Parasailing

Parenting teens: consequences, peer pressure and making a way out

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About Robin Dance

Married over half her life to her college sweetheart, Robin's guilty pleasure is Reddi Wip from the can. Mom to three, she's as Southern as sugar-shocked tea. Follow her on Twitter. Her beautiful new blog robindance.me is a must-see.

Parasailing

Two painful truths I’ve learned in parenting teens are:

  1. good kids “do” (where the “do” manifests itself in many ways, shapes, and forms), and
  2. your children will make choices that disappoint you.

This shouldn’t come as any big surprise, but when (not if) something happens, we’re still bewildered.

Maybe all the signs were there, but you missed them.  Work or marital issues or financial stresses or  any number of distractions are blinding.  And sometimes we simply don’t see what we don’t want to see.

Hear me clearly:  this is no message of condemnation or finger pointing; it’s one of understanding, and, if you’re willing to receive it as intended, cautionary counsel.  It’s at minimum a foolish posture to presume “My child would never do that!” – and potentially dangerous.

Disappointing choices come in broad spectrum, from academic under-achieving to zany videos on youtube.  The consequences are equally diverse.

One of the most important goals in parenting is training your children to consider the consequences of their choices before making decisions, followed by allowing them to bear the consequences of poor decisions without bailing them out.

cliffdiving
Photo by JohnONolan

For example, my oldest, late to soccer practice, rushed to get there on time rather than obeying the speed limit.  He received a speeding ticket and points on his license.

Rather than us paying the fine and accepting the points (which would increase insurance), he worked for weeks to earn enough to pay for the fine, court costs, and driving school (an eight-hour course that reduced the points).

He fully understood the ticket was a result of his choices, and he alone should bear the responsibility of taking care of it.  A long, boring Saturday class and no spending money for weeks will help him remember the speed limit.

The older our kids get, the more resourceful we need to be in helping them make good choices.  Gradually and almost imperceptibly, there’s a shift from you making choices for them to them making decisions on their own.

Peer pressure is weighty and loud and can sometimes lead a group over a cliff, especially if a kid can’t see a way out. Sometimes a parent’s job is to help carve that way out…and it might require imagination, creativity, and on occasion, a solution that at first glance appears counter-intuitive.

My sister, a teacher with two amazing college-age daughters, suggested something that shocked me initially. But her rationale convinced me it might be a good idea:

Randomly drug test your children. My children.

At first I was offended by her suggestion–none of my kids or their friends appear to be interested in drug use.  A few of their friends have experimented before, but consequences from those poor decisions convinced them not to continue.

Based on her experience and the candid feedback from her daughters, she made a compelling case:

  • Kids are smart enough to know how to hide it
  • Recreational and prescription drugs are easily available
  • With so many children on prescription meds already, it’s not that far of a stretch to try something else; for teens (whose brains are still developing), even if it’s illegal but perceived as fun, acceptable, relaxing and/or helping them to cope, it’s worth a try.

All of that was well and good, but I was still resistent until the tipping point:

It relieves the peer pressure and gives your children an “out.”

Let that linger a minute.

Your kids might be angry or offended by a random, seemingly out-of-nowhere drug test.  That’s irrelevant, because of your motive, and if you communicate it well, they’ll end up grateful.

You’re providing them the “out” they can always fall back on.

If they’re with friends and something is offered, they can honestly pass and blame their parents; this is one time where maybe they need to blame you.  Of course, your hope is that they’d have the strength and conviction to “Just Say No” on their own, but I’m afraid that’s not always the case.

Word gets around.  Classmates or friends will soon learn who the “strict” parents are, who dare to drug test their kids.  Most will respect it and I suspect a few will wish their own parents would’ve done that for them.

If you’ve never suspected drug use, it’s likely the results will be negative.  If you’ve wondered, you can blame timing for this “out of the blue” test on “this article I read on the internet.”

Parenting is never easy, but it helps to consider the counsel of others.  Even when it’s not something you want to think about.  Maybe especially then.

Can you think of other circumstances where you can pre-emptively provide your teen “a way out” from peer-related pressures?  Have you failed to allow your children to face the consequences of their decisions?  What were the results?  Can you think of a time you wish you could have “blamed” your parents to get you out of something you really didn’t want to do?

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Comments

  1. One of the things that was the most helpful was when my mom, who had six kids, told us, “You can always blame me for this – just say your mom is the Wicked Witch of the West. I’m totally okay with it.” I can’t tell you how many times I was actually RELIEVED to hear her say that, because it was something I wasn’t comfortable with or didn’t want to do in the first place. It was one of the wisest things I ever saw her do – she knew she wasn’t out to impress me or my peers, but she was there to uphold a standard and to make sure I was not only 100% sure where the line was, but also able to lean on it, knowing it would hold me up.

