Every so often a parent brings their teenager to the Emergency Department for a drug test. The parent is suspicious that their teen is using drugs, even if the teenager denies it. There is obvious tension in the air between the two. We politely tell the parents that we can not legally or ethically make teens take drug tests (or pregnancy tests either). If the teen doesn’t want the test, we can’t make them do it. What would the parent have us do- hold their adult-sized kid down and catheterize him or her for their urine sample?
Communication break-downs between parents and teens lead to a lot of miserable ED visits. Problems with honestly discussing drug use, and trusting each other, lead to the trouble above. Even worse, mistrust and anger between kids and parents can lead to depression, violence between parents and kids, and teen suicide. Teen years are tough enough, and it is even tougher when the teen can’t rely on his folks for sympathy.
We all know teenage years are difficult. New hormones lead to mood swings, love sickness, feelings of awkwardness as the body grows and changes and breaks out in sweat and zits. Inside that big, lumbering body is a brain swinging from wisdom to toddler tantrum, and back. Stresses of school, the meaning of life, sleep deprivation, fitting in, all take a toll. Little problems to an experienced adult are new, huge problems to a teenager.
Parents respond to their stressed teenager in two ways. Parents at their best are understanding, forgiving, and patient. The other response is anger; anger at the teen’s whining, misbehavior, and snappishness. We condemn our teens for bad grades, slowness to do chores or find a job, and inappropriate clothes. Parents often show both understanding and anger in the same day, or the same hour. I sure do with my three teenagers.
The trick is to be more of the first, less of the second. If you are angry, walk away and cool off before you say hurtful things. Pick your battles- having it out with them over drugs and alcohol is much more important than dogging them about their clothes, or manners, or speech.
Most importantly, rewards are more important than punishment. Finding something (anything!) to compliment your teen about will get you much farther with them than grounding them for a month for denting the car. I’m not saying don’t discipline your teen- only that the punishment should be fair and the compliments kind. Everyone likes to have nice things said to them like “Good job cleaning the kitchen,” or ”your hair looks great.” Everyone feels wronged when having privileges taken away for mistakes, especially when the mistake was an accident and not intentional.
So parents, next time you get really angry at your teen, back off. Don’t let anger and a loose tongue wound your relationship with your kid. Cool off, be calm, and remember that your love for your child is more important than your own righteousness.
Got that, Scott?