Dear Your Teen:
My teenager and all his friends hang out at one house. They never want to come hang out at our house. Turns out, the “hang out” house is the house where the parents are either providing alcohol or simply looking the other way. I think the kids are also “hooking up.” Now, I get why they don’t want to hang out at my house, but what do I do?
This is, unfortunately, a very common scenario. The popular house is usually the house with a parent who allows drinking or drugs or the house without a parent present, at all. The good news is that if your teen and their friends don’t want to come to your house, you are likely doing a great job as a parent.
Here are the facts: Underage substance abuse is rampant and reaching epidemic proportions. Brain development continues into the mid-20’s; in particular, the prefrontal cortex matures through these years. As a result, the earlier your child is exposed to drugs, alcohol, or other substances, it’s more likely that they will develop an addiction at some point in their life. It is your job to keep them away from substance use for as long as possible in order for their brain to develop unimpeded.
Protecting your teen from drug use
Unless you plan to chain your child to the bed, your teen will be exposed to an adolescent environment. You cannot completely shield them from it. Even if you prohibit a party or one specific house, your determined teen may work around you with a lie. They tell you they’re going to an “approved” house, but they go to the party in between drop-off and pick-up time.
So what do you do? Communicate. Determine in advance that you will drug/alcohol test your teenager. Set ground rules with consequences. Be prepared to enforce these rules. And, try to stay calm.
Hold your teens accountable. With high schoolers, I recommend that parents allow their kids to go where they want with the following conditions: parents must know where the teen is going, the teen must respond within five minutes of receiving any text message from you, the teen must come home on time or is ready to be picked up on time and the teen must return home sober.
In my experience, what drives teens the craziest (and sets them off the most) are parents who micromanage by rifling through their rooms, following/tracking them, smelling their breath or asking 100 questions at curfew. I offer a slightly unconventional alternative. Consider administering a simple drug test or breathalyzer, both of which can be purchased inexpensively at any pharmacy. It may seem extreme to some, but in my experience, this is a simple solution that can, ironically, build trust. The parent feels they can stop tracking every move and the teen appreciates the freedom. The drug test gives you a clear answer of what they were doing – without dogging them for details, trying to sort through half-truths or starting an emotional argument. It’s very cut-and-dry. An added benefit: if you teen is hiding something, they will be “found out” sooner, thus allowing a responsible parent to take action.
Jerry Weichman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist focused solely on teen and preteen issues. Dr. Jerry is also an author of a teen self-help book, How to Deal, and a noted public speaker on teen-related topics. www.drjerryweichman.com.