Making the decision to test your teen for drugs use is a difficult step that involves much thought and careful consideration for all parents. It also means having a discussion with your child that is likely to be one of the hardest of both your lives. Take your time when going over the things that have you concerned that drug use could be involved. Compare what you know about your child; what they say on the matter and the signs you’ve seen to come to the right decision. Below are a few pros and cons to be considered before you begin.
Can you order a drug test for your 15-year old son or daughter? Of course. You can do it for any of your children, whether they are 15, 16, 17 or 18. You can order a drug test for your teenage kids, period. But ordering the test is the least of your concerns. It’s literally a few clicks away.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), of the 7800 people who begin using illegal substances every day, more than half are under 18 years old. Perhaps one of the biggest fears any parent will ever have to go through is to see their child getting into drugs. If a parent suspects that his/her adolescent child may be fooling around with drugs, a common first reaction will be to haul that kid to the doctor and have him tested.
But is this the wisest option for a parent to take?
The child will surely deny using drugs and resent this intrusion into his/her privacy. Unless the parent actually sees their teen using drugs, getting that child to agree to a drug test will very likely end up in a shouting match. The child will feel that his parents don’t trust him, creating a rift between them. Even if the child is truly into dangerous and illegal substances, he may downright refuse to get tested.
So what’s a parent to do?
There are no easy answers. What’s ultimately hanging in the balance here is the relationship between parent and child, not to mention the child’s future if he is truly into substance abuse. Firstly, parents need to identify the warning signs of teenage substance abuse before they take appropriate action:
Understand that less than 20% of teens will seek healthcare that’s related to drug use, STDs or birth control if their parents will have to be notified. They fear disapproval, embarrassment or punishment/violence.2 This means your teenager will very likely NOT want to talk to you about their drug or alcohol habits (if any), but it doesn’t mean you cannot try.
Before you do anything else, at least attempt to talk to your teenager first. Find the time for a sit-down discussion. Make him/her understand your concerns. Assure your child that you are making no judgment but that if you’re both to move forward from this, you expect him/her to be open and honest with you. Getting your child to talk to you can help you assess the extent of his/her experimentation with drugs, information that can help you as a parent to take appropriate action.3
Long before it becomes a problem for you as a parent, educate your child about the availability of healthcare services for minors who may be having drug or alcohol problems. Many states have laws that protect teen confidentiality for specific services, including mental health, reproductive & sexual health and drug & alcohol treatment. Knowing about these services and knowing that their confidentiality will be protected can encourage teens to seek help for conditions that they may wish to keep from their parents.
For the sake of discussion let’s assume you were able to get your teen to agree to a drug test. The assurance of anonymity and confidentiality is critical at this point. Your teen will need to know that his/her privacy will be protected. The most obvious next step is to order a home drug test kit that can be used in the privacy of your own home (see video: Are Home Drug Tests a Better Alternative).
Now there are 2 ways to drug test teenagers;
1) Use an instant home test kit which provides instant, private results, e.g.:
2) Laboratory-based drug testing for confirmation of preliminary results, e.g.
Split-specimen test cups are popular among parents and educators because in the event of a positive instant drug test result, half of the original sample can be sent to the nearest lab for confirmatory testing.
There are drug test kits that contain special key codes and passcodes. These are the only information needed to get the test results from the laboratory, no personal information necessary (see video tutorial).
If purchasing a hair drug test, all you have to do is follow the instructions on how to collect hair sample, use the provided packaging for sending it out to the lab and wait for the results that should be ready in 2-3 business days. Hair testing, of course, is the method of choice if you suspect long-term substance use. It will tell you what your teen has been putting inside his body in the past 3 months at least.
Before you go this route, your teen has to agree to let his pediatrician test him for drug use. You cannot cart your child over to the doctor on false pretenses, only to ask the doctor to test for drug use without your child’s knowledge. You cannot ask the doctor to mislead your teen into providing a urine sample by telling him it is for some other test. Drug testing an adolescent of sound mind without his knowledge and/or consent isn’t only unethical, it is illegal.4
Experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics also agree that forced and involuntary testing far outweighs potential benefits. This kind of situation puts the doctor in an awkward position in the face of an anxious parent but no self-respecting doctor would subject his minor patient to the trauma of being restrained just to get a catheter specimen.
On the other hand, if the doctor is someone your child has grown to trust over the years of being under their care, you might want to talk to that doctor about your concerns. Your doctor will likely offer to see your teenage child privately and you should accept that. Sometimes teens will be more forthcoming when talking to a figure of authority (teacher, coach, doctor etc.) other than their parents. They may be persuaded to undergo some tests as well. Your pediatrician can offer education, counseling, and testing for other risk factors that often accompany drug use, like mental illness, depression or sexual activity.
Your doctor can try to help your teen to talk to you about what’s going on, usually under the premise that there will be no punishment.5 However, if your child refused, understand that he has the right to keep his medical records private, even from you. Healthcare providers have to walk the delicate balance between preserving the trust that their teenage patient has for them and knowing when they will need their parents’ input and support. One circumstance where a doctor can divulge information to parents without the teen’s consent is when the doctor feels the child is in a life-threatening situation. Confidentiality agreements and laws vary from state to state. You and your teen should discuss the confidentiality policies of your healthcare provider.
If your teen is an athlete or active in any of their school’s recognized organizations and extra-curricular activities; or if you and your teen have volunteered to become a part of the general school population that participates in the school district’s drug testing policy; and it’s the school that’s ordering the drug test, then total anonymity and confidentiality may not be possible.
You may have to take your teen to the lab where he/she will have to supply personal information. However, it is a more common practice for schools to do the test within school premises - in the school infirmary or the school nurse’s office.
The exact procedures for getting students tested should be documented in the school’s drug testing policies and procedures (check this out: Random Drug Testing Policies and Procedures). The procedures are designed to protect the students should any of the results come back positive. While the test results will not become part of the school records nor are they to be disclosed to other parties, there are at least a few school officials who will be privy to the results along with the students themselves and their parents.
These are some of the biggest points in this decision. While you may have an answer to your concerns but you may also have caused your child to feel invaded upon, mistrusted and bullied. You will need to seriously evaluate the signs you feel are there and decipher if they are the normal behavior of a teenager or those of a person with a hidden drug problem. Talking about the risks of drugs is also a great way to gauge where your child stands on their use. Explain to your child why you feel the test is necessary and talk through your feelings on the matter to better convey your concern and intentions.
In this case, the trust that needs rebuilding is your own. Until a definitive positive result is noted there is still an element of trust on your part. If your fears are proven you may take a long time to trust your child again.
Regular testing means that your child can say no with a positive voice and reasoning that other teenagers can understand. However, while asking your child to submit to drug screenings on a regular basis may help prevent them from using them at all it‘s not foolproof. There are many different ways to fool these drug tests, especially if you’re not careful enough in planning irregular testing patterns.
You’ll have to consider these things when you consider home testing your teen. Most home drug tests can only check for a few types of use and can only test so far before the test date. This is problematic because there are several drugs that can pass through the system very quickly, evading a more basic drug test.
While you can save money and stress by using home testing kits you also might find yourself wondering if you did the test right and how accurate the results truly are. Privacy can be helpful but it can also mean feeling overwhelmed.