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 parents at the hangout house either provide alcohol or simply look 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?
ANSWER | Jerry Weichman, Ph.D.
Unfortunately, this is a very common scenario. The popular house is often 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 hang out at your house, you are likely doing a great job as a parent in this department.
Underage substance abuse has been rampant in past years and reaching epidemic proportions. Brain development continues into the mid-20’s and the last part of the brain to develop is the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for logic, impulse control and rationale. As a result, adolescents have a higher tendency to be impulsive and make poor decisions. Even more interesting are the studies following brain development and addiction. Many studies are citing evidence for the earlier a child’s developing brain is exposed to foreign and illegal substances, the higher liklihood they will have of developing an addiction at some point in their lifetime. The goal should be to delay exposure for as long as possible in order for their brain to develop unimpeded.
Protecting Teens From Drug Use: Drug Test Your Teenager
Unless you plan to chain your child to the bed, your teen will be exposed to kids that abuse substances and environments where parents are not present. You cannot completely shield a teenager from it entirely. Even if you prohibit a party or one specific house, a determined teen may work around it with a lie. They tell you they are going to an “approved” house, but they go to the party in between drop-off and pick-up time.
So what do you do? First, communicate: discuss in advance that you will be randomly and regularly nicotine, alcohol and drug testing your teenager. Set ground rules with consequences. Be prepared to enforce these rules.
Hold your teens accountable. With high schoolers, I recommend that parents allow their kids to go where they want with some conditions. First, parents must know where their teen is. Rather than making your teen regularly check in (which often causes more problems) I recommend using a GPS app like Life360. Second, your son or daughter must respond within five minutes of receiving any text message from you. Third, your teen must come home on time or is ready to be picked up on time. Fourth, the teen must return home sober.
In my experience, what drives teens the craziest (and sets them off the most) are parents who try to micromanage. They rifle through their rooms, track them, smell their breath, or ask 100 questions at curfew.
Consider an Unconventional Approach
I offer a slightly unconventional alternative. Consider administering nicotine and drug test as well as a breathalyzer, all of which can be purchased on Amazon or at any local pharmacy. It may seem extreme to some, but in my experience, this is a simple solution that can build trust (surprising, I know). The parent feels they can stop tracking every move and the teen appreciates the freedom. Testing your teen gives them an excuse to decline being offered a vape pen, drugs or alcohol, it provides parents with 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 focusing 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. drjerryweichman.com.