Teens seek connection and belonging with their peers, not parents, during these developmental years. Often in seeking connection teen drug abuse is part of this. Teen drug abuse and experimenting for teens isn't about whether or not they are loved or accepted from their parents but rather a deep desire to be accepted by their peers.
If you have a teenager, remember first and foremost they are very consumed with themselves and their friends. Parents need to realize that they are "chopped liver' for a few years. Parents need to get their own supports to handle the teenage years and let go of any expectations that somehow your teen will be your best friend or there for you. In fact, drug addiction (going from experimenting to abuse and dependency) sometimes can be related to feeling pressure to please parents, especially if the family system is enmeshed: meaning you expect your teen to be an emotional support for you when in fact they cannot give you that right now.
In fact, this is part of the letting go and separating process that is a normal developmental stage for teens: again they cannot be your emotional support system, parents need to get their own. If you give them less pressure this will reduce the risk of drug and alcohol addiction/dependency. Also, in my 8 years plus of experience working with families/teens and drug addiction I have found that a key solution is structure, and consistency with parenting. You can love them with limits and reasonable expectations.
For example, follow through with what you say you're going to do. If you catch them smoking pot or cigarettes don't allow them to fool you and tell you it was just this once. Set limits by saying I am concerned and need you to go with me to get a drug and alcohol assessment with a counselor. If they refuse then go back to the reward system of saying if you can't do this then you will not be able to go to the football game this weekend. Again, setting limits and following through with requests is essential to healthy parenting.
Also, validating their experience by saying I know you want to be liked by your friends and experimenting is normal but if you get over your head let me know, call me. I can pick you up from a party or if you get in a bad situation. Again, many teens don’t even experiment with drugs or alcohol depending on who they’re friends are but if they have friends that use they will more then likely experiment. If you pretend that this isn’t true it will lead to them hiding, lying, stealing from you.
Have open communication about drug and alcohol use and don’t shame them if they tell you that they’ve used. Let them share with you when they have and honor their honesty with you. This way if and more than likely when they get over their head they can talk to you and get help through counseling or treatment. Also, the act of giving permission can often take the steam out of things and often teens won’t use if they know they can but can choose not to.
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