You won’t feel great if your teenager is taking drugs.
You’ll feel terrible. And scared. Absolutely bewildered, often angry, constantly frustrated, and (did I mention this part?) horribly scared. Probably more frightened than you have ever been before, and you will jump when the phone rings.
Which will bring you to a decision point–what kind of parent are you going to be?
Will you commit to give it your best? Being a great parent is always a full-time job, but if your teenager is taking drugs, you will have to work overtime. Probably for a long time. Or will you let anger and frustration take over, or allow fear and despair to overwhelm you?
The bottom line is: Will you be part of the solution, or part of the problem?
Because, even in the worst of times, there are things you can do to be a positive influence. In this article, we will discuss ways to be a G-R-E-A-T parent even if your teenager is taking drugs.
G – Goals and boundaries
Set expectations for appropriate behavior – This starts by not enabling the wrong behavior, which is what you do if you cover for them, or fix their problems, or protect them from their bad decisions.
There will be conflict, but pick your fights, and keep them to a minimum. It’s not worth it to argue about little things. But some things are worth drawing a line in the sand. Like obeying the law and being safe with a car. Expecting honesty and respect. And no drugs, under any circumstances.
There will be times when you don’t know if you should hold your ground or just let something go. Keep a copy of the Serenity Prayer handy to help you pray through when to accept things you cannot change and when to muster the courage to change the things you can.
Establish boundaries and enforce consequences – Make it clear to your teenager that they are responsible for their choices, and for the consequences of those choices. It’s up to them.
When they cross a boundary, be calm, but strong, rather than reacting in anger.
Your goal is to help your son or daughter grow up in a healthy manner, not to be punitive or win a contest. As their bad decisions escalate, so should the consequences. If they continue ignoring boundaries, allow their choices to eventually propel them into counseling or a treatment program.
Stay together as a couple – Teens, especially those with substance problems, are experts at using one parent against the other. If the two of you are not together, they will know it, and they will exploit it. Being divided makes it harder for them to get better, and it can tear your marriage apart.
Continue to talk about positive goals – They may not act like they are paying attention, but keep reminding them that they can have a positive future, and that life is, indeed, good.
R – Relationship
Focus on being empathetic and listening – Try to connect with what is going on in their world, which is different than the world you grew up in. Understand that they are not experiencing life or thinking about things the way you are.
Listen, don’t talk. When you feel like making a point, listen some more. When you do talk, be real, and try not to preach.
Be alert to changes in their behavior; be vigilant, but not obsessive. Understand that they are doing what they are doing for a reason, even if it is a bad one. Search for why your son or daughter is making the choices they are making. Pay close attention to an escalation of negative behavior.
Show unconditional love, no matter what – You can express love to them even if you don’t think they are receiving it, and even if you don’t feel like it. So do that, and then do it again.
Even when you are enforcing boundaries, you can still tell them you love them. They may ignore you or get angry. They may tell you they hate you. That’s beyond your control. What is within your control is how you act toward them. Always, no matter what, let them know you still love them.
Set positive goals, establish clear boundaries, and invest in your relationship with them. That’s the “G” and the “R” of how to be a great parent, even when your son or daughter is getting into trouble. In the next article, we will discuss three other areas you can work on as well.
You won’t feel great as you struggle with why your teenager is taking drugs. You will feel confused, your mistakes will seem amplified, and you will wonder how to be a great parent in such a situation. But you can begin, you can take steps.
And, whether you realize it or not now, you can make a difference.
Question: Which of these two areas do you need to work on the most?
Action: If your teenager is taking drugs, commit to be a great parent, no matter what it takes.