Saying “yes” to drug testing so our children say “no” to their peers

If you’re like most parents, completing the back-to-school registration packet can be a bit overwhelming. The packet often includes a permission form for parents allowing their child to participate in a voluntary drug-testing program. Many parents don’t understand how these types of programs actually work or their benefits. For student athletes, participation in a drug-testing program is usually required. However, for those who are not part of a sports team, parents are often asked to opt in during registration. This is often a challenging decision for parents.

The mother of a high school freshman shared with me that her daughter broke down in tears and screamed, “Don’t you trust me? I would never do drugs,” when shown the voluntary drug-testing form. Unfortunately, this parent didn’t have the knowledge of how the testing worked or how to address her daughter’s concerns. Once she learned more about the drug-testing program and the prevention efforts at her daughter’s school, the mother could better respond to the “trust” question.

Part of a comprehensive program

It’s important to remember that a drug test is just one part of a comprehensive drug-and-alcohol-use prevention program designed to create a safe-and-healthy school environment for youth in the community. A comprehensive program also includes information on the consequences of drug use and healthy decision-making in the school health curriculum, youth-led initiatives encouraging healthy behaviors, and public awareness campaigns (such as this blog and the Raising Healthy Teens network) that share critical information with parents and community members.

Voluntary drug-testing basics

We’ve gathered information to help you better understand the benefits of your child’s participation in their school’s optional drug-testing program.

The importance of preventing teen substance use
The teen brain is still developing until a person is in their mid-20s, and using alcohol and other drugs (AOD) before then interferes with the reward center of the brain. Each year that a young person delays using alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs greatly decreases their risk of having a substance-use problem. Many parents think that their child will never have an issue with AOD, yet in Orange County one person dies from substance use almost every day.

How it works

Each school may run their program with slight differences, but generally, they all work in a similar fashion. Students are selected at random and are called out of class to give a urine sample. The tests are conducted by an outside independent agency, and the results are sent directly to parents. The school is only informed of the number of negative and positive test results. The names of specific students and their test results are never released to the school. Any positive test results are sent to the student’s home with a list of services outside of school for support.

My child doesn’t drink or use drugs, so why should I participate in this test?

Voluntary testing programs are tools for deterrence—they provide students with the ability to say, “no, my parents drug test me” when peers pressure them to use AOD. A voluntary drug testing program allows you to protect your child when you cannot be there to do so yourself.

Does signing up for the drug testing show a lack of trust in my child?

The choice to drug test is not just about trust. It’s about prevention. The aim of testing is to protect teens during their high school years as friend groups change and they contend with academic and social pressures.

Parents are a child’s greatest influence

Whether or not your family decides to opt into a voluntary drug testing program, the permission form lets you share your values about AOD with your child, discuss ways to handle social situations where drugs and alcohol may be present, and show how you can be supportive in navigating peer pressure.

Parents are the strongest influence in a child’s life. It’s a fact: children whose parents talk to them about the risks of alcohol and other drugs are much less likely to use them. For conversation starters and tips to talk to your teen about alcohol and other drugs, download our resource guidebook.