Once in a while, I get a surge of parents bringing their tween or teen to me for the sole purpose of getting a urine drug screen.
Why? Well, I want to know if they’re doing drugs.
Did something recently happen to make you worry? No, I just want to check.
My usual response is that this is not the way to go about checking on your teen, whether or not you have a reason for concern. Drug metabolites don’t remain in urine for long. A negative screen would not necessarily mean your teen isn’t experimenting with drugs, since the screen only detects drugs used within the last couple days. A positive screen… well, congrats, now you know. But you have also completely severed any possible hope of communication between you and your teen. Your teen will only learn other ways to hide from you. There is no medical reason for ordering a urine drug screen on a teen based solely on parental request. Also, a teen has every right to refuse the test.
Yes, as a parent, we worry. That is an understatement. Yes, sometimes it feels like trust has already been broken. Or that things are getting out of control. But these are issues that aren’t fixed simply by demanding a urine drug screen. In fact, it will likely only make the issues worse.
Those teenage years are an incredible time in life, bursting at the seams with potential. It is not easy to watch your teen grow in independence, which will come with its fair share of mistakes and dangers. It is not easy to juggle the demands of life and still make time to build the ongoing relationship you have with your teen. And simply put, it is not easy to love.
My two kids are not teenagers. No where close. I don’t pretend to understand the stress and anxiety unique to parenting a teen. I’m breathing a sigh of relief that I’m not there yet. Not because I don’t like teens, but simply because I relish the time I still have to strengthen my own relationship with my kids. Trust takes years to build. Unfortunately, it also takes very little to break it. Trust emerges from years of mutually growing alongside each other, because children change over the years just as we do. There will always be more to learn about our children, and more to talk about. Every opportunity to tune in is a worthy investment of time and energy.
As I think about my own relationship with my kids, I am keeping the following concepts close to heart:
1. Be available. You don’t have to be a stay-at-home parent to be available. But it does mean being fully present whenever you are able. Allow occasional detours from “the schedule”. Allow for rest and play. Tune in to the many small windows of opportunity to chat with your child — in the car, at bedtime, over a meal. The best moments are often unplanned and unexpected.
2. Be vulnerable. Be willing to share your thoughts and feelings with your child. Often times, we spend a lot of energy explaining what we think they should do or not do. Rarely do they get to hear about our own personal life experiences, nor do they know what we feel beyond those obvious moments of anger or frustration. Share as you feel is appropriate, depending on your child’s age and maturity. As your child grows older, increasingly involve him or her in family decisions and responsibilities. Let your child know what a valuable part of the family he or she is.
3. Guard family time. Start early in doing this. The habits of guarding family time begin now, before the teenage years. Even if you’re already the parent of a teen, it’s never too late for some much needed quality time. Watch out for the subtle ways that TV, video games, cell phones, computers, and separate rooms begin to create distance between people under the same roof. Even presumably good things like sports and extracurricular activities can become barriers to quality time as we run from one thing to the next, just trying to make it to the end of the day.
4. Spend some one-on-one time. It’s hard to arrange in the midst of juggling all the demands of life, but I love the concept of setting aside time to just hang out with one of my kids one-on-one. Spend time with your child in activities that he or she enjoys. Let your child teach you something new and show you life from his perspective. Let your child take the lead during these one-on-one times.
5. Listen more than talk. Sounds simple, but get to know your child for the unique individual he or she is. Bite your tongue when you feel the overwhelming urge to constantly interrupt. It doesn’t mean there are no ground rules or firm expectations, but it does mean that there is a mutual respect that allows for understanding and compassion.
6. Be persistent. Those little daily demonstrations of your interest send a strong message of a child’s worth over time. With tweens and teens, don’t be discouraged if you need to back off at times when he or she wants a little more space. Just try again when the next opportunity arises. Never give up or assume it’s hopeless. Love and perseverence go hand in hand.
7. Be firm. You are a parent, not your child’s best friend. One day you may be able to be a best friend of sorts, but for now you must offer clear limits and house rules. Be firm, clear, and consistent in the things that matter most. Compromise and allow some choice in all the other little things that are simply annoying or aggravating.
8. Get to know your teen’s friends. Welcome them into your home. Be involved. Carpools are great opportunities to hear what they are thinking and how your child interacts with them. Know what is influencing your child. Don’t ignore big issues until it’s too late.
9. Expect the best, but allow for mistakes. Children perceive their worth and value through what we say and what we expect. Believe in your child, with all your heart. Treasure every aspect of who your child is. Let them know what a treasure they are any opportunity you can. But allow for failure, for mistakes, for many falls along the way. Because those are okay. It’s the getting-back-up-again part that matters, and that’s where we come in as we walk alongside them.
10. Most of all, be sincere. Sometimes time spent together may feel like a flop. Sometimes it may feel downright awkward. Often times there will be fights and harsh words. But there is one thing I have always observed about tweens and teens — They DO notice when you are genuinely interested in them. And they DO care.
<One last suggestion: Don’t drag them to the doctor to get a urine drug screen.>