    • My parents were the same way, Whitney. When I got asked out and felt uncomfortable with the guy, I would blame my parent saying that he to ask them first. I would then tell my parents how I felt, and they would not grant permission. I loved having parents who looked out for me and allowed me to make them out to be the bad guys which took all the pressure off me with my peers. I love them for the freedom it brought me. When my children need that same bad guy, I look forward to providing that protection for them.

    • Whitney,

      Perhaps a lot of well-meaning parents begin *friendship* with their children too soon; trying to earn their favor when that’s the last thing a teen needs. I like how you worded it–leaning on the lines you could see drawn. I LIKE your Wicked Witch mama :).
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  2. I absolutely love this. Carving a way out for them. My daughter is coming up on 11 and I am starting to get hives thinking about all the potential pitfalls coming our way. I have done this for her already for things like play dates and sleepovers when she hasn’t wanted to but didn’t want to hurt her friends’ feelings. I will definitely keep this in mind for the future. I remember my father being very strict about us not dating until we were 18 and it was the perfect excuse to get out of pressured situations sometimes. It was a wonderful feeling to know that was our ‘way out’. I distinctly remember being 15 and having this 20 yr old guy trying to get me to kiss him at a party and then he rang my house looking for a date. What a relief to say ‘my Dad won’t allow that’. I don’t know I would have had the confidence to send him away on my own and I remember thinking how awful it must be for the kids who don’t have that.
    Catherine´s latest post: Favourite Finds Friday

    • Catherine,

      We learn and evolve as parents, learning to flex when necessary and when to be rigid. THANKFULLY, our babies aren’t BORN teenagers, we ease into that day by day, year by year. Issues will come up gradually, and you build on what you’ve been doing since the beginning. Again, your parents seem to have been “Freedom Bringers” and it’s cool to hear this common thread so far among the comments :).
      Robin Dance´s latest post: Birthday Blog Bash questions, answers & a call for reader feedback

  3. avatar
    Kirstin @ LilliBean Designs says:

    When I was growing up my mum would say if you don’t want to do something (loke go to a friends house or out with a guy I didn’t like) just to tell them I wasn’t allowed to or I was grounded. I am so thankful for that excuse it allowed me to get out of some sticky situations, and I will be doing this with my three children.
    This is a very interesting post, i am not sure i will drug test my kids (i hope to be able to trust them) but I love the idea of them to be able to say that to people to get out of a tricky situation! Thanks Robin

  4. Growing up there were many situations where I would be phoning my mom (usually from a friend’s house or in the presence of friends) to ask permission to stay the night, go to the movies, etc. Many times I just needed a break from friends or I was uncomfortable with the situation but didn’t want to say that to my friends. So over the phone I’d ask my mom to stay the night, etc. and she’d ask right back if I really wanted to and I could answer just yes or no without my friends knowing what we were talking about. Then she’d make her decision accordingly. I loved our little system.

  5. My mom was one to say “blame me” as well, and I liked that. She also made it a point to say wherever I was, whatever I was doing, she would come and get me, and we would wait until the next day to discuss what had happened. I hope that I can foster that same relationship with my kids (who are still so little I can’t think about the teenage years yet!).
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  6. My parents always let me and my siblings use them as a “Way out” if we ever felt uncomfortable with a situation. I loved this. . . and it always provided a way for us to talk with them about things going on, peer pressure etc. Pinned this post to remember once my kids are older! Thanks for sharing!
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  7. We had the same system with my mom – we would ask the question on the phone and she would ask if we really wanted to do that. She also came and got me from a party where I was feeling uncomfortable. When friends heard I’d called and she was coming, they wanted to know if she would drive them home too. My kids (15, 14) know they can use me as an excuse and I know they have. I doubt I’ll test them for drugs, but I will tell them about the article and that they can use that as an excuse if presented with the scenario. (I’ll have to research how to do a drug test first so it would sound credible).
    I’ve also given them tips on what to do about drinking at parties if they feel stuck, hold a beer and pretend to drink. They’ve heard the stories about their dad and his friend who used to act like they were drunk and then drive everyone home. All their friends knew they were only drinking coke and were the designated drivers. Others couldn’t tell.

    • Sandra,

      Sometimes, it’s whatever it takes, isn’t it?
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    • I remember a time, when I was in HS, and went to a friends’ 19th birthday party. By the time I arrived, not even very late, it was obvious that everyone was drinking and there was no adult supervision. When my friend greeted me, thanked me for coming, and asked if I wanted something to drink …then said, “Oh, that’s right…you don’t drink” He went to the fridge to see if there was anything else he could offer. I just requested a glass of milk, lol! The guy I was dating at the time drove to the store to buy a 12 pack of soda. When he returned, several others also drank the soda (and thanked me)…seemingly relieved to not have the “peer pressure” to drink beer.

  8. We often tell our kids (11 and 14) that they can throw us under the bus anytime if it helps them get out of a bad situation with their peers. Blame it on us! We also have a safe word that they can use if they need it – one mention of it in a text of phone call and we will come get them immediately – no questions asked (until later).

