Supporting my teenager's healthy choices


My 9th grade daughter just told me that her best friend went to a party where there was drinking last weekend and apparently tried alcohol.


My daughter knows she’s too young for this, but she is wondering how to handle if it she finds herself in the same situation.  She knows she has a lot to lose if she messes up.  How can I help her through this dilemma?

- Sincerely Confused


Concerned my teen is using


I recently saw pictures of my 15 year old daughter on MySpace with an alcoholic drink in hand.

Q: My daughter is 15 ½ and has just finished her first year of high school. She was always very smart and in the AIG classes at school. Now she is failing her grade because she will not get up and get to school on time, will not do her work, and keeps saying that she is sick all the time. Now she has started sneaking out, lying to me, screaming and yelling when she doesn’t get her way, leaving the house without permission and not coming home overnight etc. I recently saw pictures on her MySpace with an alcoholic drink in hand. I have tried talking to her and even suggested going to a counselor but she said she wasn’t going that she was not stupid. She was a varsity cheerleader, one of the few freshmen to make it last year, but they wouldn’t let her back on the squad this year due to her tardies. Her dad doesn’t want to be bothered with any form of discipline because he is too busy partying himself. He is an alcoholic and went through rehab twice but now is drinking again. When he starts drinking he starts calling us names and yelling at us. I have tried to explain to both of my children that it is a disease, but I am beginning to see his disrespect of us coming out through her. I don’t want her to ruin her life and feel like I should leave him and maybe it will help us. He doesn’t seem to care what we do and I think it is really bothering her although she says it doesn’t. Please I will take any suggestions that I can get. Thank you.


My daughter is dressing differently, wears perfume, listens to different music, and doesn’t like me to come into her room.  Is this just normal teen behavior or is she hiding something?

Q.  My daughter (14) has been really happy at her new school – we moved last spring and she has adjusted well.  However, I have noticed that she is dressing differently (a lot more black), wears perfume (she never did that before), listens to different music, and doesn’t like me to come into her room.  Is this just normal teen behavior or is she hiding something?  I wonder if she might be covering up the smell of marijuana with the perfume.  What do you think?


I am fairly certain my 14 year old son is smoking and/or dealing in weed.


I have found a very small amount of loose tobacco like leaves in the bottom of his bag.  Is there any way I can test this to find out if it is just tobacco or it is weed?  I want to have my facts straight before I tackle the issue. Thanks.


Underage drinking consequences


My 16 year old daughter recently invited a group of friends over to our house and some kids brought alcohol.


Q. My 16 year old daughter recently invited a group of friends over to our house who were advised ahead of time that there would be no cigarette, alcohol, or drug use allowed.  Her dad and I posted a sign at the door stating the rules.  There were several kids who went ahead and brought alcohol.  My daughter was not involved with the alcohol.  When we discovered this, we took the alcohol from them.  Our intent was to provide a safe environment for our kids, but it turned out differently.  Can you please give some advice as to how to handle teenage parties that we plan to supervise in our house?


Tomorrow, I will be discussing with my 15 year old daughter the incident of her coming home drunk.

Q.  Tomorrow, I will be discussing with my 15 year old daughter the incident of her coming home drunk.  I had to help her to bed when she came in.  At first I tried to talk to her when she came in but she was slurring her words.  Then today she spent most of her time washing her bad linens.  She had thrown up when she went to bed.  I had gotten up an hour later to check on her and that’s when I noticed she had thrown up.  I cleaned off her face and made sure her head was up on the pillow.  I waited because I needed time to collect my thoughts and emotions.  I plan to ground her for 3 weeks, no telephone usage and she will not have any friends come over.  What else can I do when I discuss her consequences with her tomorrow?  I have already talked to her about the dangers of drinking alcohol and doing drugs.  She started hanging around two older boys ages 18 and 20.  She was only allowed one hour a day.  Please respond quickly. My daughter has a 4.0 grade point average in school.  We live in a very remote area in Nevada.  The town consists of 1000 people.  There is not much activity for the young teens.


How do I establish appropriate but meaningful consequences if I catch my child drinking?


Q. Last night, my 10th grade son called me drunk from a friend’s party and asked for a ride home.  Our agreement was that I would supply the ride, no questions asked, which I did.  Well, now it’s the next day and I’m feeling angry about this turn of events.  How do I establish appropriate but meaningful consequences if I catch my child drinking?

 - Curious


What's so wrong with supervising teen drinking?


