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Teacher to Parent: You walk a fine line into potential trouble when drug testing your child

Drugs at my child’s school are rampant, and I want to help her avoid them. I am considering randomly drug testing her with home tests, not to “catch” her, but to help discourage her from using in the first place. Can it work?

I would think it can, but it depends on a number of factors. How good are you at threading needles?

The desire to prevent one’s kids from ever doing drugs should be strong in every parent. Illicit drugs can be deadly. They are also diabolical. They will torture you and those around you while they are killing you. Anyone who has ever had to cope with a family member addicted to drugs knows that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. That ounce can spare the people you love a lifetime of misery.

The threat of drug use among kids today is likely at its most dangerous level in history. With social media, peer pressure has never been stronger. Drugs are more potent and easier to get. The cultural disapproval of drugs has been relaxed by shortsighted adults clamoring for legalization and schools scouring away anti-drug messaging. Kids are more stressed, depressed, and anxious than ever, making them more vulnerable to drugs’ allure. According to Laurie Martin and Alyssa Milot of Child Trends, over 54 percent of high school seniors report trying some type of illicit drug. I would only expect that number to rise.

While all of this is manifestly true, drug testing kids comes with high risks itself. The most serious is that it could break your relationship with your children at a time when they need you the most. Clearly it’s a big, bold, invasive step, so it must be carefully contemplated. Consider:

  • If you’re already a helicopter parent, things can start to feel oppressive for your child very quickly. Testing could backfire by pushing them to rebel, possibly sparking the very drug use you’re trying to prevent.
  • You can’t halfway do it. Certified Addiction Specialist Larry Fritzlan says testing must be random, observed, frequent, and varied. “If even one of these elements is missing,” he writes, “a teen can fake the test.” Drinking lots of water, adding bleach to samples, or claiming “I can’t pee with you watching me,” can easily subvert the results, so you’d better know what you’re doing. A drug test that your kid knows he can beat is worse than no test at all.
  • You can’t let testing replace reasonable vigilance. You still need to know where your kids are and who they’re hanging out with.
  • You’ll have to determine whether to test for just drugs or also alcohol and tobacco. Both of these can be as bad, or worse, in terms of risk to your kids’ health.
  • A plan should already be in place should the test ever come back positive. It would be a good idea to develop this plan together with your child.
  • Your kids’ friends will try to convince them you’re crazy. The case will be compelling. The burden will be on you to prove otherwise. You must ensure your children know you are doing this

for them, not to

  • them. They’ll only buy into it if they genuinely trust you.
  • Kids should understand how they can benefit from the testing. One advantage is that it gives them an easy release from peer pressure. Most kids truly want to say no to drugs, but it’s difficult when they have to resist on their own. Placing the onus on you by telling friends, “I can’t because my parents drug test me,” can help.
  • The testing should be an opportunity to open up communication with your child about drugs, not a shortcut to conflict. A conversation is superior to a lecture, especially in this delicate situation.

Now that we’ve done so much contemplating, let’s lay it on the line directly. There’s more than one way to lose a child. Drugs is one. A broken, mistrustful relationship is another. The testing you’re considering must do more than prevent your kids from ruining their lives with drugs. It must also help forge a stronger, more positive relationship with you. Yes, I know. That’s an ultra-fine needle to thread. But if you can’t accomplish both, you’d do well to seek a different strategy.

Jody Stallings has been an award-winning teacher in Charleston since 1992 and is director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance. To submit a question or receive notification of new columns, email him at Follow Teacher to Parent on Facebook at and on Twitter @stallings_jody or on Instagram at jstallings.teacher_to_parent

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