    Your argument about drug testing is intriguing – I never thought about it as giving your kids an out. Thanks for getting me thinking!
    Dana´s latest post: Kitchen Remodel – How Many Choices Do I Have to Make?

  9. Thank you for for sharing this blog to us! It’s very helpful especially to struggling moms like me. I agree that you should help make your teens be more responsible by letting them face the consequences of their actions. Since they are teenagers, remind them that bad things will result to bad outcomes so let them be aware and never fail to remind them of this. At this point in time, experience is their best teacher but we should always guide them to the right direction.

  10. While I am glad to take on the “mean parent” hat, I’m not sure that random drug testing (or the threat of) is the way to go. My oldest is only 7 right now, but as she gets older, I do plan to give her outs, but I think the out that “my parents randomly drug test me” makes me sound like a lunatic parent to my children and their friends, rather than the sane, will-rescue-you-from-a-situation-you-stumbled-into parent that I want to be. I think a better out is to offer a fake check-in for your child. “Oh, crap, it’s 10:30. I told my mom I’d call her at 10. I better call her before she wigs out” or whatever such lingo teens are using. Then, that phone call can get the child rescued from the situation, no questions asked; I’ll pick them up. The drug testing threat doesn’t keep them from remaining in the situation while others experiment with drugs. It also doesn’t protect them from making zany youtube videos, vandalism, etc. (“Your mom can’t possibly watch all the videos on the youtube;” “no one will know it was you”, etc.) I think it’s much more important to keep lines of communication open. If my child gets drunk at a party, I want them to call me! I want them to know that the ride home will not involve any lectures. (The next morning will definitely involve some discussion, but a slim change of mom-imposed punishment.) And I guess I’m showing my hand here that I don’t believe punishments are very effective… because I think that punishments, like drug testing, create a wedge between me and my children, and a wedge in communication is the last thing I need when my kids are vulnerable teenagers.

  11. I became very rebellious as a teen and ultimately found the way to get my parents’ attention was to start dating a guy who was on their list of “not acceptable” boys to date. I did it secretively at first, but one night stayed out until 3am and came home to find my dad’s truck missing from the garage because he was out looking for me. My mom was out of town, and she was the real disciplinarian of the family. After my dad got home, he was so mad at me, he didn’t speak to me for most of the following day, but when he did, all he said was that we would forget it ever happened if I promised not to see him again. This included not telling my mom. Of course, I started seeing him again almost immediately because I knew that unlike my mom, my dad wouldn’t follow through on his threat or bother to even find out of I was abiding by our agreement. I regret that relationship to this day, and wish so much that my dad had gone ballistic and grounded me for a year – something to show he cared. In hindsight, that was what I wanted – to know that he cared enough to do something about it. I’m no psychologist, but I think the random drug testing is a wonderful way to show our kids that we (meaning, my husband & I) are involved, we care, and while we trust them, we recognize they are still under our authority until they move out of the house and thus, they will follow our rules until that time. Once they get to college, they will not have that excuse to follow back on, but hopefully by then, they will have developed the maturity to handle the more difficult situations.

    • Oh, Britany…I’m afraid a LOT of kids wish their parents had drawn stricter boundaries, even if what they said or did seemed the opposite. Parents are doing the best they can with what they got, and that’s why I think sites like Simple Mom are great. It’s not that the writers claim to know it all (I sure don’t!), but if it gets parents thinking about their own motives and intentions, that’s wonderful!
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  12. Wow. This is a really interesting idea- one I am glad I have some time to get my head around. My kids are 4, 3, and 10 months so I have some time but I love the “love and logic” approach of my kids feeling the weight (for better or worse) of their choices.
    Katherine@YeOldCollegeTry´s latest post: Where Does the Time Go?

  13. As a mom of a grown son, I can tell you that I knew parents that randomly drug-tested and it didn’t damage the relationship between child and parent. Great article.

    • Mrs. Tucker,

      Context is important :). My kids and I have a very healthy dynamic and good communication; they know they can say ANYTHING to me as long as they do so respectfully. I’ve also steeled myself not to react (or overreact) to the sometimes scary or controversial things they share. Kids will throw up the “You don’t trust me???!!!” card to protest random testing, but if presented well, they’ll understand it’s not a measure of trust (though sometimes it might be), it’s a pre-emptive measure of protection in this sense.

      THANK YOU for popping over to my blog!!
      Robin Dance´s latest post: Birthday Blog Bash Giveaway #4 – $249 from my favorite skincare line

  14. I would/ will never randomly drug test my own children. The key is trust, honesty and openness. Talk to your kids a lot and they will talk to you. Give them the responsibility of your trust and you will have theirs. If my parents had drug tested me, they would have lost all that. Instead they talked with me openly and so then, did I with them. You will know if your child is trying drugs. They should always feel like they can talk to you about it – even if they’ve made a mistake.