My husband and I have started allowing our 10th grade son to host parties in our basement and letting the kids drink in a supervised environment.

Q. OK, I guess I’m one of those “bad” parents.  After enduring lots of struggles with our older son, we are now resigned to the fact that some kids will drink.  After finding out our younger 10th grade son also started drinking, we decided this time we wanted to institute some control over the environment where he drinks.  My husband and I have started allowing him to host parties in our basement and letting the kids drink in a supervised environment.  This way, we feel we’re keeping them safe.  What is wrong with this?

- Possibly Clueless


Teens & Smoking


My 13 year old daughter is smoking, she has stolen cigarettes from my husband and we have caught her with them several times.


Q.  Hello, my 13 year old daughter is smoking, she has stolen cigarettes from my husband and we have caught her with them several times. I am not sure what to do about this situation.  I know that almost all teens will try smoking, but she is being so bold about it.  Any suggestions?


I know my teen is using and not sure how to respond


My friends have discovered their 16 year old son is getting high on marijuana.  Besides taking him to a therapist, what else should they do?

Recently my daughter was arrested in Manhattan, smoking pot.


It was a total shock!  My husband and I are grappling with the trust issues, actually more than the pot issues.  How does one appropriate a consequence that has a connection to the offense?  She’s a good kid – got into college Early Decision, was a National Honor Society student, made Honor Roll, etc.  Though she confesses to smoking a few other times (not in the city in broad daylight!) she hasn’t ever been in trouble.  With college in the fall, we feel it’s important to re-establish trust before she goes away.  There’s a trip to Greece with her class.  Do we take that away as punishment or give her the responsibility of going and staying out of trouble?  Thank you for any help you can give.


My son was sold alcohol at a party, got drunk and made some very bad choices.


He is now in prison as a result of his actions.  He is nineteen years old and was sentenced to three years.  He had no previous criminal record.  Do I have any recourse for suing the people who sold him the alcohol?  I don’t know how to help him, or if I can do anything at all.  He is so young and I am afraid this will destroy him.


My 16 year old son recently was arrested for trying to sell a controlled substance and my question is, how can I learn to trust him?


He is on probation for 6 months.  I also know that he is sneaking and smoking.  I plan on him taking “Freedom From Smoking” classes next week.  our family doesn not smoke, do drugs and only occasionally has a drink.  This is not how ii want my son to be.  I just want for him to make good decisions and I want to trust him again.


Concerned about marijuana


How can we teach our teens that marijuana is not a "safe" drug, even though "everyone" does it??


Q.  In this day and age, marijuana seems to have been accepted into society as a “not so horrible drug of choice.  We have heard adults openly criticize people who go out for a cocktail or drink at a party, but then sit in their homes in secret and light up constantly.  How can we teach our teens that marijuana is not a “safe” drug, even though “everyone” does it??


A. Many kids need help developing strategies to get themselves out of sticky situations, such as the one in which your daughter found herself.  A great place to start is role-playing various circumstances that might arise and what responses she might give.  Without a plan of action, or at least a practiced answer to a question such as “Do you want a beer?” many kids end up making choices they don’t want to make.  Like a football player practicing a fumble drill or a firefighter practicing a rescue, teens who think through and role-play responses to tough situations are more likely to do what they want to do than to make a split-second error in judgment due to peer pressure.  Second, I advise families to devise what I call a “bailout plan” – in other words, some way that the young person can extricate herself without embarrassment.  I remember one family’s bailout plan: “If other kids start drinking or using drugs, call home and ask how grandma’s surgery went.  We’ll pick you up around the corner.”

- Stephen Wallace, SADD Chairman and CEO


A. There’s no question that your daughter is an age where behavior change is quite common- as is the testing of limits that might have previously been adhered to without comment. That having been said, she spears to be way over the line and gravitating toward behavior (drinking) that place her at risk. The fact that you don’t have an active parenting partner is a handicap, but not an insurmountable one. Right now, it appears that your daughter has effectively seized control of the situation and, believe it or not, it may be control that she doesn’t really want. It’s time to re-negotiate your roles for the positive. Recognize that she is getting older and needs more freedoms and greater responsibility for decision-making. At the same time, agree to hard and fast boundaries, both real (staying in the house at night) and figurative (no drinking), and stick to them. Agree ahead of time what the consequences will be and be sure to follow through. Family counseling seems in order and if your husband wont go, proceed without him. Finally, although she has been dismissed from the cheerleading team, help your daughter find other activities through which she might find helpful adult mentors who might also serve as a substitute partner for you in your efforts to guide her towards safe choices. A Teens Today study conducted by SADD found that young people with informal mentors such as teachers, coaches, and counselors, feel better about themselves and are more likely to stay away from harmful behaviors. For example, 46% of teens with a mentor reported a high sense of self versus 25 % of teens with a mentor. High sense of self teens feel more positive about their own identity, growing independence, and relationships with peers then do teens with low sense of self. They are also more likely to avoid alcohol and drug use, Teens struggling with those developmental areas, on the other hand, are more likely to drink, to use drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine, and to cite boredom and depression as reasons to have sex. They also note a greater susceptibility to peer pressure when making choices about personal behavior.


