That first call from the school, the police station, or a well-meaning friend or neighbor suggesting your child has done something wrong can be confusing and scary. What do you do? If the problem is substance related (drinking, or perhaps smoking marijuana) and it’s the 1st time your child has been caught, I believe there are two steps you should take.
- Talk about it. Let them know the behavior is not acceptable.
- Give them a consequence: It doesn’t have to be huge – just enough to send the message that the behavior is not O.K. Grounding can be effective However, it is most effective when brief. Also, structure is important, but nagging or micromanaging will often undermine your efforts.
If the problem progresses, you have resources. Though many are hesitant to involve the school, there often is a counselor assigned to help students with problems like this. They are usually called Student Assistance Professionals, or SAP’s, and can be of great help. SAP’s are confidential. Another excellent resource is the local substance abuse treatment center. They can often provide assessments with diagnosis and recommendations, if they are warranted. They can also provide drugscreens which aid in identifying the extent of the problem. Please be sure to have the results explained to you. These tests can be complicated and need to be interpreted by professionals.
Finally, therapy can be useful at any point along this progression. It is recommended that the therapist be knowledgeable in adolescent substance use and preferably be a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC). Therapy can provide education and help with early intervention and family communication issues. When the problem has progressed therapy is also useful in addressing underlying issues and providing support for needed behavioral changes.