David Coleman: 'Don't stick your head in sand when it comes to your teen and drugs'
Published 24/01/2016 | 02:30
Many parents adopt a head-in-the-sand approach to drugs and their teenagers. We, somewhat naïvely, hope that our child won't experiment with drugs. But this kind of attitude reflects a real ignorance about drugs, and the prevalence of drugs in teenage and youth culture.
Drugs are very much part of what teenagers do. Not all teenagers will try drugs, or will use drugs regularly, but they will all be exposed to drugs and will all know people who do use drugs.
The fact that drugs like weed, ketamine, GHB, MDMA (ecstasy) are so easily available, and comparatively so cheap, means that we have to assume our children and teenagers will have to make a choice, at some time, about whether or not to try this stuff.
The good news is that a lot of the effort you may have already put into your parenting - by building strong positive relationships with your child, by being involved in their lives, by setting clear rules and limits about their behaviour - will reduce the likelihood of your child developing a drug problem in their teenage years.
But it still pays to be prepared for the fact that your teenager will have to make decisions about using drugs, or not, at some point.
Forewarned is very much forearmed in the context of drugs.
So, as a parent, and while your children are still pre-teens, do your research.
Inform yourself about what kind of drugs are popular and what kind of effect those drugs might have. Maybe talk to older nieces and nephews about where drugs are available in your community.
Take advantage of talks, seminars or public meetings in local schools or community centres to learn about what is out there, how youngsters are getting access to the drugs and the contexts in which they are using them.
Then, when it comes to talking with your child about drugs, you will be well informed. When we talk with them, as we should, about the nature, effects and potential harm of drugs, we will make sense.
I think we need to be explicit with our children about our expectations of them and their behaviour. We do this naturally when it comes to things like politeness, and we need to adopt the same approach with them when it comes to how they act at parties, at discos, in their friends' houses and so on.
Especially if you know, or believe, that your child is using drugs, it is still not too late to try to influence them.
Let them know that you care about them and are concerned. Hold them to account for their behaviour and its impact on them and on your family.
The prevalence of drugs in our society means that you need never feel isolated, as a parent, in dealing with the issue.
Other parents may have lots of good advice. There are parent support groups and helplines for advice or just a listening ear. The website www.drugs.ie is a great starting point if you need help or guidance.
Don't stick your head in the sand and hope the issue of drugs will go away. Reach out for help - for yourself and for your teenager. They are worth it.
David Coleman is a clinical psychologist