June 12, 2000
Summer is approaching and school is almost out. Soon our children will be playing in the streets, swimming in the rivers, going to summer school, driving to summer jobs, spending more time at home alone, and hopefully, having nothing but good, clean fun and rest.
If, in this process, you discover that your child has fallen victim to alcohol and/or drug use or abuse, what do you do?
We will discuss that later in this article. First, let's talk about prevention. If you are a typical working parent, your time with your child is limited. Our first recommendation is that you model healthy behavior to your children in your own tempered use of alcohol and your non-use of illegal, mind-altering drugs, which includes marijunana. We also suggest that you not have alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs in the home where they are accessible to the child who is home alone.
We also suggest that while you are at work, you make your child accountable for his/her time. Summer is a good time to begin having weekly family meetings (Sunday nights are the best) to discuss and plan next week's itinerary and to problem-solve any pressing issues. Let everyone in the family have non-interrupted input, but ensure that your child's idle time is spent productively, which will minimize their unsupervised time.
Whenever possible, take your child on a date, a special time to be alone with them and to talk, non-judgementally, about what's going on in each of our lives, and to have fun together. Eat a family meal, go to church, sporting and/or community events, together.
Take advantage of summer programs and events offered by local schools, counties, churches, and community agencies, such as Friends of Youth. These are listed in this newspaper weekly. Encourage children to have get-togethers at home, in your presence, and make sure you take part in the planning and enjoyment. This will model healthy fun.
Follow through with natural consequences (i.e., reduce privileges) if your child is not accountable.
Back to the subject at hand: What do you do if your child is using alcohol or drugs?
Begin by recognizing the seriousness of the subject matter. Confronting your child about suspected alcohol/drug use can be a delicate process. How you handle this will contribute to your success or failure in dealing with the subject. Get information about youth alcohol/drug use, abuse, and addiction from professionals.
We suggest that you then begin to keep a journal, documenting behavior, unusual events, and/or conversations that occur which include incidents of discipline and consequences of use. Don't make idle threats unless you are prepared to follow through with them. If you don't follow through, it is like crying wolf and your child will tune out.
Conversely, worrying, preaching, panicking, jumping to unfounded conclusions, and/or lecturing don't serve a useful purpose. Talk to your spouse, significant other, or trusted friend to validate your concerns. Go to Alanon for parents, (206) 625-0000, and listen to participants who have had experience in this arena. Look for similarities to your situation.
When your documentation sufficiently evidences unusual behavior, confront your child, stating that you want them to see a professional for an evaluation. Make sure that the professional is qualified and skilled in this area. Then, let the professional make an assessment of the situation, and follow the professional's recommendations.
Know that help and support are available.
For more information, call Vall Roney or Rita Webster at People Helping People, (425) 788-1145 or (206) 910-8761. Val Roney is a local chemical dependency treatment expert, having worked in the field of addiction for over 20 years. She completed her course of study at Seattle University and has lived in the Snoqualmie Valley for 30 years. Her associate, Rita Webster, has a BA in psychology from SU, where she is also involved in her Addictions Study Program.