1. Be supportive. This is especially true before a child has an addiction problem. Try to support everything positive in your child’s life, such as good grades, increasing grades, excelling at a sport or hobby, helping out a friend or relative, anything positive that he or she does. This reinforces the concept of positive behaviors resulting in positive reinforcement. Do not rely on teachers, friends, or others to support your child’s good behavior. If your child becomes addicted, be supportive of treatment; he or she is working hard at it. Make sure he or she knows you will be there for him or her and reward sobriety. Do not enable. Do not reward your child with cell phones, cars, clothes, TVs, and so forth until he or she earns them.
2. Teach your child and demonstrate to him or her that negative behaviors have consequences. It is the parents that help instill a sense of right and wrong into a child’s brain. The parents are the most important authority figures and they are the ones who help a child’s brain develop a sense of right and wrong. Parents will ask me what I would do if my child exhibited a negative behavior. My reply is, what would your parents do? They seem to understand that. They realize then that they are not as strict as their parents were. We point out that being strict is not the same as being “mean.” Do not rely on teachers or other authority figures to teach your child right from wrong. Parents are the most important teachers in this respect.
3. Randomly drug test if you have any suspicion of drug use. It is not mean to drug test an addicted child! Do not assume that your child “could never” be involved with drugs. This is one of the biggest mistakes we see parents make. Drug tests can be bought at discount pharmacies for a relatively small cost. Some of our parents buy them from our office. Explain to your child that you are doing this for them and you will all feel better if it comes back negative. If they reply that drug testing them shows you don’t trust them, your reply should be that trust is earned and not a God-given gift. Many teens initially protest but if they realize that drug testing is the way it is going to be, they will cooperate. This is a good way to catch addiction at an early stage; it can also prevent it.
4. Educate yourself about the signs of drug addiction. These are outlined in previous chapters. Make sure any unusual behavior in your child has an explanation. You are the best observers of unusual behavior, not the school, not your doctor, and not other authority figures. If you are not sure whether something is a sign of addiction, do a drug test. Have them on hand.
5. Be involved with constructive activities. Become involved in their sports, their hobbies, their interests, and school. Reward the good behavior and teach the consequences of bad behavior. It is easier and more enjoyable to be involved in sports and hobbies than to be involved in lawyer visits, court dates, and counseling.
6. Do not assume it could not happen to your child. This is another huge error. The disease of addiction cuts across all social and economic levels, all races, all religions, and can happen in any family. There are things you can do to lower the risk. However, since the underlying problem is in most cases biochemical, you have to respect that it can happen to anyone. Believing it cannot possibly happen in your family could be your biggest disappointment.
7. Try to be a selfless parent. Good parenting is selfless. It is a combination of rewarding good behavior, teaching the consequences of bad behavior, and being involved in your child’s life. Being overprotective, overly punishing, too permissive, or absent will get you into trouble and increase the possibilities of a teen who is prone to addiction, because of the biochemical problem that may exist.
8. Look for signs of abuse by friends or relatives. If your child acts strange around a relative or friend, or seems to not want to be around them, this could be a danger sign. Do not believe that abuse could not happen in your family, as this is just as possible as addiction. Abuse is pervasive in our society at all levels. I do not believe it occurs more now than it did forty years ago; I believe that now it is more in the open than it was then. Young children will not come to you in many instances, because they are not sure what is going on when they are abused. The abuser usually threatens them, so they do not tell you. Pay close attention to how children react around certain people.
9. Help build self-esteem in your child. Low self-esteem and a biochemical propensity for addiction is a lethal combination. Self-esteem issues are pervasive in addicted teenagers and are important to treat with counseling if they do become addicted. This relates to being involved in their lives and rewarding good behaviors. We are not all born good-looking, smart, or with perfect bodies. Some of us have emotional issues and lack social skills. It is up to us as parents to find the good in our children and build on that. Everyone has positive qualities and it is up to us to find them in our children.
10. Never take drugs with your child. Do not believe that your child should be your friend in the same way you are friends with people your age. It is true that sometimes a child can be like a friend, but a teenager may misinterpret this. They might believe they should be able to do whatever you do. If you use drugs with your child, it can only lead to negative consequences and loss of respect for you. If they become addicted, they will have issues of anger and guilt and will blame you for a part of their addiction. You, on the other hand, will have issues of guilt and will blame yourself for part of their addiction. I have yet to see a child who did drugs with a parent who in the long run thought it was a positive experience.