Today, our children live in more dangerous times and with a higher state of anxiety than we did as teens. Studies also show that smoking is on the rise among young women. Girls as young as 12 are smoking. What is interesting in terms of gender differences is that boys begin smoking because of the influence of their peer group, but girls are more likely to smoke if their parents do. Marijuana is more potent now than ever before, date rape drugs are readily available, and sexual activity with unknown partners can be lethal.

consequences of drugs

The U.S. Department of Education reports on its website that 15 million kids go home to an empty house every day, one-half of them under the age of 14, setting the stage for risk taking and exploration without adult supervision. Risk taking is both normal and developmentally appropriate during adolescence. Teens take risks to see for themselves what works and what doesn’t, to find out who they are and who they aren’t, to test limits, and to create a unique sense of themselves. However, some of what they experiment with can be dangerous, especially today. The following scenario describes how risk creeps into a normal social activity:

Your teenage daughter goes to a party with kids she knows, so she thinks she has no reason to be afraid. Someone secretly drops a drug like Rohypnol or Ecstasy into her drink. When the drug dissolves, it is colorless and odorless. As she consumes the drug, it takes effect. Under the influence of either one of these drugs, she may experience drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, lack of coordination, loss of inhibition, impaired judgment, and reduced levels of consciousness. We all shudder when we think about what can happen under these circumstances.

This is a cold and scary scenario. Some parents ignore this reality, while others are consumed with anxiety about the dangers that can befall their daughter. Knowing this type of risk exists requires you to present this information to your daughter in a way that strikes a balance between scaring the daylights out of her and teaching her to be alert to and aware of her environment.

Girls can have a good time, grow up, and test limits. We have to acknowledge that experimentation is a normal part of development. Yet, if you suspect that your child is excessively using drugs and alcohol, then, of course, you need to step in. Knowledge is power, and to gauge how your daughter is handling her life, you have to be aware of what’s out there.

Susan, the mother of Nikki, said, “During my daughter’s teenage years, I always had a clear understanding that my role was to find a balance between letting my daughter go to parties where she might be faced with temptations and keeping her out of harm. The challenge for me was knowing how to find that balance. Some of the other mothers of my daughter’s friends were clueless and still believed that they could keep their daughters safe at parties by making sure that a parent was home. I learned how naive this was pretty early in Nikki’s life, the day after I let her attend a class sleepover on the last day of third grade (this was an all-girls’ school).

drug addict in hospital

The morning of the party, Nikki woke up with her first migraine after not sleeping at all the night before. She told me that the girls played outside after midnight, and many of them stayed up all night. The host’s parents, seemingly responsible, with a house big enough to hold the entire class, spent the night in their bedroom, while the girls had a 12-hour free-for-all. This was my rude awakening. I knew that after this early experience, the presence of parents did not necessarily offer my daughter any real protection. They probably had strict orders from their daughter to be invisible.

Another father told us how his daughter cried and pleaded with him not to call the boy’s parents at the home of a party. He said, “Through her sobs, she cried, ‘Dad I’ll die if you call; no one’s parents call; it will be the kiss of death. I won’t go, just don’t call!’ And she’s right. I’ve asked around; after a while most parents stop calling.”

Many parents had personal stories that rivaled the plot of the movie Risky Business. One mother said, “Your house is a bull’s-eye if you aren’t home. Imagine how fast the news of your absence spreads with cell phones and e-mail. My daughter, Rachel, invited a few of her friends to our house when my husband and I were going to be away for the weekend (the first time in seven years). Rachel, in her naiveté, thought she could put up tape to block off the newly decorated living room, believing that a masking tape barrier would protect my new furniture from 200 of her ‘closest’ friends.

“We decided to go away because of our friends’ willingness to house sit. They parked their car in front of the house in order to prevent kids, who came in droves, from entering the house. Our friends observed a Field of Dreams–like line of car headlights for the entire block and around the corner. My daughter knew that there were going to be more kids than she had planned when groups of kids from other high schools descended on the house.”

Many other parents had similar stories. Donna, Stephanie’s mother, said, “During Steph’s first high school party, she had the largest boy, a defense tackle, guard the food while the jewelry upstairs was left unguarded. Did she think the milk and American cheese were more valuable than my engagement ring?” That’s how naive they are. Their judgment is that of a teenager, and consequences seem less important than the attraction of doing something they know they aren’t supposed to do. No matter how smart your daughter is, you can’t anticipate how convoluted her reasoning can become.

As a parent, you must protect your child and yourself from the potential consequences of these incidents, knowing how out of hand they can get in a flash. These years take a kind of parental vigilance the military would be proud of. Those of you who have tried to substitute an older sibling for an adult find it does not work very effectively because that sibling is stuck between a rock and a hard place; he or she has to straddle two roles. This is a time of life when no one really should substitute for an attentive parent or other caring adult.

Experimentation, which is a normal part of adolescent exploration, often includes alcohol and drugs. However, there is a major difference between teenage exploration and the use of alcohol and drugs for self-medication. If your daughter suffers from depression, struggles with other psychological diagnoses, such as bipolar disorder, or has been the victim of abuse, she may use drugs and/or alcohol to self-soothe.