How to keep your Teen Drug Free

“Am I a parent or a chauffeur?” This is the question many of us ask ourselves when considering whether or not to let our teen participate in one more activity. Last year I was the parent of a 15 year old boy with as many and varied intersts as myspace friends…206 and counting. Unfortunately as he was excitedly telling me about the band he was going to form, the travelling team he wanted to join or his new found love for rock climbing…the subtext in my brain was always ” now what is this going to end up costing (in both time and resources)?”. On the one hand, I wanted to be enthusiastic and supportive, fostering his creativity and sense of self worth but on the other hand, I didn’t want to be over-indulgent, catering to whims, and creating an insatiable teen with a need for an ever changing roster of activities. So there I sat unsure of my next move. To allow or not to allow…that was always the question.

I recently attended a school meeting which focused on teenage alcohol and drug use. The purpose of the parent forum was to address the realities of teenage drug use and to discuss strategies to keep our kids safe. I sat dutifully through the power point presentation detailing lots of dry facts: national statistics of teenage drug and alcohol usage broken down by ages, the list of warning signs that your child might be using, the chart detailing numerous types of drugs and their associated street names. All of this was frightening and sobering (no pun intended here) but still in the “What can I do about it all?” category.

The counselor leading the presentation then began talking about the teens who were choosing not to use drugs or alcohol. If we could uncover the common threads in that group we could maybe understand the key to keeping other teens from drugs and alcohol as well. I was not surprised when “family support” was mentioned. I was not surprised when “positive peer group” was mentioned but then the counselor mentioned “a well developed sense of identity” and I listened. She explained that the drive for an identity is so strong that a teen would rather have a negatively perceived identity than no identity at all. In this way, “party-er” “stoner” “bad-ass” all become default positions. I perked up in my seat immediately.This was my flash of understanding, all of the activities, the constantly changing and evolving interests were my son’s way of trying to forge his identity. Like trying on lots of shoes to see what fits, he was searching out the activities which would help define him to his peer group and to himself. I also began to feel a little uneasy as I realized how precarious my son’s position really was… if he was still searching, might he end up in the default category?

My son has now turned sixteen and is currently an avid: rock-climber, drummer, snow-boarder, golfer, and artist. I am currently a willing: chauffeur, groupie, employer and subsequent ATM, and most of all loving parent. I still have to limit some of the more extravagant plans that he concocts, but now I view my own involvement as much more of a blessing than a chore. I don’t know which of his current activities will become his passion or if, like shoes, he will continue to outgrow them for a while. Either way I now embrace and support his activity filled quest to become himself.