Can I Search My Teen’s Room for Drugs?

by Detective/Lieutenant Jim Smith

Q. My 16 year old son’s behavior has recently changed.  He has been having trouble at school, is violating the curfew that we have set, and running around with a new set of friends. I found an empty prescription container with the label ripped off. I think that he is abusing prescription drugs. As a parent can I search his bedroom?

A. All of your observations about your son are red flags that he may be involved with drugs.  Many teens exhibit signs of rebellion but having the three or four significant signs that you have described should put you on alert that drugs could be involved.  Other possible indicators of drug use could be your son becoming hostile toward you, is uncooperative with other family members, and losing interest in activities that he used to enjoy.

As far as searching his room – go right ahead.  Your son does not have any right to object to your search. Your rights as a parent are superior to the rights of the children that live in the house.

Many parents might question searching a room if their son/daughter is older, such as twenty two years old (or) they are paying rent / room and board.  The answer is the same.  Go ahead and search, especially if the parent is involved with such things as cleaning their room or doing the laundry, which requires entering the room.

Searching the room may lead you to other questions such as “What if I find something?”

If you find suspected drugs, contraband, or paraphernalia you have some options to explore.  The hard line approach would be calling the police and pursuing a possible criminal charge.  Under the above circumstances any evidence turned over to the police would likely be admissible in court.

If criminal charges were pursued the parent(s) can work with the court to order their son into treatment or address the problem through other means rather than face criminal charges.

You could also withhold calling the police and convince your son to cooperate with a private drug intervention of your own choosing.  If you choose this option it is very important to follow up with calling the police if your son does not cooperate.  If you do not follow through your credibility will suffer.

You can also exercise punishment within the household by withholding privileges such as use of a car.  This of course does not address the underling issues and is no guarantee that your son will change his behavior.

It is important to know that in cases where the parents are acting as an agent of a police officer, the search in all likelihood would be illegal.

Detective/Lieutenant Jim Smith is a 32 year veteran of the Grosse Pointe Park Police Department.  He can be reached at 313-822-4439 or smithj@grossepointepark.org.

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