    • Megan,

      Goodness, I never intended this as “Have To” advice for everyone; it’s an out of the box thought that might just serve some kids out there :). But I’m afraid I’d have to disagree with you on one point: “You will know if your child is trying drugs.” Unfortunately, I’ve known too many SMART parents, some with faithful religious conviction, who never believed their children were capable of drug use (or deceiving them), and the end was not good.
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  15. I have told my kids since they were very little if they ever wanted an “out” to use the “my mom is so mean, she’ll never let me do that!” approach. My oldest (who is 13) recently used it in a clever way. He was having pizza at a local shop in town, and his friends were planning to do something afterwards that was questionable…he surreptitiously texted me “hey mom, call me in 5 minutes and tell me I have to come home now” I did, and he got out of the sticky situation with his friends without “losing face”

  16. It is a testament to your writing and thinking that you got me to actually think about this idea. Because, honestly, the idea of randomly drug testing my kids is anathema to much that I believe in. My kids already do have me as their out (something we’ve discussed). I have a reputation among their friends for being strict on “the things that matter,” so using me as an excuse is believable. More importantly, though, my kids (so far–because I know the words you start this post with are so, so true) don’t want to experiment with drugs/alcohol–I hope because of all kinds of things their dad and I have done since they were born. However, I know this could change at any time. I know we’re not immune to all kinds of dangers and influences. So…your post is very thought-provoking, and I appreciate the chance to reconsider my beliefs.
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  17. Randomly drug testing my child seems like such a violation of trust – I wouldn’t feel ok about someone doing that to me (unless I’d ok’d it as a condition for employment, for instance) so why would it be ok to treat my child like that? Not to mention that in a year, when he leaves home, I’m not going to be there to drug test him! He needs to choose for himself. I do totally agree with allowing my kids to blame me if needed but so far my son has shown himself to have quite a backbone and I believe that being willing to discuss anything without freaking out has been very important.

  18. I love that the discussion here clarifies how rules, structure and – yes – punishment can give your kids freedom. I’ve noticed over and over again that our strict parenting allows our children to relax. And I look back at the chaos, confusion, pain, embarrassment and anger I experienced as a teenager in a household that had no rules, just “understanding” and I fully understand how important your role as parent is. It comes way before being a friend.

    However, I’ve got one contention. While certainly it’s good to give our kids a way out, we work hard to fortify our children’s sense of self, how they choose their friends and even deemphasize the need to have lots of friends. Because of all the discussions we’ve had at home and the understanding our kids have, my daughter who is 16 is quite comfortable telling her peers that she doesn’t do this or that because of her own values and sense of herself. Ultimately, our children need to be able to honestly stand for what they know is right. And our job as parents is to also give our children the fortitude and strong love so they don’t need to use us as an excuse, but to stand up and say what they think and not be cowed by how people react.
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  19. Our 2 sons are in their twenties now, and they have both expressed appreciation for some of the things we did when they were younger. The “blame us” thing is great, and here are a couple other things we did. One was to tell them that they could call us any time of the day or night to ask for a ride and we would not ask questions (yet) or be angry that they called. We of course would have a conversation the next day or as soon as everyone was rested/sober/whatever. Another thing I did from the time they were very young was to enforce a “no means no” rule. Initially it was a way to try to keep my kids safe from molestation without frightening them, but quickly realized it was a good rule of thumb. So, if anyone (including us, their sibling, grandparents, friends — ANYONE) did something to them they didn’t like, such as tickling, hitting, jumping on them (as kids do to each other) they had the right to say ‘No, stop it” and the other person MUST stop immediately. Conversely, if someone said “no” or “stop it” to them, even if the person was laughing and they thought the person was kidding, they HAD to stop. We enforced this in our house among ourselves (between my husband and I, too — he tickled me when we were first together and I didn’t like it and he stopped) whenever we had guests of any age. This meant they did not have to hug or kiss a relative if they didn’t want to, etc. If kids were horsing around and I heard “don’t” or “stop it” I listened to be sure it was stopped. If we were at someone’s house, or out with friends, I made sure it was enforced if my child was involved. As teenagers and young men they have expressed appreciation for this rule.

  20. My children are far, far too young for me to be thinking about this sort of thing (4 &1) however you make a really valid point. When I first started reading this post, I was aghast that you’d suggest random drug testing and thought to myself “I’d never do that,” but the further I read the more I realized just how right you are.
    When I was a teen, I went through an emotional rough patch and as a result my grades slipped. My parents FREAKED OUT. Even though I’d never so much as touched a cigarette and was still a virgin, they started giving me random drug tests and random pregnancy tests. They were convinced I was doing something wrong otherwise my grades wouldn’t have slipped. I hated them for the accusations but it did make it easier on me to decline the things I didn’t want to do anyway. My friends who saw me as a goodie-goodie because I said no to drugs suddenly saw me as the fun chick who had crazy-strict parents and stopped harassing me about it.
    Meanwhile, my step brother was getting into some pretty heavy drugs and having unprotected sex but he never got caught (until it was too late). His grades were decent enough so they never suspected him, therefore never tested him.

