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3 serious problems with home drug tests for teens

Updated on September 20, 2007

The risks of drug testing your teen

With all the controversy over school drug testing and with readily available and heavily advertised drug testing kits on the internet, parents may be wondering whether they should be drug testing their kids in the home.

There are some definite advantages to knowing with certainty whether or not your kids are at risk for substance abuse or addiction, and drug tests hold the promise of that concrete knowledge. They also may serve as a deterrent to use, but there are some serious questions about their efficacy, about the effect they may have on the parent-child relationship, and the practical difficulties involved in testing someone against their will and consent.

3 problems with drug testing teenage children

1 They don't work as well as advertised

A recent independent laboratory investigation of heavily promoted drug testing kits for parent's has concluded that they do not work nearly as well as indicated on the packaging, and for some drugs may giving false negatives (incorrectly indicating no drug use) up to 40% of the time.

Parents may not be handling the sample correctly or performing the test correctly, and the testing kits may not be as sensitive as needed.

Additionally, there are a number of counter measures that kids can take to mask the appearance of drugs. Some of these are consumable substances readily available cheaply on the internet, and when taken block the ability of tests to recognize metabolites, and some measures can be as basic as adding water to urine to dilute the metabolites below the detectable level.

2 They damage the parent child relationship

As much as proponents (mostly those in business to profit from the tests) argue that the tests have a negligible effect on the trust relationship between parents and children, family psychologists' are not so sure that this is so.

Teens crave autonomy, and they also demand trust and respect, and when parents use drug tests the message is quite clear…"I don’t trust what you say".

Trust is a two way street, and although drug testing may be able to detect some drug use some of the time, if it lessens a child's readiness to confide in you or seek your council on other important and serious matters of growing up, then it may be doing more harm than good.

We all want to protect our kids, and drugs are pretty scary, but drug abuse and addiction is far from the only risk to our kids as they emerge through adolescence. We all hope that our kids will come to us should they ever have a serious and scary problem of their own, yet by compromising that trust relationship, this may not happen as we'd like.

3 How do you test someone who is non compliant?

If your teen does not agree to be drug tested, how will you collect the sample? Although many web sites will extol the virtues of drug testing, few get into the logistics of the act.

Will you wrestle a hair from your son's head?

Will you hold your daughter down for a saliva sample?

Will you watch them in the bathroom as they deliver a urine sample?

The realities of the process can get pretty complicated, and none of the above scenarios are ones any parent would relish.

There are some advantages to testing your kids, and a positive drug test may give you the early warning you need to stop experimentation before it becomes something far worse; but parents need to consider the advantages and the disadvantages to a drug testing policy carefully, and decide for themselves whether it does more harm or more good.

See below for a discussion on the advantages of drug testing your teens


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