To Snoop or Not to Snoop: Issues of Trust and Privacy
This woman did not lose her sense of humor while at the same time doing a great job of Raising the Bottom. Way to go Pat!
~By Pat Aussem
Despite the fact that my son Alex was cutting his sophomore classes and ignoring mounting piles of homework assignments, he readily morphed into a Constitutional scholar right before my very eyes whenever it came to the subject of privacy. He had no aspirations to be a lawyer, but argued like one, vehemently stating that privacy was a basic human right, protected under the auspices of the 9th Amendment. In his pursuit of life, liberty and unfettered drug use, he felt that his room, belongings, computer, and cell phone were off limits to parental scrutiny.
As he was growing up I gave him what I thought was age-appropriate privacy, but once Alex broke the rules of our home by using substances, all bets were off. I was waging an all out war against substance use and I needed as much information about my enemy (drugs) as possible. Not only did it give me a handle on what was going on, but it allowed me to share information with his therapist so that we could determine the appropriate level of intervention, more therapy, an outpatient or inpatient program.
While he was actively using, I found drugs and drug paraphernalia in the most creative places – inside an electric pencil sharpener, under the rug in a corner of the closet, and inside books where pages had been cut out, not to mention clothing pockets and his backpack. Checking Facebook and text messages on his cell phone also proved to be enlightening with messages like “R U puffin 2nite?” Although I did not use computer-monitoring software like eBlaster to track instant messages and email, some parents do this as well.
When I found my postal scales in his room, I immediately suspected that in addition to using, Alex was most likely dealing, a realization that terrified me on so many levels – his escalating drug use, the danger of dealing with drug dealers and the legal implications, to name a few.
I carted everything I had found with us to Alex’s next therapy appointment, placed it on his therapist’s table with a dramatic flourish and said, “What do we do about this?” As recognition flitted across Alex’s face, he blanched while the therapist commented that it didn’t “look good” and he would talk to Alex in more detail while I cooled my heels in the waiting room.
Unfortunately, Alex was masterful at spinning great stories and used his talents to get his therapist to believe that it was all a “big mistake” and everything belonged to a “friend,” although they both agreed it was the product of poor decision-making. The therapist went on to assure me that Alex was not dealing.
As much as I truly wanted to believe him, I had strong doubts and continued to be vigilant. It was not long afterward that another discovery led to Alex’s placement in an outpatient program, and eventually, an inpatient program.
While Alex was in the inpatient program, my husband, younger son and I attended their Family Education Program. When we arrived at the point in the program where the facilitator, Mark, brought up snooping, there was a great deal of giggling over the many imaginative places our teens had chosen to hide their drug stashes, wishing in a unified lament that they would channel their creativity to the good.
One comment Mark made that has stuck with me in this regard is that we could retire our CSI-like skills when our teens returned home. He told us that we would know long beforehand if they had chosen to start using again by their behaviors– a sort of uneasy restlessness, being short-tempered, skipping AA meetings, wanting to see former using friends, etc.
I took Mark’s advice and turned in my decoder ring and trench coat when Alex came home. I could see that Alex was not using and prayed that it would stay that way, noticing the day in ups and downs, but nothing that signaled the return to the pre-rehab nightmare.
The postscript is that Alex will celebrate five years of sobriety on September 27th.
So if I had it to do over again, would I snoop? Most definitely pre-treatment. I think parents need to know what their adolescents are doing in order to to determine the next steps to take. Every time I found something, I imposed consequences in an effort to make Alex’s drug-using life as miserable as I could. I wanted him to reach his bottom with drugs and I would do anything to speed up the process. And I would encourage any parent faced with a teenager using drugs to do the same.
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