Parents Time For A Back-to-School Talk With Teens About Alcohol And Drugs
It’s that time again, the time when the children have returned to school and things around the house seem to be getting back to normal.
Well, maybe that’s so – and maybe not. What every parent should take time to consider, along with packing school lunches and confirming daily schedules and monitoring homework assignments, is that now that school is once again in session, there are many new opportunities for your kids to get into harm’s way with alcohol and drugs.
Most of the danger results from peer pressure, since teens will do almost anything to be part of the “in” group, to be considered cool, invited to parties and included in social networking to the nth degree. If the coolest kid in school is beginning to dabble in drugs, smoke marijuana, or start having parties where alcohol is served, your teen is likely to be impacted, one way or another.
The worst time to find out about this is after the fact, when the damage has already been done and you get the dreaded phone call that your child has been in an automobile accident where a teen driver has been drinking or under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, or that there’s been some trouble with law enforcement, or your child is suspended from school for being drunk or high.
But where should you begin? You don’t want to be labeled overly strict or too meddlesome or, perish the thought, out of touch.
Parents, listen up. When it comes to the safety of your children, you have a responsibility to do everything you can to make sure they’re adequately prepared to face various kinds of situations they’re likely to encounter from here on out.
It all starts with conversations you have with your teens about alcohol and drugs and the dangers and risks fooling around with them entail.
How do you get started? What should you say? Here are some points to keep in mind.
Pick a Time – When Things Are Less Hectic
There’s no question that choosing the appropriate time to have any conversation of any significance on the subject of alcohol and drugs needs to be carefully planned. You don’t want to come at your teen with a heavy-handed, super-critical approach that you spring on them when they may have other pressing obligations to attend to – such as homework, doing household chores, getting ready for bed, and so on.
The best way is probably one that you’ll work out through trial and error. That is what most families do – they experiment, trying different approaches to figuring out when the time is right to have such a discussion. For some households, particularly those already disrupted by alcohol and/or drug use, timing may be even more important.
Generally speaking, however, if you’ve kept an open line of communication with your offspring, simply stating that you want to have a discussion with them pertaining to the school year and the availability of alcohol and drugs among their peers should be enough to get it on the schedule.
Make it easier on both parents – and both should be involved in the discussion – as well as your teen by saying upfront that this isn’t going to be a lecture. Inform your teen that it will be a give-and-take conversation, with no judgments made on anything that is said. This should go a long way toward easing some of the concerns your teen may have about what’s going to happen during this parental chat.
What happens if you’ve scheduled your time and are about to begin the discussion – or it’s already underway – and something occurs that requires your immediate attention? It could be another child in the family requires your assistance, or there’s an important phone call from work or another family member. To the extent possible, don’t table the discussion. Put it on hold until you can return. Attend to the child that needs assistance. Quickly dispense of the phone call. Do what you can to get back to the discussion with your teen on this all-important topic.
What this does is show your teen that you consider his or her time valuable and that this is something important for the family to discuss together. It reinforces your family values and helps build trust and respect.
How to Prepare
Naturally, you’ll want to be in the know on the latest developments in the area of alcohol and drug use among adolescents and teens. You wouldn’t go into an important job interview without being prepared, would you? Why would you think that you could wing it in a discussion with your teens about the dangers and risks of consuming substances?
Think of it this way. If your teen knows more about drug and alcohol use than you do, you’re already at a disadvantage. Your teen will spot your lack of understanding in a heartbeat and can say just about anything at that point. You won’t have enough information to be able to offer a dissenting opinion, surely nothing based on facts. And you do want to have the conversation sprinkled with as much relevant factual detail as possible.
Fortunately, there are a number of websites that offer a great deal of information and tips on how to prepare for such discussions with your teens, as well as points to cover and even how to say what you want to talk about.
The Partnership at DrugFree.org has one such website, Time To Talk (http://www.timetotalk.org/). The site has a “talk kit” that helps you begin talking with your teens about alcohol and drugs, covers what to say, and even provides guidance on what to answer if your teen asks if you did drugs. There are also tips and a one-sheet guide to the alcohol and drug scene that is handy and practical.
Another helpful website is Parents: The Anti-Drug (http://www.theantidrug.com/). Here, the focus is more on becoming knowledgeable about what’s out there in the drug and alcohol scene, particularly the dangers and risks associated with use of various kinds of drugs. For example, there’s information on marijuana, dextromethorphan (DXM), Ritalin, methamphetamine and inhalants. There are tips on preventing prescription drug abuse, how to safeguard your prescriptions at home, how to watch for and talk to your teens about over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and how to use them responsibly. An interesting section is the Top 10 Tips for Parents. This includes how to start an ongoing conversation; understanding teen pressures; getting up to speed on tech talk; reconnecting with your teen; how to be prepared and ask questions; setting firm rules; learning the signs of drug use; conversations for critical times; talking to other parents, and learning from the experts.
Know the Risks of Underage Drinking
Years ago, the only research studies on alcohol consumption, abuse, and dependence involved adult males. Gradually, researchers began to include women in those studies. Not much was known about underage drinking at the time – nor was it considered a problem.
Today, we know a great deal more about the subject. Based on new scientific findings, we also understand a lot more about underage drinking. For example, we know that when children drink, they tend to drink a lot. As a matter of fact, on average, that equals about five drinks on a single occasion. This behavior is known as binge drinking, and it can have serious consequences.
News stories about high school kids engaging in drinking games (binge drinking to the extreme) are common. Drinking too much alcohol by children of any age puts them at risk for short- and long-term physical and emotional problems. It also can have a profound effect on and can endanger the lives of those around them.
Some of the risks include:
- Addiction – More than 4 in 10 children who begin drinking before the age of 15 eventually become dependent on alcohol.
