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Ask Dr. Kerwin: Should I Let My Teen Go To This Party?

Parent wants to know whether she should allow her teen to go to a party where there's likely to be drugs involved

Q: My 16-year-old son wants to attend a high school party next Saturday night where there’s a good chance there will be drugs and alcohol, and I really don’t like the crowd of teens who will be there. However, he really wants to go and keeps asking me about it. What do I say?

A: There are a lot of factors involved here, and my answer would depend on understanding your teen’s personality, track record with substances and clinical history (if any).

First of all, his personality needs to be considered. There are adolescents who might be able to dabble once or twice a year with marijuana or alcohol and not become enmeshed in that world. On the other hand, for other adolescents, even one drink or puff is one too many.  If your teen has a history of drug addiction, or a track record of getting high at these kinds of parties, then letting him go should be a non-starter. It’s just too risky. As a parent, you have a responsibility to protect your child, and this might be one of the times where you may need to put your foot down. That said, if that is the case, your response shouldn’t just be “no.” It should reflect the middle-path approach.

Ask your son why he wants to go to this party. If they say to see my friends, or everyone’s going, invite them to host a party at your house. Tell them to bring all the kids over. If they mention the drug and alcohol appeal, that’s when you can say, Well—that’s not gonna happen.

Next, if your teen has been to these kinds of parties in the past and has come out unscathed—meaning, he’s been able to withstand the peer pressure of friends drinking and using drugs without succumbing—I may consider allowing him to attend, particularly if he promises not to participate in any of the illicit activities.  Further, if you want to give them a chance to prove themselves, you might let them earn the privilege of attending this party. How they can “earn” this is up to you, but it should relate to them showing that you can trust them.

What happens if your teen gets so angry at you for not allowing them to go, and they turn to physical or verbal aggression, or threaten to go anyway? At this point you may need to get professional help. If your teen’s behavior has become so oppositional and out of control that you are scared to say “no” to them, they may have clinical ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) or DMDD (Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder). Talk to a mental health professional. It may be time to bring your teen to an intensive outpatient (IOP), partial hospitalization (PHP) or residential treatment program (RTC). There are teen mental health programs that specialize in DMDD, ODD, Conduct Disorder and other behavioral/anger management issues.

I will note that to prevent such a struggle from occurring in the first place, I would advise you, as well as all parents, to try to be as present in your adolescent’s life as possible. Be involved in their daily life, ask questions, talk to them about their friends and school. Know who they’re hanging out with and what they’re doing. Monitor their goings-on. Research shows that parental involvement is the number-one predictor of positive teen conduct. Appropriately monitoring your teen’s social life can limit major conflicts between family members and prevent certain mental health or substance abuse issues from developing in the first place.

Note: The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or mental health professional for questions about your adolescent.

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