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When To Speak Up: Should a Parent Tell Another Parent?

I have found that information about my teenager’s friends can be too heavy to handle. Often over the last few years, I have been privy to stories I would rather not have known.

At the time, while I was truly concerned, I thought about whether it was appropriate to call their parents. But that voice inside me said, “No.” All I had was hearsay; I had no real evidence. So I kept quiet.

I Had a “Don’t Tell” Policy

While I have had candid conversations with other parents about what our teens were doing together, I don’t believe you should tell another parent. I had never called another parent to report on their kids’ drinking or drug use.

Although the information felt like a burden, there was one benefit for my family. Their friends’ choices created an opportunity for discussion in my home. Still, at the end of the day, my teens had to make decisions on their own about what they wanted to do and where to draw the line. So when the following incident occurred with a student, I felt lost.

Over the last couple of years, I have advised students who are in the process of reentering the school system after treatment for substance abuse and depression. I help them get back on their feet once they are in school again—communicating with teachers, helping the teen to remain focused and organized throughout the process.

But Now, I’m Not So Sure

This year, I am helping several teens in recovery apply to college. This is a tricky area; I am often nervous that they are not ready for unstructured independence. I voice my concerns about whether community college might be a viable option for freshman year. Many, however, insist they are prepared for the temptations and excitement that college brings.

So, when one of my students posted a horrible story the other morning, my kids shared the video with me. His risky behavior and the fact that he shared it publicly broke my heart. He has been in rehab twice and has been in my office for weeks trying to create essays that discuss getting on the right path and making better choices.

I believed he was.

In fact, I trusted everything he was saying to me. But now, I have no idea what to believe. Client confidentiality remains an important part of my practice but like my teenager’s friends who made poor choices, do we ever have that right to tell another parent—to call and tattle? Is the choice I made with my kid’s friends the same choice I must make now? How do you tell another parent their child is using drugs?

When do we stay silent?  When is it time to speak up? I’m not sure I know anymore.

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