I need help in making a decision. I have four children… The oldest, who is fifteen years old, is using drugs. He has been suspended from schools several times for fighting, and just now they found drugs on him and have suspended him again.

I am desperate and don’t know what to do. I am divorced. The children’s father lives in another country, and we have no communication with him. I don’t want my other children to follow the example of their oldest brother.

Dear Friend,

As we write to you, we can’t help but feel the desperation that you have expressed. And although we have some words of counsel for you, there is absolutely nothing we can write that will make it easier for you. In fact, if you choose to follow our advice, your problems may get more difficult for a while. But if you stand firm, even when you think you can’t do it another minute, you will see results.

The first thing to do is to have a serious talk with your son. Explain to him that his actions are harmful, not only to himself, but also to his younger siblings. Tell him that due to the fact that you love him enough to DO WHATEVER IT TAKES to get his behavior under control, from now on every negative behavior on his part will involve a consequence, and that you are determined to make sure that he experiences the consequences of each and every negative behavior.

Make a written list as you continue this talk with your son. Write down each behavior that is unacceptable and then the consequence that he will suffer if he chooses to engage in the forbidden behavior. The consequences should be less severe for minor infractions of the rules, and more severe for serious behavior issues. Some obvious consequences that come to mind involve depriving your son of certain privileges for a set amount of time, such as leaving the house to be with friends, talking on the phone, using a computer, and keeping you from inspecting his belongings.

The difficult part for you is that you must only set consequences that you can enforce. So don’t write down any consequence before you have figured out a way to make sure he will follow it. For example, if the consequence is that he cannot leave the house to be with friends, you must be there to make sure he doesn’t. If the consequence is that he cannot talk on the phone, you must be willing to unplug the house phone and keep it with you, along with any cell phone he might have use of, to make sure he can’t use them. If a consequence involves the computer, you may have to confiscate the keyboard. Teenagers are very resourceful, so you have to think of all the ways your son might figure out to escape his consequences. You have to stay one step ahead of him, always knowing what your next step will be.

You will probably have to work from early in the morning until late at night just to monitor your son’s actions. You will have to accompany him to school and then home again. If you cannot do this because of your work schedule, maybe there is a relative or friend who can help you out. We don’t know your circumstances, but we do know that you must find some way to make sure your son is not ever outside of the supervision of responsible adults. Before he can use the drugs, he has to get money from somewhere and meet with someone to buy them. If you manage to keep him from getting the money for the purchase or from meeting the seller, you will effectively keep him from getting the drugs and thus stop the problem.

If your son’s school has a counselor, talk to that person, if you haven’t already done so, about programs that may be available to help students quit using drugs. Make sure that your son participates in one of them in any way possible. He won’t want to, so you will have to set up a reward system to motivate him. For example, you can tell him that if he goes to the meetings, he can earn back some of the privileges he has lost. If that doesn’t work, find something that will work.

Your success in keeping your son off drugs depends to a great extent on how determined you are. NEVER give up. NEVER say you just don’t know what you’re going to do. ALWAYS think of another consequence, another reward, or another way to make sure that he does what you know is best. He will probably tell you that he hates you and that you are ruining his life. And he will undoubtedly make your life more miserable than it already is. But if you manage to stay strong, it will make a huge difference not only in his future but also in the future of your other children, for they too will learn about consequences from seeing what is happening to their oldest brother.

Lastly, find some support for yourself. You need someone to talk to and someone who can advise you. Many churches have programs for recovering drug users and their families. Going to such a church will also give you more opportunities to connect with God, who loves you very much and wants to give you strength for the difficult path you have ahead of you. As you reach out to God and tell Him your problems through prayer, He will put ideas in your mind that will help you know how to handle the issues of each day, and will give you the wisdom you need to guide your son through this dangerous time in his life.

Never give up!

Linda and Charles