Mom shares 15-year-old son’s positive drug test and encourages testing, psychologist weighs in

It's okay to drug test your child, but it should be done sensitively, says a psychologist.
It's okay to drug test your child, but it should be done sensitively, says a psychologist.
Getty Images/boonchai wedmakawand
  • A mother tweeted the results of a drug test of her teenage child, which tested positive for marijuana.
  • Many people supported her decision to do the drug test, while others disagreed with her doing it discreetly.
  • A psychologist tells News24 that she agrees with parents drug testing their children; it has to be done respectfully and sensitively.

A mother posting the results of her 15-year-old son's drug test on Twitter has sparked a discussion about whether parents and caregivers should normalise drug testing their kids.

On 15 September, Madlangisa Thole Thombeni tweeted: “My advice to all parents with teenagers: normalise testing your children for  drugs and alcohol abuse, so that [you] can possibly help them on time, this is my son[‘s] results, and he is only 15.”

The mom shared a photo of the drug test results along with the tweet. While her teenage son tested negative for methamphetamine (MET), cocaine (COC), opiates (OPI) and amphetamine (AMP), the test showed a positive result for marijuana (THC).

Madlangisa wrote: “He ran away from the house soon after I showed him the results, he claimed that it was a peer pressure and that he only smoked once (sic).”

While someone responded by saying that “most teenagers test positive for marijuana,” the mother said: “It may be marijuana for now. Tomorrow it could be something uncontrollable … a drug is a drug this should not be taken light by any parent (sic).”

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Other people commended the mother, saying that “most parents remain in denial until it's too late.” 

News24 spoke to a psychologist who believes that drug testing your children isn’t going too far but that it really matters how the parent or caregiver approaches the situation.

Doing it the right way

Navigating drug testing your child can be a slippery slope, so it’s important that as a parent or caregiver, you consider the right approach. This can make a significant difference in maintaining a trusting and healthy relationship with your child, Jenny Perkel, a Cape Town-based clinical psychologist and author of Children in Mind, tells News24.

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“Addictions and drug use in the teenage years can have serious consequences and often indicates underlying mental distress, trauma and mental health problems. So I would suggest doing the testing and handling it with care if tests are positive,” says Perkel.

Perkel stresses the importance of parents and caregivers working together as a team in their child’s best interest.

A simple conversation between parents or caregivers and their teenage child could go something like this:

“We can see it may be hard for you sometimes to resist certain substances, and we’ve been worried about that. And we are on the side of health for you - we’re on your side. We want to try to help you navigate this time in your life when you are quite vulnerable to things going wrong, and taking any kind of drugs is something that could derail you so badly.

“And so, because sometimes we suspect that there may be drugs in your body, we want to dissuade you from doing that as much as possible, and we want to, from time to time, do drug tests with the aim of keeping you clean so that you can navigate these next few years as safely as possible. Let’s be together as a team in this - we want what’s best for you, and we know you want what’s best for you,” advises Perkel.

Marijuana use effects

A previous News24 article noted that, sadly, marijuana use in teenagers was not uncommon: the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU) in the Northern Cape reported that 36% of patients admitted to rehabilitation and treatment centres for substance abuse were aged 10 and 19. 

Studies have also shown that adolescents who use marijuana heavily tend to show disadvantaged attention, learning and processing speed, among other effects. Research published this year also revealed that teens are more vulnerable to marijuana addiction than adults. 

READ MORE | 'He has gone back to smoking dagga again': How to handle teen drug addiction

Kate Rowe of also previously told News24 that simply telling a teenager about the dangers of drug use is not enough. Instead, they would need the support to develop skills to navigate peer pressure - if that is the reason behind their drug use - and to work with a counsellor who will be able to help them to do that.

It may also help to talk to other parents who are going through a similar experience. Not only can that feel very supportive, but the other parents may also be able to share what worked, and did not with their kids, added Rowe.

READ MORE | Is it ever okay to snoop on your teenagers?

Says Perkel: “If you have reached that place as a parent where you are doing drug tests, then something has perhaps gone a little wrong, and I think maybe one of the clever things to do, as a parent, is to see a psychologist yourself to help you navigate this difficult route and to give you ideas on how to manage your teenager, and what to say and do.” 

“Because if a teenager is being suspected of taking drugs, then things are not as they should be, and the parents may well need some help to guide and steer their teenager safely through whatever it is that they’re going through,” she adds.

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