June 19, 2013 —

In our latest guest post, Laura Gilbert, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, provides five common mistakes parents make and how to fix them.

1.  Mistake: Not bringing up the subject of drugs and alcohol with your teen early and often.
Fix it: Simple. Talk to them – even if you don’t suspect a problem. You can say, “I hear that kids are using prescription drugs at your school.” Or, “I read this blog post about drugs and alcohol.”  Be educated and then continuously listen to what your teen has to say.  He or she will know that drugs and alcohol are always on your radar.

2.   Mistake: Not knowing what’s going on in your child’s life when unsupervised.
Fix it:  Meet your children’s friends. Meet their parents. Know where they go after school. The hours from 3 to 6 p.m. are the hours when kids get into the most trouble because they are unsupervised. If you can’t be with your kids during those hours – and many of us can’t – call them or have them call you.  Or better yet, get them involved in an activity. By your teen saying “yes” to an activity, they will be much more likely to say “no” to alcohol and drugs.

3.  Mistake: Condoning substance use in the home.
Fix it:  Establish family rules that drugs and alcohol are not allowed in your home. Many parents feel that if a teen is going to drink or use drugs anyway, it’s safer that he or she does so at home. However, studies show that when parents don’t allow kids to drink or use drugs in their home, it supports the message that teens should not drink or use drugs, period.

4.  Mistake: Looking the other way if you suspect your teen is abusing substances.
Fix it: Bring up the issue with your teen if you feel like he or she is using drugs or drinking. Give your child concrete reasons why you believe they are abusing substances, such as, “There are pills missing from the medicine cabinet,” “I found rolling papers in your room,” or “You smelled like alcohol when you got home.” Then listen to him or her and trust your instincts. Does your teen need more help? If so, search out educational opportunities or programs to address your teen’s substance abuse.

5.  Mistake: Thinking you need to have a perfect discussion to be helpful to your child.
Fix it:  Even a clumsy, ill-timed, and awkward conversation is better than none at all. Just do your best. Your child might not want to talk about it, and they may feel angry or uncomfortable, but life is seldom perfectly smooth. And remember that you will always get a second chance if the first conversation does not go well. Pick a different time to talk. Bring up the subject in a different way. Your kids may even thank you!

Laura Gilbert is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in Alameda, California that focuses on teens, families, and young adults. As a Prevention Educator she speaks to high school, middle school, and elementary school students in the Bay Area about the dangers of drug and alcohol use. She also coordinates the Youth Out-Patient Drug Free Program at Alameda Family Services in Alameda, which serves youth from 13-18 and their families. Laura, her husband, and their two boys live in Oakland, California. Her website is LauraGilbertmft.com.