This article is a guest contribution submitted by our friend, Dr. Ann Schiebert, PsyD.
A few weeks ago, a very upset parent came to me lamenting that her “very good 14-year-old daughter” had been discovered smoking marijuana with some of her girlfriends. This parent was flabbergasted that her daughter was actually getting high with her friends. I asked if the family had discussed what the family values were around substance use in high school. They looked at me like I was from another planet! They said, “why would we ever do that? Our daughter is a straight A student and she has never been interested in using drugs!” I thought to myself, well, she is now!
I wish I could share that this was a unique situation but I want all parents to know that no matter how perfect we think our children are, in today’s middle schools and high schools there is always an opportunity to use drugs. Unfortunately, our kids are not born with a “common sense default switch.” If we don’t provide our teens with guidelines around drug use, if we don’t tell them what our expectations are, and if we don’t let them know the consequences for disrespecting the “family values,” then most teens tend to rely on their peer group for what is “OK.” Allowing our teens to be guided by their friends who all have the same lack of brain maturation that your child has, is a scary option. Allowing teens to follow the “teen herd” (everybody is doing it!) IS an OPTION but in the long run it is much more rewarding and fairly easy to create a structure through which we can direct our loved ones and drop out of the “after the fact” arguments.
How do we get ahead of allowing our teens to be led by their peer group? I have a name for how we “get ahead of the herd.” I call it “Preemptive Parenting.” With Preemptive Parenting, we get AHEAD of our teens. We get them prepared for their peer group. We discuss family values. We carefully review possible situations before they happen so our teen will be prepared. For example: “I was reading this article about marijuana today. It scared me. I was wondering, what would you do if someone offered you a joint?” Or, “I heard about a kid who died because he was in the car with someone who was drunk driving and they got into a car accident. What are your thoughts about this kind of thing?” These are actually great family dinner conversations if you take them out of the “interrogation” category and place them in the context of “interest and curiosity.”
After having such conversations, you will know what your teen thinks about a possible situation. It allows you an opportunity to express family values around that topic and to write out guidelines for the FAMILY, NOT just the teen. By proceeding in this manner, you produce a contract.
Contract for Driving While Under the Influence of Drugs and Alcohol
Guideline: No one in this family ever drives while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. As a family, we value the safety of ourselves and others.
Our Responsibilities: Parent(s) will not drive while under the influence. It is our family value to keep ourselves and others safe and driving while under the influence puts ourselves and others at risk. Teen (name here) will not, under any circumstances, drive while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. You are to call your parents if you need a ride home. You will not receive a lecture regarding this substance abusing event. (The family value of not drinking or using drugs must be addressed in a different “Guideline” or contract.)
Consequences for Disrespecting this Guideline: Parent(s) will have to take the bus or Uber or a taxi to work for three days. They may not use their car for any reason other than for a medical emergency.
Teen: May not use their car for any reason for three days. You have to find an alternative way of transportation to and from where you need to go. If you are not able to pay for this expense, your parent(s) will loan you the money which will be deducted from what would have been spent on your birthday or other holiday until the debt is paid off.
There it is! It’s simple, and the consequences are known ahead of time. We are not parenting from the “rear.” We are preparing our teen to make good decisions. We are schooling about our family values. To follow the guidelines or opt for the consequences becomes your teen’s choice because he/she knows the expectations, their responsibilities and what will happen if they decide to disrespect the “contract.” It is TOTALLY their choice!
It will be necessary to create two more contracts in addition to the one suggested above: 1. What happens if your teen receives a DUI? 2. What are the family guidelines about drinking or using drugs while living in the family home?
Contracts can create success and happiness for our teens and their families. Restructure how you interact with your teen. Practice Preemptive Parenting!