By Spencer D Gear
Alcohol or drug use, particularly when it may involve a member of your family, is a very emotionally loaded issue. Thus, it is quite natural that many parents are at a loss to know how to begin to handle this problem within the family. The following guidelines were prepared by counsellors trained in working with young people to provide parents with some basic ideas for use in dealing with this issue.
1. Become informed about alcohol and drugs and their effects. Be a credible source of information for your child.
2. Make your position on alcohol and drug use clear to your children so that they know where you stand, even if you have no indications they are involved.
3. Husband and wife should try to reach agreement with each other over handling the issue. There should be consistency and mutual support in your communications with your child on this subject.
4. Be aware that the behaviour you are expecting from your children may be different from that of their peers and that peer acceptance may be of paramount importance to them. Work with them so that they understand the reasons for your expectations. Strengthen their feelings of self-confidence and independence.
5. If you suspect alcohol or drug use, avoid unproductive accusations. These often result in denial. Sit down with your children and discuss calmly any suspicions you have. Talk about your personal concern for them, as well as their wrong-doing. Try to keep discussions on a rational level. Overly emotional, angry outbursts frequently serve only to cut off parent-child communication prematurely.
6. If you see evidence of alcohol or drug use (i.e. physical or psychological symptoms or drug apparatus in their possession), restate your position and make clear the consequences you are prepared to enact. Make sure you are prepared to follow through with the consequences you set. Empty threats are meaningless to a child.
7. Avoid “labelling” or name-calling. You are not dealing with your child’s character at this stage, but with his/her behaviour. Try to remain calm and avoid saying things which tend to further alienate you from your child. The goal of communication is to help him/her understand that, although you are concerned about and disapprove of his/her behaviour, you still love him/her.
8. Try to maintain good communication with your children’s teachers. Let them know you are interested in their progress in school and would be appreciative of feedback from them regarding their academic and social behaviour. Make your child aware of this so that the children realise there exists a “parent-teacher coalition.”
9. Make it your business to get to know your child’s friends, who their parents are, where and with whom he/she is socialising, whether or not parties will be supervised by adults, and so on. Don’t be afraid to communicate with parents of your child’s friends. Introduce yourself to them in person or by telephone. As a general rule, parents have the bests interests of their children in mind and need to reach out and support each other. Make sure that your child is aware you are establishing communication with his/her friends’ parents – being secretive only breeds mistrust.
10. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Counsellors trained in working with children and adolescents can help by re-opening communication between parent and child, providing a neutral ground for expression of feelings, and serving to “de-fuse” the climate of tension within families which sometimes develops over issues such as alcohol and drug use.
Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 October 2015.