  21. I love this post. We have 3 boys (11, 12 and 14), so we are at a super crucial point in parenting.
    We use the natural consequences all the time. We’ve told our kids that if they get a cavity (they all have “good” teeth, but are not the best brushers or flossers, so cavities are more than likely the result of not taking care of their teeth). Recently, our 12 year old got a cavity and had to pay $29 for the filling (thank goodness for good insurance!). The same kids (he’s our tough one) recently walked out of his psychologist’s appointment because he didn’t want to be there and had to reimburse us $65 for that copay. We try to follow the Love & Logic approach to parenting which is all about natural consequences because they prepare your kids to face the real world as adults.
    We are a blended family, so in terms of general consequences for everyday things (talking back, lying, not listening, etc), we have a list of “infractions” and their corresponding consequence. It’s seems way over the top, but we work really hard to align policies at our house with policies at my stepsons’ mom’s place.
    The drug testing is definitely an interesting one. My husband is 20 years sober, and his ex-wife is an alcoholic as well. So the boys have a genetic predisposition to addiction – we are hyper-vigilant about it, but definitely know that kids know how to get away with it and we do not want ours to go down that scary path. I’m definitely going to run this idea by my husband.
    Thanks so much, Tsh. Great food for thought here!

    • I like your ideas! What other infractions have you implemented?

    • I agree. My son’s father is an alcoholic as was his father and several members of the family on my side. His pediatrician and all my doctors know and though my sonis only 5 I discuss not drinking or drugs with him and the professionals frequently. My new dr just said he really thinks its genetic and there is little to othing to be done to stop it except focus the addictive personality onto other things. i think its great you are aware of this and share the infomwith your boys. I try to teach my son though he can’t control the circumstance (genetic predisposition to alcoholism) he can control his behavior and response (to not drink)

  22. I just noticed that Robin wrote this! Sorry for missing that Robin! Brilliant piece.

    • Ha, Nicole…Tsh…Robin…YOU CALLED US BRILLIANT! ;)

      Seriously, yours is a challenging family dynamic but it sounds like you’re vigilent in serving your children. Again, I know *everyone* who reads this won’t randomly test and, gracious, that isn’t what I’m suggesting. I *might* have intended to provoke thought and action, though, hoping that readers would think creatively about how they parent. Ours is a complicated culture and we’ve got to parent on purpose. Of course, THAT looks different for every family!
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  23. This is a wonderful article. I’m sharing it with all the parents that I know, whether they have teens right now or not. I cannot count the number of times, as a teen, that I used my parents as a reason for saying no to something. They always told me I could, and having that out made it easy to not just trust my own judgement but to follow through with it. Another thing my parents did was develop a code. I could call to “check in” with them, and if I used that phrase, they would come and get me from wherever I was, and I could just blame them for having to leave early. They were my security blanket, which is what we, as parents, are supposed to be, and I will gladly be the strict, “uncool” Mom if it means that my kids have that same feeling of security, knowing that I have their back whenever they need it.
    Thanks for sharing this, because it’s always good to be reminded of things like this!
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  24. I take the “blame me” approach with my kids, too. My 13-year-old son told me how much he appreciates it, not only because he realizes I’m actually paying attention to what he does, but he also found out it’s a great way to deal with overly-aggressive girls who want our phone number so they can call at all hours. “Sorry, my mom won’t let me have a cell phone, and she will get furious if you call and interrupt her work or our dinner. Let’s just talk at school” has done wonders to scare away some of the more stubborn ones. Now if only THEIR parents would get strict with their behavior, too!
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  25. Oh what a wonderful post, Robin and Tsh. I have a 15 year old son (and two other littles) and I am amazed at how drastically we can go from being the pair we were just five years ago to complete separation (he pulls away and fights for that independence, and I get it). But I love this boy with a fierceness and I will do anything (ie. from disciplining him with taking his favorite things and it sometimes kills me but I know I have to, all the way to watching his latest passions on YouTube…10 greatest knock-outs of all time or wild animals fighting (both closely related!)
    At this age it sometimes becomes blurred and I have to remember that we are not meant to be friends right now and often I have to swallow that hard lump of tears as I dish out some discipline. I have never thought to drug test my boy, we are very involved in nearly every aspect of his life, and we talk about drugs, sex, peer pressure (he actually does come to talk to us often) but still….every kid has their own way sans parents.
    I love that you point out the random drug testing as an act of love…”blame me” you’re not gonna do drugs:) This is priceless and I am going to discuss this with my hubby and my boy. I’m gonna continue to love him, even when he doesn’t like me. It’s what we do:)

    Thanks again…this was an eye-opener.