- Drug Use – Statistically speaking, more than 67 percent of those who start drinking before age 15 will also try an illicit drug. This includes street drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine (including crack), marijuana, LSD, Ecstasy, heroin, and nonmedical use of prescription drugs – barbiturates, painkillers, tranquilizers, and sedatives.
- Grades Suffer – Compared to nondrinkers, children who drink tend to have higher rates of poor performance at school and problems with their grades.
- Early and Risky Sexual Activity – Teens who use alcohol are more likely to be sexually active at an earlier age, to have sexual intercourse more often, and to engage in unprotected sex than teens who don’t drink.
- Become a Victim of Sexual or Violent Crime – Date rape, gang rape, beatings, or other violent crimes are more likely to happen to children who drink.
- Health Problems Increase – Children who drink are much more likely to have health issues than their nondrinking peers. Depression and anxiety disorders are common among young people who drink. Research shows that even low levels of alcohol consumption by young people may contribute to behavioral, emotional, and health problems during their adolescence and later on in life.
- Bad Decisionmaking – When teens drink, they don’t make wise decisions. That’s because alcohol lowers inhibitions and increases the chances that they’ll engage in risky behavior – or do something that they will regret once they’ve sobered up. But by then, it may be too late.
- Injury or Death – By far, the most serious consequence to underage drinking by our children is to become injured or die (or injure or kill others as a result of their drinking). In the United States each year, an estimated 5,000 people die as a result of injuries caused by underage drinking. This includes deaths from car crashes, suicide, and homicides, as well as injuries such as burns, falls, and drowning.
Helping Your Teen Cope with Peer Pressure
As parents, you know that peer pressure is a powerful force in teens’ lives. Not all peer pressure is bad, but some is very dangerous. Peer pressures to study hard, get good grades, excel in sports or other activities are often beneficial. When it comes to drinking and doing drugs, however, this powerful group force can have a very negative effect. Peer pressure can lead to teens making poor decisions, including those involving alcohol and drugs. But you can help your teens counteract the urge to go along with the group to drink and/or do drugs. Here are some strategies to help teens cope with dangerous peer pressure.
Encourage thoughtful decision-making – It’s natural for teenagers to engage in exploration – of new ideas, concepts, clothing, food, etc. By encouraging your teen to make their own decisions in everyday activities, like how/when to do their homework and assigned chores, keeping family schedules, adhering to curfews, phone, Internet and television usage, you will help them establish sound and thoughtful decision-making habits. Once established, the ability to make such decisions can lead to teens being better able to say “no” when they are encouraged by other teens to engage in risky behavior.
Making thoughtful decisions involves analyzing all aspects of the potential situation. Encourage your teen to identify decisions they may need to make in different situations. Help them gather enough information about the activity or event involving the decision in order to give them alternatives to the potentially risky behavior.
Discuss as a family the kinds of actions teens can take. Some examples include sticking to family values, avoiding locations where underage drinking and drug use occurs, refusing to break the law, and others.
Talk about the family ramifications to going along with peer pressure to drink and do drugs. These may include issues of getting grounded, the potential of being in an automobile accident with an intoxicated driver, being forced to have unwanted sex, etc.
Encourage, but do not force, your teen’s decision not to drink until the age of 21. By the same token, reinforce the idea that taking prescription drugs for non-medical uses is not okay. Once your teens have identified potential decisions they’ll need to make, listed possible actions, and formulated their own decisions, stress that they are empowered to make their own decisions. This is important: tell them they have the courage and the ability to say “no” when confronted with peer pressure to drink and/or do drugs.
Be there for your teens – Teens are often unsure, insecure and need positive reinforcement. There’s no better place for them to receive this than right at home. Being a loving parent involves helping them to feel safe and secure in the family environment.
It also means establishing an open and non-judgmental atmosphere at home where teens feel comfortable discussing problems and concerns. Let your teen know he or she is always loved, and that you are always there for them. Voice your pride for their accomplishments, bolster their confidence when needed, and engage in frequent family discussions on a variety of topics.
Provide examples of acceptable behavior – Don’t leave this to chance. Be sure your teens know what you mean by acceptable behavior. Topics don’t need to be only about drug and/or alcohol use. Cover teenage sex, smoking tobacco or illegal substances, school cheating, respecting others’ property, etc.
When in doubt, advise your teens to walk away – There are going to be situations where your teens will encounter potentially dangerous activity, when they will be encouraged to “just try it” – whether that be some cool party drink (that could be laced with a drug), smoking a joint, popping prescription pills or other harmful substance.
Stress that if your teen feels any uneasiness, that little “inner voice” that says “Don’t do it,” they should just walk away. They are in charge of their own STOP mechanism. Provide the atmosphere for frank and open discussions with them about just saying no – so that they’ll be better able to counter dangerous peer pressure when it does occur.
Lead By Example
Our children are sponges, soaking up impressions about appropriate behavior, habits, beliefs and expectations. One of the most effective tools in parents’ arsenal to prevent abuse of drugs (prescription, OTC, and illegal) and alcohol is to lead by example.
Don’t let your teens see you pop a pill every time you have a slight headache, sore back, or your “nerves” are getting to you. That sends the wrong message: that it’s okay to use a prescription drug to make everything feel better. In fact, many prescription opioids are only intended for short-term use, and they’re not supposed to take all the pain away, just to ease the most severe pain.
But, getting back to the lead by example recommendation – it’s important to let your teens see that you are responsible about taking prescription medications as well as that you are reasonable in your intake of alcohol at home. Keeping careful inventory, disposing of expired and/or unwanted medications, only taking prescription medications as prescribed, only drinking occasionally and then doing so responsibly, and “walking the talk” shows your teens important modeling behavior.