devils; velvet; triple C; C-C-C-; and robotard are just some of the names kids use for cough and cold medication abuse. Weed; pot; ganja; mary jane; grass; chronic; buds; blunt; hootch; jive stick; ace; spliff; skunk; smoke; dubie; flower; and zig zag are all slang for marijuana.
6. Leftovers. Are there empty medicine bottles or wrappers in your teen’s room or car (if they own one)? Does she have burn marks on her clothes or her bedroom rug, and ashes or a general stench in her room or car? Be sure to check all pockets, garbage cans, cars, closets, and under beds, etc., for empty wrappers and other evidence of drug use. Where do you keep your prescription drugs? Have you counted them lately? Teens and tweens often ingest several pills at once or smash them so that all of the drug’s affect is released at once.
7. Body language. Tune into changes in your teen’s behavior. Are his peer groups changing? Is he altering his physical appearance or suddenly lack hygiene? Are his eating and/or sleeping patterns changing? Does he display a hostile, uncooperative, or defiant attitude, and is he sneaking out of the house? Are you missing money or other valuables from your home?
8. Access to alcohol. Look around your home—are alcoholic beverages (liquor, beer, or wine) easily accessible? Teens typically admit that getting alcohol is easy, and that the easiest place to get it is in their own homes. Be aware of what you have in the house and if you suspect your teen is drinking, lock it up! Talk to them about the risks of drinking, especially if they are driving.
9. Seal the deal. Have your teen sign a contract stating that she promises never to drink and drive. The organization Students Against Destructive Decisions (formerly known as Students Against Drunk Driving), www.saddonline.com provides a free online contract you can download. It may help her pause just the second she needs, to not get behind that wheel.
10. Set the example, be the example. What many parents don't realize is that they are the leading role model for their teen. If your teen sees you smoking or drinking frequently, what is the message you are sending? At the same time, many adults enjoy a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage, and the teen needs to understand that they are adults and there’s a reason the legal drinking age is 21.
A very important piece of advice I share on a daily basis, which I learned the hard way, is that you have to be a parent first, even if it means your teen hates you. The hate is temporary. Your teen’s future, health, and safety depend on your parenting. Friendship will come later—and it does!
Editor's note: For additional information on signs of drug abuse in your child, read What Parents Should Know About the Danger Signals of Drug Abuse at SchoolFamily.com.
Scheff’s organization, Parents' Universal Resource Experts (P.U.R.E.), offers information for parents on residential treatment schools and programs for children and teens. Scheff’s book, Wit's End! Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out-of-Control Teen, outlines how to locate safe and quality schools and drug-treatment programs, and details Scheff’s personal story of finding help for her teen daughter. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/TroubledTeensHelp, and on Twitter at twitter.com/#!/suescheff.