  26. For those saying that they won’t drug test their kids because of trust issues – let me put a different perspective on it…I don’t do marijuana because of the threat of random drug testing with my job. If I didn’t have that, I’m fairly certain I would do it regularly – of course, the fact that it is illegal is a also a deterrent. If your kids know that you will drug test them, you aren’t breaking a trust as they are well aware of it. Not to mention, for those kids who are like me, a random drug test might just be what they need to stay away from drugs for fear of the consequences you as the parent have outlined.

  27. I don’t have teens and if parenting has taught me anything so far it’s that I have no idea what I’m about to get myself into and to keep an open mind of how I will need to parent.
    I hesitate to think we would drug test our kids, though I would certainly give them “permission” to use that excuse with friends to avoid peer pressure.
    I have watched family do the random drug testing and it didn’t seem to help at all. I’ve seen it done in two separate families and it turned into a cat & mouse game.

  28. avatar
    Jennifer says:

    My mom could tell by the rolling of my eyes if I did not want to talk on the phone with a person that just called me. Then she would wink and yell really loud at me (and the caller) that it was time for me to get off the phone. She was a life-saver. Thank you for reminding me about using mom as an out that I will probably have to start up real soon.

  29. Wow. Of course MY 11 y/o is an angel :) but this is such a great idea. I was just thinking today about how I’ll handle her being a teenager… boys… all that. Very wise words.
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  30. Before having my own kids, I was an educator for kids and parents 6th grade – college on alcohol, drugs, and other risky behavior. In my experience, the key to not breaking trust with kids to start talking (and drug-testing, if you choose) early. Try giving your kid a drug test (they are easy to give, cheap, and reliable when it comes to the more ‘mainstream’ drugs) before you have any reason to think they or their friends might be using. (It’s actually a quite interesting chemistry experiment if you care to also talk out how it works…) Use it as you are having a discussions about drugs and alcohol and what they might encounter in parties to help come up with strategies for response and what decisions they might make. Kids do best when they are armed with INFORMATION, not opinions. Talk to them about how the drug (including alcohol) works, how it affects the brain, why people might want to use it, why people might not want to use it, and be realistic about the consequences both short and long-term about use. Give the decision to them and keep arming them with information.

    And give them outs. I was not a fan of kids having cell phones until I started my job as a child/parent educator. Kids can fake a text or a phone call if they can’t get you to respond right away. Even the ‘best’ (whatever that means) kids can be in a situation they never imagined and any ‘out’ is so so helpful. Random drug testing is a GREAT out. One school district I was in did random testing for anyone participating in extra-curriculars (sports, music, french club, etc.), and it really really curbed use. (Incidentally, they also doled out the same consequences to any kid attending a party where drugs and alcohol were found to be present even if you were not using. Again, only for kids participating in extra-curriculars.) No reason why parents can’t do the same.
    I will give my kids drug tests. If the tests are not in reaction to a situation, but as prevention and started early (and are truly random), it can help build trust rather than erode it. When you do it early, the first test will most definitely come back negative. Buy several of them so the kids can see you have them at home should you need to use them. You can also then talk about what might happen if it came back positive one day. Help them understand what the consequences at home might be. Let them know that disappointment may be a big one, and there will probably be others (grounding, community service, jail, court, expenses, etc., depending on the nature of the offense), but PLEASE don’t forget to tell them that if/when the drug test is positive, or the pregnancy test is positive, your love will not end there. And that you will SUPPORT them going forward, knowing that the burden of the consequence is on the kids, but the back up and the support will always be available. This is THE place to build trust. I frankly don’t care if my kids think I don’t trust them, what I care about is that they know that THEY can trust ME.

    PS – Friends of your kids may not have parents who give them ‘outs’. You probably shouldn’t give them drug tests, but if you’re into it, don’t forget to make it well-known that you can be an ‘out’ to any kid to get them out of a situation. A safe pick up is always something you can offer, and there are so many other things you can do depending on what’s going on in your community.

  31. Great article. As a mom of two college age kids (one boy and one girl) we had a given set of rules too. Both of them have said it was good to have the rules…even my rule bender! We had a policy for parties that served them well. We “vetted” the party. Who was going to be there, were parents going to be around, etc. However, we learned after a parent thought it was cool to be a friend to the kids that she was actually having all calls forwarded to her in Mexico! He idea of supervision was her 19 year old son. We always told our kids we would call them about 15-30 minutes after they got to the event. If it was not a good situation, they made like we had called them home because they had not finished a chore they were supposed to finish before going to the party. If things were good, they just said something like they were confirming a pick up time. At this event, they actually called me to come get them. When I got there, there were 9 kids waiting to get in my car. Alcohol was present at a party and it was already going strong early into the night. It took several trips to get the kids to our house where they were required to call their own parents to inform them they were at our house. Our kids rarely went to parties from then on but they liked knowing they had a way to get out of situations that they thought would be safe.
    As our kids got to college, I can say, I wish we had started drug testing our kids. While we have never had evidence of either of them using, there were times I wish we had started the policy and had it to fall on.
    We reminded our son that his underage drinking was against the law and we would not defend it or pay for any penalties that occurred should he be caught. Unfortunately, one of his best friends was killed by a drunk driver. This made an impression we never could and he no longer drinks at all. Our kids don’t think anything will ever happen to them or those they love. We continually tell them it’s not necessarily them but those around them too.
    I do feel though that our kids have to feel the consequences of their poor decisions. This is hard to do and you may think easier to just take care of yourself. It’s not. It’s not easier not to be embarrassed by their actions either. Because if you let them off, they will use you as their financial way of escape or as the person who can talk them out of the consequences. It’s tough being a parent of teenage and college age kids. But when you stick to your guns and they realize the good that has come from it, you are rewarded with great young adults and maybe a son and daughter who call you everyday just to “check in.” Bliss!