A.  You must be pleased that your daughter has adjusted well to her new town and school.  I know form personal experience that moving at age 14 can be tough.  Of course, changes in behavior, including seeking more independence and privacy, are normal during adolescence and generally reflect healthy steps in personal development.  However, what you describe raises some red flags.  Wanting more independence and privacy does not square with excluding you from her room and, while there’s nothing wrong with black clothing or perfume, you are right to be wary … and vigilant!


SADD’s Teens Today research shows that there is a spike in drug use between the 8th and 9th grades and while 95 percent of parents say they trust their teens in making decisions about drugs, only 28 percent of teens report being completely honest with parents on the issue.  And that says nothing of the often elaborate steps teens will take to conceal, not just lie about, their drug use.


On the other hand, there are many young people who don’t use drugs!  They are more likely than those who do to report that they have a close relationship with their parents and to say that their parents exercise a lot of “control” over various aspects of their lives, including where they go, what they do, and whom they are with.  They also report that the most effective ways to steer them away from drugs are perhaps the simplest: discuss the dangers and explain the expectations.


Indeed, teens who have open and honest communication with their parents are more likely to avoid drugs, to try to live up to their parents’ expectations regarding drug use, and to say that their parents’ methods of keeping them away from drugs are effective.  These teens also report that they are less likely to use drugs when their parents make clear that such behavior won’t be tolerated.


Breaking the ice – and receiving honest answers – on these hard to talk about topics is considerable challenge for the parents of most teenagers.  But we know it’s worth the effort.  Here are five quick tips to get started:

  1. Talk at a time that’s convenient for both of you
  2. Express your desire to hear your daughter’s point of view
  3. Communicate your wish to relate to one another
  4. Listen carefully
  5. Establish your expectations for your daughter and explaining what the consequence will be for violating family rules.


A. Well, I say in my book, Reality Gap, “Where there’s smoke there’s (usually) fire.” So, there’s a good chance your hunch is correct.  Check with your local police department about testing of the leaves.  You can, or course, also purchase home drug-testing kits that detect drugs in hair saliva, or urine.  That may seem overly intrusive, but most teens seem to agree that parents who believe their child is involved in, or headed toward, illegal or dangerous behavior have a duty to act.  Given that marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in America and that of all youth age 12-17 in drug treatment in 2000, nearly 62 percent had a primary marijuana diagnosis, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), your concern is well-placed.


A.  It sounds like you did due diligence in notifying your daughter’s guests about the ground rules, reminding them when they arrived, and supervising them while they were there.  I know that many parents also do bag checks, removing any beverages (including water and soda) that might have been mixed with alcohol.  Others simply do not allow bags in the house and do not allow kids to leava nd come back.  The good news is that your daughter was not involved.  While I am sure that you praised her for making a good choice, reiterating your support for her good behavior is important.  Continue to talk with her about the issue, stressing your expectations and what the consequences would be if she violates family rules.


