It may be every parent’s nightmare, but Treasuring Mothers Social Worker Michelle Fletcher gives some grounding and very practical advice for what to do if you suspect your teenager is getting involved in drugs, and how to have “that” conversation effectively.
You may never think it’ll happen in your family, but what do you do if you suspect your teenager is using drugs? How do you get your head around that, not panic, and work together as a family to help them out the other side?
Some of the common signs of drug use in teenagers are changes in mood or angry outbursts, distinct changes in clothing, or a sudden new set of friends. However, although these signs can be worrying, they can also be typical adolescent behaviour.
So what are the true warning signs that you need to be looking out for, and how do you respond if you recognise them in your teenager?
Show Notes – Teenagers and Drugs
Some of the actual warning signs that you need to keep an eye on are as follows:
- Changes in performance at school, grades getting steadily worse, or your teen is skipping school altogether
- Using secretive or coded language with friends, or they’re making a greater effort to hide conversations from you
- They’re secretive about where they’re going and evasive about who they’re seeing. “Just OUT, okay? Can you stop asking so many questions?”
- Isolating themselves, spending long periods of time in their bedroom, or spending a lot of time with new friends who are pulling them away from regular activities, school, or family activities
- They suddenly start wearing clothes or jewellery featuring drug use or paraphernalia.
How to start the conversation
- If you suspect drug use, how you approach the discussion with your teen is critical. Michelle explains the importance of preparation before you begin. Be careful, be kind, be prepared. Do as much research as you can beforehand, speak to drug education counsellors, learn the language, be the expert. You don’t want to create a situation where your teenager shuts down because they think you’re ignorant.
- Encourage your teen to talk. Pick your moment, don’t go in swinging, or start with blame.
- Use open questions: what, why, when, who? Don’t shut them down with accusatory phrases like “did you…?”. Try not to blame, shame, or justify. Don’t label them.
- Keep your tone of voice gentle, your words soft. Remind them with every word that you love them. As much as you can, try and keep your own emotions in check.
Create a safe space for them to talk
- If you’re a Christian, pray first before you start any conversation. Ask God to give you the strategy. You might be surprised by what He reveals.
- Focus on the behaviour. “I’ve noticed that you’ve been really angry recently…”, or “you’ve been missing a lot of school…” This is much easier than addressing the drugs first, and might open up avenues of conversation–the reasons behind the behaviour–that you may not be aware of.
- Drugs can be a form of self-medicating to hide a bigger issue. By remaining calm, gentle and loving you’ll create space for them to open up about the deeper things that could be troubling them.
Be the parent. Don’t be afraid
- Some of the information you hear might be very confronting. Michelle advises, “When you hear scary information, rearrange your face before your thoughts get out”. Your teenager needs to feel safe, and know you’re supporting them.
- Prepare yourself beforehand for the worst case scenario. Then, if you get it, you’ll be ready to be present with them emotionally. You don’t your reaction to make them shut down and not tell you any more, nor do you want them to have to rescue you emotionally.
- When you finish the conversation leave them in a good place emotionally. Based on the information they give you, try and get your child to be an ally in the fight with you, rather than you fighting against them.
The rest of the family
- Remember that your teenager’s drug use may be taking its toll on other siblings as well. Make an effort to talk to them on the level you feel is appropriate.
- Ensure that siblings don’t feel they need to carry secrets, or other emotional baggage. Make sure that all conversations surrounding drugs and drug use are a no-blame space.
- Teach your children about where it’s safe to talk about secrets, and where it’s not safe.
- Finally, keep praying. Ask God to show you what to do next, and trust Him to guide and lead your family.
The Treasuring Mothers podcast is made possible with the generous assistance of the Community Broadcasting Foundation.
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