When you Suspect Substance Abuse in Your Kid’s Friends
It can be a very sticky situation. If you think one of your teen’s friends is using drugs or drinking, tact and care in your response are essential. Your children and their well-being are of the utmost importance, and protecting them is your job and your responsibility. The last thing you want for them is to get involved in drugs or to be around people who are using. However, before you rush in with guns blazing, take some steps to be sure that your concerns are founded and that you approach the friend’s parents or guardians in a compassionate and respectful manner.
Not only should you be aware of the signs of drug or alcohol abuse to keep your own children safe, it is also nice to look out for your kid’s friends. If you think one of them may be using, you could be the one to reach out and help her. If you understand the signs, you could be the difference between a child slipping through the cracks and a child growing into a healthy adult. Keep in mind that a teen who is using or experimenting may not exhibit all of the signs below, but even one can indicate some kind of problem.
- Changes in behavior. The underlying and overwhelming sign of substance abuse is a significant change in a person. Do be aware, though, that behavioral changes can also indicate other issues such as abuse, depression, or trouble at home. If one of your kid’s friends starts acting strangely, take notice. Look out for changes in mood, emotional instability, inexplicable anger or sadness, lethargy, an inability to focus, silent spells, an obnoxious attitude, acting clumsy or uncoordinated, or losing inhibitions. When these types of behaviors come out of nowhere, you should be suspicious.
- Changes in hygiene/appearance. When this teen’s hygiene or general care in appearance starts to slide, there could be a problem. Also look for physical signs of substance abuse such as red eyes, a red, flushed face, track marks on arms and legs, wearing long sleeves in spite of warm weather, unusual smells on the breath or on hands, or slurred speech.
- Secretive behavior. Was this friend previously gregarious and friendly with you? Is she now avoiding speaking to you, chewing a lot of gum, and being generally less friendly? She may be trying to hide the smell of alcohol or drugs or her impaired behavior from being high.
- Your child’s behavior. If your child is behaving strangely toward this friend, something could be wrong. If your daughter is distancing herself from her friend and making excuses for her strange behavior, she may know what you already suspect.
Talk to Your Child
When you begin to suspect that something is not right, start your investigative process by speaking with your child. Instead of jumping immediately to an accusation of drug or alcohol abuse, start with general concern. Make sure your daughter understands that you are worried about her friend and that you think her behavior and other changes indicate that she is in some type of trouble.
If there is something wrong, the chances are that your child will be relieved that you brought it up. She may have been struggling with her own concerns and with deciding what to do about it. Kids never want to tell on their friends, but if you broach the subject and share your worries, your child will probably be happy to open up and share hers as well.
Go to the Parents
Unless there are extenuating circumstances, you should not approach the teen on your own without speaking with her parents first. Imagine how you would feel if another adult did that with your child. You may be concerned about how the parents will react, but they deserve to know your suspicions and to make the choice about what to do next.
In determining how to make the approach, imagine how it would feel to hear this from other parents about your own child. It will not be easy to hear, so a little diplomacy and delicacy will go a long way. Bring another adult with you-a friend for instance-if you fear how the parents will react and you need someone to be an unrelated third party.
Speak to the parents in person, rather than over the phone. This is the kind of talk that should be face to face. As you approached your child about this topic, start with the fact that you are worried first and foremost. Avoid accusing their kid of corrupting yours, even if that is what you suspect and put the well-being of their child first in the discussion. Be prepared ahead of time with a list of the concrete signs that have you worried. In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to forget what you wanted to say.
With a little tact, some compassion and thoughtfulness, you can bring a potential problem to light and avoid hurt feelings. If, in spite of your efforts, the parents are resistant and deny that there is a problem, accept that but continue to monitor the behavior of your child’s friend. If the troubling signs continue or worsen, try again and also try approaching another adult in her family, such as an aunt or uncle.