A.  Good for you for sticking to your guns and engaging your daughter in a discussion about alcohol use.  Clearly, she is making decisions that both threaten her health and safety and cause you great worry and inconvenience (yuck – who wants to clean up vomit?)  That she has a 4.0 grad point average is a good place to start.  Reinforce the behaviors that you do want to see before tackling those you don’t.  It’s also helpful that she has heard from you about the many dangers associated with underage drinking – keep reminding her!  You may also want to focus on the unpleasant social outcomes that my come with alcohol use.  Qualitative research from SADD suggests that teens really key in on the relationship risks of drinking, such as saying something to a friend they don’t mean, doing something embarrassing they will later regret, or throwing up on someone (as one teen I know said, “You don’t want to be that guy that throws up on your date.”).  You should also be sure to speak with your daughter about her relationships with older boys, especially if they are also drinking.  Studies also show that a lot of kids say they have done things sexually under the influence of alcohol that they did not want to do – and regret.  According to Teens Today research from SADD, more than one third of sexually active 15-17 year olds say that having sex often leads to depression and loss of self respect.  And, almost one-third of them say that the decisions they make about sex cause them to feel stressed.  In both cases, these feelings are more prevalent among girls than boys.  Be sure to explore with your daughter what values you have regarding early sexual behavior and what your expectations are for her.  Teens want to know where we stand on these issues and what we want for them.  In fact, according to Teens Today, parents are the most influential in a young person’s decision not to become sexually active.  Finally, towns offering few activities for young teens often experience problems with underage drinking and drug use.  While there is no easy fix, forming a community coalition to help teens plan and fund alternative, substance-free events can go a long way toward giving kids who are more inclined to stay away from alcohol or other drugs and easier way to do so.  Some event ideas can be found on SADD’s website,


A. If you agreed to the “no questions asked” approach you should stick to it, at least this time. However, you may want to sit down and have a discussion with your child, clearly explaining how you feel.  You could say that you will pick him up without asking any questions, but you will have a discussion about it the following day when you’ve both had a chance to think about it.

- SADD Student

A. I wouldn’t say you are a “bad” parent – you are simply trying to find the best way to keep your son safe.  But to answer your question directly, I have three concerns regarding the approach you have taken: 1. Underage drinking is illegal, thus you are violating the law by facilitating youth drinking parties in your home.  And, even if you believe it is OK for your son to drink, is it fair to the parents of other kids to make that decision for them?  2. It is unlikely you are gaining the “control” you are seeking by allowing these parties.  According to SADD’s Teens Today research, more than half (57%) of high school teens who report their parents allow them to drink at home say they drink with their friends, as compared to just 14% of teens who say their parents don’t let them drink.  3. It is also unlikely that all these kids are actually “safe.”  Many teens are injured or killed under the influence of alcohol by falling down stairs, wandering outside and freezing to death or drowning, or choking on their own vomit.  Acute alcohol poisoning is another serious threat to young lives.

- Stephen Wallace, SADD Chairman and CEO

A.  There are several concurrent issues here.  One is that your daughter is smoking.  The second is that she is stealing, and the third is that she is continuing her behavior despite your interventions.  Of course, you should continue to discipline her for breaking the rules.  You might also consider keeping your cigarettes under lock and key, such as in the car or in a locked cabinet or closet.  Limiting her access might help, although it is likely she could find another way to obtain tobacco.  Finally, it is often helpful to focus on the risks associated with smoking.  Here are some from SADD:

  • Adolescents who smoke are at risk because the 200 known poisons in smoke can affect normal development. Smoking can also lead to life-threatening diseases, such as chronic bronchitis, heart disease, and stroke.
  • Smoking is the most common cause of lung cancer.  Smoking is also the leading cause of cancer of the mouth, throat, bladder, pancreas, and kidneys.
  • Smoking tobacco causes shortness of breath and dizziness; chewing tobacco causes dehydration.
  • Smoking causes poor circulation, which can lead to cold hands and feet and serous conditions such as blood clots and/or strokes.
  • More than 400,000 Americans die from tobacco-related causes each year.  Most victims began using tobacco before the age of 18.


Tobacco can affect your appearance.

  • Smoking can dry out your skin and cause wrinkles.
  • Smoking can discolor your teeth, giving them a yellow or brownish appearance.
  • There is some research that relates smoking to premature gray hair and hair loss.


A. I applaud your friends’ decision to get help for their son.  Too often adults don’t take marijuana use all that seriously, believing there’s no real harm.  In fact, marijuana is addictive and, much like alcohol and other drugs, it directly affects the brain, impairing the ability of young people to think, learn, and grow … and all of this at a time when significant cognitive reorganization is taking place.  In addition, clinicians observing kids on pot note increased apathy, loss of ambition, diminished ability to pursue long-term plans, and a decline in school performance.  Marijuana is also used by more than a few teens to avoid dealing with, or to mask, important emotions brought about by a lot of “first-time” situations, thus deferring problem solving and delaying healthy emotional development.


SADD’s Contract for Life and Opening Lifesaving Lines brochure, along with the SADD/Liberty Mutual Family Communication Tips, (available at offer fre, constructive, and easy to use advice for parents looking to get the ball rolling in talking to their teen about important issues of alcohol and drug use.  So, too, does the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which advises parents to talke the following steps.

