Skip to Content

Trust but Verify


An item out of California this week highlights an ongoing dilemma for parents.

Should they trust their teens or test them? When a teenager says, “No, I don’t do drugs and I don’t drink” are they lying? Does it ruin a relationship if mom or dad wants to find out for sure?

The conflict arises because statistics show that a great many teens are experimenting – just as the age group has been for decades. The difference is that modern technology now allows a parent to test for illegal drugs and alcohol at home, sometimes for just a few dollars. Is it a parent’s duty to do so?

A story out of Placer, California tells about a program offered in the County where parents can purchase a test kit for $10 that will show the presence of ten different abused substances. Also offered, at $2, is one that screens for alcohol. They can buy the tests at the local high school or at the County Sheriff’s office. The substances tested for include marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy.
One critical element is that further testing is available and the results are not shared with law enforcement. Only the individual submitting the follow-up sample for testing is given the results. This means that a parent will know, but they do not have to fear arrest of their child if the test is positive.

Whether or not parents will adopt this offer and start checking on their teens isn’t known. And it raises another question. Suppose you found out your teen was using pot or meth or some other substance? What measures would you then take?

Without guidance and treatment available, parents might be in the position of knowing something they would rather have been kept ignorant of. This adds another dimension to the difficult task of shepherding a child into adulthood.

As these types of programs catch on, more and more parents will be faced with the difficult decision. Along with the availability of inexpensive testing, there has to be a push toward educating parents on one essential element: Early intervention is clearly best to head off the consequences of serious addiction. With that caveat, parents can more readily see the testing as a tool and not an emotionally crippling loss of faith in their child. Only by thinking of it as a medical issue, as appropriate as school vaccinations, will parents take on the responsibility of finding out the truth, as harsh as it may be.