  32. I have 7 kids, some of them grown and gone, and I love the reputation I have of being “that Mom” My kids’ friends even use me as their way out. The legend has grown to imply that I have eyes on every corner and will tell other parents anything I know. Yes we have drug tests (available at any drug store), I call and confirm plans to be sure of adequate supervision, I know most kids in our schools by name (I volunteer for that purpose), no topic is off limits for conversation, I never get my kids off the hook at school or otherwise, I do not fudge the truth to or for my kids. No one thinks of me as “cool”, but even challenging kids respect me and my kids. Yes our kids do dumb things. They have cheated on tests, earned traffic tickets, gone where they should not. There is always grace… and always a way out. I find it so encouraging to see so many of you connect with your kids and provide the excuse they need to opt out of many bad situations and learn from the ones they step in:)

  33. Just love this post!!! My mum always gave me an “out” – whatever the circumstances I had a free card to play: “Just say your mum says no…” It got me out of dozens of scrapes… she was wise enough to tell me that I didn’t have to share every event with her… she had had a couple of teens before me!!! Many outings to pubs and clubs that other kids were headed for, I was able to say – “My mum says I have to be home by ten…” She never said that, but my friends were so impressed by my strict mother that they never questioned it and I would get home unscathed. Thanks for the reminder, I need to have a word with my teens!!!
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  34. Everything you’ve written is so very true. During high school, my oldest son got mixed up with a crowd of kids that were using drugs and alcohol. Although I saw the signs I never made him submit to a drug test right in the beginning. Perhaps if I had, I would have been able to get a better handle on the situation since it didn’t take long for things to get out of control. The biggest lesson that I learned for myself was that I should always listen to my gut, even if it’s something that I don’t want to hear.
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  35. I did have to drug-test my 17 year old teen, once…and it saved his reputation. My son had recently signed up for the Air Force and was in the DEP program (delayed entry program), he had to check-in with his recruiter to give status updates, etc. (one of the items was regarding drug use, or being around anyone using drugs).

    He was in summer school and during break went to use the restroom. Upon entering, he saw a couple other guys smoking pot – so he immediately walked back out. He called his recruiter that afternoon to give her the update. He had been scheduled to go to MEPS for his physical & swear-in within a couple of days, but his recruiter re-scheduled him for the next month, as marijuana can stay in your system for 30 days even from just close contact (our primary physician confirmed this as well). He was really disappointed because he was trying to get a contract for a specific job and this delay would risk him from obtaining it. If he ever tested “positive” on a drug test, even from a doctor’s visit, it would prevent him from ever being in any branch of military. We decided to purchase a drug-test from the local pharmacy, to test him at home. He was extremely relieved to know that it came back as “negative”, so he could call his recruiter to keep his original schedule for MEPS to swear in. This also helped saving his integrity, because even though he told his recruiter that “he” didn’t smoke pot but just ran into someone who had, they might not have fully believed him.
    I taught my son, from an early age, to always tell the truth {no matter what} and I would always be there to back him up when he needed.
    ~Proud Air Force Mom

  36. I think that if you drug test your kids, then they might not feel comfortable calling you in a situation where they need an out. If they were at a party, and did drugs, or was just around it and decided to stay, but then things got out of control and they really wanted to leave, they might not call because they’d fear being drug tested. The drug testing might not stop them from doing drugs when they feel they can get away with it (right after a drug test for example) but it could keep them from seeking your aid to get out of another situation.

  37. Reading this has flooded my mind with such a renewed appreciation for the *gift of homeschooling our just-turned-13 daughter … Remembering the beauty of our family being her primary influencers; of drug use still seeming a very remote choice, rendering random drug tests (!!) completely pointless right now.

