Is your teen using drugs? Either you’re right and your son or daughter has a problem, or you’re wrong and mistrust could drive a wedge between you and your child.
To help with such delicate dilemmas, the non-profit organization notMYkid issued free home drug testing kits in locations including San Diego, Los Angeles County, Phoenix, Atlanta, Tennessee and New York.
This approach has many advantages, including giving teens a clear reason to resist peer pressure. But it has attracted criticism from parents and organizations such as American Academy of Pediatrics, leaving many unsure of what to do about their teen’s suspected drug use.
The Benefits of Home Drug-testing
It might seem like a bit of an extreme measure to take in a home setting—being more closely associated with law enforcement, workplaces, and professional treatment centers—but there are many benefits to testing teens for drug use at home. The most immediately obvious is that it’s a deterrent for kids tempted to try drugs. Knowing how likely it is that they’ll be caught, they will presumably avoid the risk. Alongside this, it assists in removing the doubts and uncertainties that parents have regarding their teens, providing objective results that are fairly difficult to fake or subvert.
The founder of notMYkid, Debbie Moak, had problems with her teen that drove her to create the charity. She argues that the drug testing kits are “a real way for a kid to say no to their peers and not have to start down this path.” This is also a definitive advantage of drug testing, because peer pressure is one of the main reasons kids end up turning to drugs. Instead of having to refuse their friends’ offers on a more moral level (saying “no” seems equivalent to saying “I don’t agree with drugs, and therefore I don’t like your behavior”), teens are given a practical, punishment-based reason to refuse.
The test-kit giveaway was timed to coincide with April 20, an unofficial marijuana-smoking holiday, giving kids additional support against peer pressure when it might be most needed. In total, 3,600 kits for home urine tests were distributed across the country during the promotion.
Drug-testing teens at home might seem like a good idea, but it has attracted serious criticism. Firstly, drugs are only detectable in urine for a short period of time, and this varies from drug to drug. This means that catching occasional drug use in a teen isn’t always possible. For example, if your daughter used MDMA on Friday, a drug test on Monday would reveal nothing, or perhaps only a faint “negative” line would be visible. Either way, this result can only be interpreted as saying she hasn’t used drugs, although she actually has.
In a similar way, tests can be cheated to show a misleading result. A report in U.S. News tells the story of a parent who believed that his son’s marijuana use was decreasing as a result of regular drug testing. The parent’s was put at ease, but in actuality his son had switched to drugs such as LSD that weren’t detectable by the tests. During this time, the parents thought that there was nothing to worry about — they were wrong. In reality, their confidence in the testing meant that they didn’t put their son into treatment until the problem had become even more serious.
A final critique of the approach is that home drug testing kits gives parents a more authoritarian, cop-like role in their teen’s eyes. Giving your teen a test is a clear message of mistrust, and the punishment you may be continually forced to inflict could have lasting consequences. Your role is as the caring parent; playing cop could damage your bond at a fragile time.
Is Testing the Best Approach?
Overall, it’s clear that there are many more issues with home testing than there are benefits. While you might give your teen a concrete explanation for refusing his friend’s offer of drugs, you’ll also set yourself up as an “enemy” and potentially damage the trust in your relationship. There are a multitude of concrete reasons that teens should avoid using any drugs, and these can be just as protective against peer pressure. Educate yourself about the risks of drugs, and the specific risks for the developing brains and bodies of teens, and always be willing to talk to your sons or daughters about their issues. The giveaway from notMYkid is a positive gesture and generates much-needed awareness, but home testing kits are ultimately a hollow, limited strategy for dealing with teen drug abuse.