  • Make a plan.  Organize your thoughts.  Decide what you want to say to your teen.
  • Listen.  Ask your teens for their response to the information you’ve presented.
  • Discuss.  Discuss the shared information.  Don’t get lulled into “looking the other way” because it’s easier.
  • Set rules.  Make it very clear that you will not tolerate drug or alcohol use.
  • Establish clear consequences and reward good behavior.  Let your teens know that you will be holding them accountable for their actions and that there will be consequences for not following the rules.


A.  The issue of trust is among the most difficult to navigate.  When the kids we love disappoint us, it hurts – and often makes us question our effectiveness in guiding them.  A common response is What did I do (or not do) that would result in this flagrant disregard of my wishes? You are not alone in your frustration.  Consider for example, that while almost all high school teens (89 percent) say it is important to them to have their parents’ trust, considerably less than half (40 percent) are completely forthcoming about their behavior, according to Teens Today research from SADD.  So, what to do?  Re-establishing trust before your daughter sets sail for college is a great goal.  Once there, she will likely have almost unrestricted freedoms and opportunities to make good or poor choices.  Having an open, honest discussion about family values, expectations and consequences is an important step on the road to a mutually respectful and trusting relationship.  Young people tell us that they want to know where their parents stand on issues like drug use and that they are less likely to engage in unsafe, inappropriate, and illegal behavior when they know what’s expected of them..  As for Greece … that’s a tough call.  Either approach makes sense so I would make that decision part of the discussion with your daughter and decide together.


A.  Providing alcohol to a minor is illegal and punishable in a variety of ways depending on the state in which the violation occurred.  My suggestion is that you contact the local police and let them handle an investigation into the matter and bring whatever charges may be appropriate.  In general, the police and the courts seem to be taking a harder line against those who supply alcohol for individuals under 21 years of age.  Hopefully, your son will find some support systems in prison that will help him get back on track.


A.  Your son is clearly in need of intervention as the choices he is making are putting him at risk.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but being arrested could turn out to be a very lucky break for him, and for you.  When young people are selling drugs, they are often using them as well.  And while drug use among teens is trending downward for more traditional types of drugs, such as marijuana, it is trending upwards in other areas, such as prescription drugs (use of Oxycontin by young people increased 30 percent between 2002 and 2007, according to Monitoring the Future).  Many over-the-counter drugs are also being abused, including cold and pain remedies.  As to you specific question, my guess is that you did nothing wrong!  Sixteen-year-olds make many choices over which we may have influence but research that they use drugs for many reasons, such as

  • “To have fun” (46 percent),
  • “To forget or escape problems” (43 percent), and
  • “To fit in with friends who use drugs” (33 percent).


The important thing is not assigning blame but rather figuring out the motivation behind the behavior and looking for ways to change it.  As for trust, it is generally a long, slow journey to fully re-gain trust when those we love, including our children, violate it.  Part of that journey has to do with your son accepting responsibility for his actions, accepting the consequences, and committing to live by family rules.  If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone; according to Teens Today research, while 95 percent of parents say they trust their teens in making decisions about drugs, only 28 percent of teens report being completely honest with parents on the issue.  And that says nothing of the often elaborate steps they will take to conceal, not just lie about, their drug use.  Continue to monitor your son, paying close attention to his friends, his emotional states (such as anxiety, stress, and depression) and behaviors.  He is lucky to have an active, involved parent.


A. By almost any definition of the word, America faces an epidemic of adolescent drug use.  Teens Today research from SADD reveals that the average age of initiation to drugs is thirteen and that more than one third (35 percent) of teens say they have used some.  Those numbers include almost one in six middle school students report having smoked marijuana and 30 percent of their high school counterparts saying the same (one in four reports having smoked it before or during school).  Here are some things your son needs to know:

  • Marijuana is in fact a “gateway” drug that leads to other drug use.  It may not be addictive for your son or lead him elsewhere, but it could.  It’s a bit like Russian Roulette.
  • Marijuana directly affects the brain.  Researchers have learned that it impairs the ability of young people to concentrate and retain information.
  • Kinds often think its safe to smoke and drive, as opposed to drink and drive, but that is just simply not true.  Each year, for example, marijuana use is linked to tens of thousands of serious traffic accidents.


Research has not established that marijuana is in fact addictive.  Of the 4.3 million Americans who meet the diagnostic criteria for needing drug treatment (criteria developed by the American Psychiatric Association, not police departments or prosecutors) two-thirds are dependent on marijuana.