I got a call from a parent the other night saying that while she was cleaning up her teen's room she found a suspicious substance. Hanging up her daughter's discarded clothing choices that lay abandoned on the floor, she noticed a large baggie full of water in the closet. Inside that baggie was another baggie with what looked like melted jello. The mom was wondering what this substance could be. She couldn't bring herself to taste test not knowing how long said substance had been sitting in the closet, and not wanting to send the substance to a drug lab (only kidding) she called me.
My first thought is that it was a melted jello shot (favorite method for kids to ingest alcohol.) Mix copious amounts of vodka into jello, refrigerate, cut into cubes and jiggle away! It may have been that at the end of a party there were leftovers, and the teens decided that rather than throw away this delicious treat, they would divvy up the spoils, pack them in ice to prevent melting and go on their way. I'm guessing this teen hid it in her closet to save for a rainy day, and then completely forgot about it.
Obviously the first step here is to show the teen what you have found, and ask her/him to identify the substance. I can predict that most teens, even when there is some evidence presented will go directly into denial mode, as in "wow, I don't know what that is, I don't know where it came from." Claiming ignorance is a much safer strategy. In this case, the parent needs to put out her suspicion without sarcasm and judgement. " You know honey, I think this is a melted jello shot" The teen will probably be shocked that you even know what that is! Teen will probably say "it belonged to a friend, someone left it in her room, yadayadayada."
Honestly, at this point, the good news is that the parent found it, and this can lead to discussion on the danger of jello shots, which is really the point!!! Many teens don't see this form of alcohol ingestion as dangerous, after all its jello! but each one of those jello treats can hold 1 ounce of booze, and if you pop a bunch of those sweet treats quickly, you can have dangerous levels of alcohol in your system before you know it.
Cleaning your teen's room can sometimes provide wonderful opportunities for discussion. You don't even need to snoop, just doing a cursory clean is a window into your teen's life. Is your teen's room full of discarded clean clothes? Rather than getting angry and yelling at them about a lack of respect for their clothing, you might start a discussion like this: " When I was straightening up this morning I noticed how many clothing options you rejected. It must be really hard sometimes to feel like you look OK." What a great conversation you might have about self-image. Because that is what is really going on, teens are trying on options, which is another way of saying they are trying on personas. Who am I today??
Or maybe you find discarded homework papers, or alot of disorganization with school stuff. Rather than being critical and saying "no wonder you can't get any homework done, your desk is a mess! You might say: " When I was straightening up this morning, I noticed alot of school stuff laying around. I know it's hard sometimes to keep everything organized, your days are really full, how can I help?"
Or perhaps you find some scary stuff, drugs, pipes, booze. Now at least you know and you can address the problem.
Cleaning your teen's room is window into their world. If you treat their room as their private domain, you may be missing some really important clues into their life. Sometimes your teen is going through things they can't articulate or are afraid to tell you about. Initiating conversation, and I emphasize conversation and NOT INTERROGATION lets your teen know that you care about them and are looking out for them.
When my daughter was a teen, her life was extremely busy, often not getting home from school until 5 or 6. Dinner, homework, outfit decisions for the next day, and staying in touch with friends pretty much took up her whole night. Usually once a week I would tackle her room, hanging up clothes, pile up books etc. When she went up to her room after a long day, saw her comfy bed made, a floor with no clothes,and a desk she could work, she was always grateful. When you do something for your teen that shows understanding for their life and how hard it can be sometimes, you are giving them the best gift ever!