Sep 28, 2011

How to Deal: Teens, Drugs and Alcohol

A parent sent in a familiar question to us recently, confused about how to handle the issue of drugs and alcohol with her teen. We thought we should share this with you all:

My question for you is what to do if your teenager
is doing something dangerous to their health such as doing drugs or
drinking? I don't see how we could find a common ground solution to
something like that....

Dear Anonymous,

You're confused about how to handle the issue of drinking and doing drugs with your children since it doesn't seem reasonable to come to a "common ground" or problem solve.

This is a concern that I hear from time to time. Seeing your child about to dart out in front of oncoming traffic (for example) is something that all parents should immediately prevent by any means possible. These the times when there is "clear and present danger." However, being worried that a child might participate in something like doing drugs or drinking is called a "Values Collision." This is when there is no real tangible "need" from either party. Using Method III in these conflicts of dirrerences can be difficult because both people usually have very strong feelings about the situation.

Our values are ideals or beliefs which shape our behavior and therefore, our values motivate our behaviors. Underlying the conflict that is going on between you and your child(ren) are a number of values. As an adult, our values might be that we want to stay healthy, don't want to risk our jobs, don't want trouble with the law, etc. As an adolescent who isn't experiencing the world in the same way as an adult, their values might be that they want to fit in with friends, they want independence, etc.

The P.E.T. Participant workbook says "Exploiring the needs of the child with Active Listening, being clear about your own needs with I-Language and using Method III can increase mutual understanding and produce creative new solutions. When a conversation reveals true differences of values, P.E.T. provides you with a strategy of influencing skills....The good news is that even though values ar enot easy to change, children often welcome and respect their parent's wisdom and experience in the selection of their own values. Parents can have a positive impact in this area when they use the P.E.T. influencing skills."

We break down resolving values collisions into seven differenc levels, from high-risk to low-risk. They are:
7. Using power
6. Threatening to use power
5. Problem-solving
4. Consulting
3. Confronting and Active Listening
2. Modeling
1. Modifying Yourself

Levels 4 through 2 are the most effective ways of having a REAL influence on your child; influence that lasts. These three levels include getting "hired" as a consultant by your child. This means sharing your concern, but not imposing. As a consultant, it is important to be more of a listener (Active-Listener of course) than a talker. Being prepared knowing the "facts" of the subject that you are talking about is important here as well. Having accurate information for yur child is an effective way to get them listening and engaged. This is not to be confused with using scare tactics, which will do the opposite. Ultimately, leaving the responsibility with the child without nagging and reminding is an extremely effective way to teach your child independence and self-discipline. The temptation to remind and repeat yourself might be strong, but remember what the effects of power and control have. One of the most powerful ways to influence your child is by modeling the behavior yourself. This is not necesarilly in a teaching sort of environment either, because the modeling process takes place "almost automatically." Be sure to avoid showing examples of using double-standards or hypocracy.

You can read much much more about this in the P.E.T. book, the F.E.T. Program, or best of all, the P.E.T. workshop nearest you. I hope this is a good start for you.

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