  38. I think this is a great idea. I have never used drugs and hope my son never does. I think drugs are stupid. I get drug tested for jobs all the time. My job now we talked about it at the interview. Who cares I said because I have nothing to worry about. So if your kids arent using, what is the big deal? I dont see it as a trust issue as much as an I care enough about you to help you if you have a problem. And having worked with at risk youth, I can PROMISE you your kids can use and you will NEVER know. i was a great kid, got good grades, put myself through college, etc and started drinking at age 13. I even left the glasses out with the alcohol and cigarettes. My dad shouted at me once and never talked about it again. When I was 18 or so his girlfriend’s daughter gave me a wine cooler and he criticized me for drinking it but by then I knew he didnt care about ME as much as the image I presented to other people. So what he said meant very little to me, and still does today. My mom always said “you are with your sisters so I know you are safe” which was a load of crap as they are the ones who started me drinking and smoking….BUT my oldest sister was a paramedic and told me “people can put things in drugs, never do anything anyone gives you and never do drugs without me there so I can take care of you if something goes wrong” and I always used that. Can’t my sister is not here. And there was never a time I wanted to do drugs with my sisters so I just never did. I also think it is a bad choice with poor long term consequences. And even though I knew what was right or wrong I had many offers and pressure from supposed friends to do just a little, it wont hurt, you’ll feel good, etc…without the “out” my sister gave me Im sure I would have caved. Well, plus I wanted and have ajob in law enforcement and I knew even as a teen that a drug conviction would botch that….again, I surely dont see this as an I dont trust you measure more an I know the world and how hard it is to resist so Im going to use everything I can to help you.

  39. I really like the idea of drawing a hard line for the kids as a way out and to read from the response how this had helped them. I really don’t mind to be that wicked mom. However, I have a feeling that it may not be “enough” for some environment. I could imagine comments like “What? You are afraid of your mom?” “Mommy’s boys!” I don’t know, maybe I watch too much TV. In such cases, a drug test may be just the ticket the kid needs to get away without leaving room for any further teasing or pushing.
    I am sorry that some readers might have missed the point – this drug test is to empower the kids to say no, not for the parents to check on the kids.
    Now, I hope I will still remember when my kids reach that age and that, I could keep good communication with my kids so that, when I present the idea to them, they will receive it as a caring act and not a trust issue.

  40. avatar
    Christina Y. says:

    I love the idea of giving our teens a way out. I have never thought of telling our 13 year old daughter to use me (or my husband) for her way out of a situation – but I like it! What would your response be to your teen when they accuse you of not trusting them by randomly drug testing? I am curious to see how you would address that question in an open manor.

  41. This is a great post for so many of the families I work with. I’m also going to file away for later use with my own daughters!
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  42. This is a very interesting thought. I’ll definitely be discussing with my husband.
    As parents, we want to believe that we’ll know our kids enough, trust our kids enough, have enough dialogue with them to nip these things in the bud. But I know first hand that if a kid doesn’t want you to know – you won’t. I maintained a very good image with my parents and teachers while drinking regularly and smoking cigarettes and pot for years. I was fairly smart and new how to cover my tracks. The only good thing that will come of those decisions of mine is a tiny bit more awareness if/when my kids try the same.
    Had my parents presented me with drug tests? I don’t know. I would have probably resented them. But I may have also felt relief. And I can tell you that today, at 35, I’d have a lot fewer regrets. (I’m not AT ALL blaming my behavior on my parents! Just saying, it could have been a game-changer in my choice-making process.)

  43. Hi there, I’m moved with this post which I can relate to myself. I’m 25 and I’ll be a father in a matter of 1 month or less!

    When I was young, my parents restrict me from using bad words, even mentioning the word “pig” when referring something bad (as we’re Muslim). My parents went on to get the red hot chili and make me taste it. I would cry because of saying nasty words.

    I learn the lesson the hard way. And I hardly see parents did this nowadays at least within my circle of concern and influence. But, I’m sure will teach my kids the right way as it is far more challenging these days. Wish me luck!

    Thanks for sharing this.
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  44. My 14 year old son came home and asked me if we could talk (open communication). He was approached by a girl at school who asked if he “liked” a friend of hers… He didn’t know what to say, so he pretended he hadn’t heard her question. He said, “I know you and Dad won’t let us ‘date’”. We had a very good discussion about the fact that he was right! And that this was a good time for him to think about what his boundaries would be… what the purpose of having a girlfriend at 14 would be and why he dad and I would be against starting this “dating” thing at such a young age. I asked him what he knew of this girl and that it was ok to blame it on us – that we wouldn’t let him have a girlfriend at this age. Then I gave him words he COULD use… like, “I think she’s nice” (which was true) and “I’d like to get to know her as a friend”. Then I suggested that he could invite her to our church youth group. He seemed relieved to have guidance in this area and for us to keep our boundaries.

  45. Good post! I remember as a teenager calling my mom and having a conversation something like this:
    “Hey Mommy, my fiends want me to go with them to XYZ.”
    “Sure Honey, just remember to check in,”
    “Awe! Why not?”
    “I just said you can go.”
    “But. Please?”
    “Oh. Um. No you can’t, and I need you home now young lady! click
    Sorry guys, my mom is in a bad mood. I have to go.
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