"Kids were suspended for having weed at school today."
Some of us might assume this is a statement from a high school student, but unfortunately he is
in middle school and his mom just asked me for some advice on what to say to him.
First of all, don't panic! I know it's something none of us want to hear but if you child tells you this that's a good sign! You've developed an open relationship with him and he's comfortable telling you about these serious things.
Ask what he knows and how he feels about it. It's okay to ask if he's been approached by someone wanting him to try it. This will enable you to go through the steps I'll be explaining later. Open that door of communication, listen more than you lecture and give your kids strategies!
1. Be clear about your family's rules and expectations.
One of my favorite phrases to share with parents to use is "In our family..." The reason I love this
phrase is that it lets you set standards that match the values you're teaching your kids.
What should you do if your kids respond with, "Well, Patrick's family let's him do it" ? A simple, clear statement of, "That's his parents' choice. In our family we have a rule that you can't drink until you're 21, it's the law. NO negotiations on this one."
Be clear, be firm and let him know the consequence should he decide to still do it.
2. Give them ways to get out of a "sticky" situation.
Kids want to save face in front of their peers. They don't want their friends to know that they are uncomfortable with what's going on or that they want out of the situation. One easy thing to do is give them a code word to text you that is your signal that they need to be picked up right away, no questions asked (see #3).
This allows your kids to get out of a party that got out of control, a gathering where someone sneaked in liquor, or even just a conversation that is going down a bad path. Kids are under a firestorm of peer pressure and even the "good kids" sometimes make bad choices out of curiosity, a desire for an adrenaline rush or to continue being accepted in their peer group.
3. Don't interrogate Immediately!
If you and your child set up a code word, your child will be more likely to use the escape word if you promise not to immediately give them a thorough questioning. The important thing is that your child used the code word and asked you for help! Remember that good choice and acknowledge that they made a good decision.
I'm not saying they'll be perfectly innocent in every situation, some kids go to a party knowing there may be drugs but then realize it's not what they want to do and they need to be able to depend on you to help them out of the situation. OR.. they may have decided to try something new and then felt sick and realized they needed out now.
There's a million scenarios we could list, but the important thing is that he texted you! NOW...allow a cooling off period and then have a calm discussion about what was going on, why he was there, what other choices he could have made, etc. This will build your relationship to be stronger than ever and he'll be willing to come to you later with other issues as well.
4. Give consequences as needed and follow through.
While your child may have used the escape text word and removed himself from a situation, if it's a situation he shouldn't have been in to begin with then he needs to have a consequence involved for that offense. Discipline is a teaching tool, consequences reinforce that teaching.
Let's say your child went to another kid's house after you specifically told him he wasn't allowed to go there. Later you child texts his safety word and you pick him up. The consequences should be for going to that house to begin with (broken trust and lying are both offenses worth grounding). If he contacted you as soon as he saw drugs being used, then definitely commend him for making the safe choice to not use and get out.
5. Give him strategies for dealing with peer pressure.
"Just say NO" was a 1980's attempt to help kids deal with peer pressure. Unfortunately, it doesn't address what our kids are really dealing with in the situation. I have found it helpful to brainstorm with kids about what they could say that their peers would believe.
Sports kids tend to lean on blaming their coaches (which most coaches are okay with!). "I can't use, I'll lose part of my season." OR "I've already been in trouble once, the coach will kick me off the team if I get caught again."
Let your kids blame you! "My dad will take away my car if I get caught using." or "My mom will kill me! She even has a drug test at home in the bathroom and she won't hesitate to test me."
High school seniors may lose college scholarships which could send them to a community college instead of the on-campus experience they were planning on. They could also lose their space in the incoming class because colleges can cancel his acceptance if they discover he's got an issue like drugs or alcohol use.
Practice what he'll say out loud with him so it basically "rolls off their tongue" when they need it.
6. Keep a drug test at home.
You can buy drug screening test at the local pharmacy for very little cost. It's a great way to deter kids from using if they know you won't hesitate to use it. Their friends will also be more careful when they come to your house knowing your "that parent" that will call them out on things!
Let your kids know what the consequences will be if they use drugs or alcohol. If they know the consequences ahead of time it helps them make an "informed decision" along the way.
7. Most importantly...Keep the lines of communication open! Here's pdf that may help with the communication piece using the ABC's of Parenting
For additional tips for the healing process if your child has already been in trouble, check out Part 2: My Teen got Caught Drinking, Now WHAT?
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