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Sunday, February 26, 2012

They're Over-bored and Self-assured: What's a Parent to Do?


The Internet never ceases to amaze me. Maybe I see it as an extremely convenient and marvelous toy for old codgers like me who used to travel to the local library to absorb information. I employ the Internet on a daily basis to improve my knowledge base. I never cease to marvel at the quality of the material a thorough search can produce. Partnership for a Drug-Free America (2011) offers some great advice for parents on its web page "Why Do Teens Use Drugs."

Ironically, especially for many of my local cohorts, the national contributing sponsor for Drug-Free America is Purdue Pharma; however, despite the raised eyebrows of suspicion, the site features a great number of suggestions for those who are rasing young adults in a very "different" environment from the one those parents remember as adolescents. The world of  the teen today is filled with altogether different pressures. Technology and priorities have vastly changed. The site offers helpful information concerning some of the most common situations in which teens drink and use drugs.

The advice below is separated into divisions that address areas of concern for parents and adolescents. As children mature and gain new freedom, parents must attend to issues in each division -- cars, sex, etc. -- and apply their expertise in order that families may avoid potential problems or, if experienced, handle with care. To me, the advice seems logical, practical, and potentially life saving.

Cars

What Parents Can Do

  • Make sure you have a key to the car
  • Borrow it occasionally at the last minute – so they don't have time to clean it out
  • Ask your teen where they will be
  • If you are suspicious, show up where he said he would be
  • Insist that her cell phone is charged and on before leaving the house so that she's reachable
Sex

What Parents Can Do

  • Talk to your kids not just about the risks of sex, alcohol or drugs, but the link between them
  • Tell your teen that because you love them, you want their first time to be special and memorable
  • Despite how awkward you may feel, tell your kid the truth — alcohol can actually make sex a lot worse, not better. Drinking makes it difficult to maintain an erection and use a condom correctly
  • Make sure that your child is aware of the physical and emotional consequences of unprotected sex (including sexually transmitted infections such as HIV and teen pregnancy) and, even worse, date rape
Emotional Pain

What Parents Can Do

  • If you notice extreme and lasting changes in mood, behavior, grades, attention span, etc., take your teen for a professional health assessment to find out what's causing the problem
  • Don't tell yourself it's "just a phase." If your teenager seems depressed or not herself, take him to a doctor or therapist
  • Make yourself an expert on your child and what's happening in her life
  • Know who is and isn't in your teen's social circle
  • Stay on top of your teen's school issues
  • Keep a close watch on the ways family matters affect your child
  • Help teach your teen social coping strategies
  • Be especially aware of your teen's plans when you know she's really down
  • Keep in mind that even typical "happy" events may secretly make her sad. For example, prom or graduation
  • Keep the lines of communication open, and let your teen vent to you regularly
Fitting In

What Parents Can Do

  • Get to know your kid's friends and the friends' parents
  • Encourage your teen's friends to hang out at your house: give them a private space if possible, feed them and leave them alone.
  • Know the cell phone and house phone numbers of your child's closest friends
  • Pay close attention when kids mention new names and find out who those kids are
  • Tell stories (either from your own life or from history, books, movies, etc.) of people who chose not to go along with the crowd — and achieved great things because of it.
  • Encourage and help your teen to sign up for a team, club, youth group, art class, or volunteer organization
  • Explain to your child that real friends don't make you do things you aren't comfortable with
  • Look at your child's selection of friends (the ones you disapprove of) as a potentially hidden communication to you. Possible meanings may range from a statement about his/her relationship with you, a declaration of revolt or anger (not just of healthy separation or individuation), a call for attention, or a request for intervention. Teenage relationship choices — like substance abuse — can be a symptom, not just an end product.
  • It's important that teens feel that their parents trust them and do not invade their privacy. But trust must be mutual, and built upon open dialogue and discussion between parents and teens. Just as your teenager wants you to trust and respect his privacy, he must know that as a parent you need to be able to trust his decisions and know that he's following the family rules and being honest with you about anything that could endanger his health and possibly life.
  • If you feel your child is risking his or her health or safety, let her know that you are concerned and may check her room, cell phones and computers. If you take that step, look for mentions of teenage drinking, drug paraphernalia or drug culture. Take a look at her internet browsing history for pro-drug websites as well as unusual e–mails, blog entries and instant messages. Keep an eye out for lingo such as "POS" (parent over shoulder), PAW (parents are watching), PIR (parent in room) and emoticons such as "%*}" (drunk).
Socializing

What Parents Can Do

  • Encourage — and help — your child to socialize with friends in a public place instead of in someone's empty home
  • Find activities for your teen to socialize in a healthy, safe supervised environment
  • If your teen has a bunch of friends over, find excuses to be nearby or drop in frequently. (But don't overdo it, or they won't want to hang out at your house.) Teens are less likely to drink or use drugs if they know they can be caught at any minute
  • If your child goes to a party, ask him to call you halfway through the night (and set consequences if he doesn't). Also, you can call him! He'll be less likely to get drunk if he knows he has to have a coherent conversation with you, or if he knows that you can and will call at any time
  • Set curfews and enforce them
  • When your teen arrives home after a night out with friends, look her in the eye, smell her clothes and hair and ask her about her night
  • If your teen arrives home after you have gone to sleep, make them wake you up (or set your alarm at their curfew time), look him in the eye, smell is clothes and hair and ask him about his night
  • If your teen is sleeping over at a friends house, call them on the house phone right before or after curfew
  • If you sense your teen been drinking or using drugs, be sure to have a conversation the next morning when he's sober
Transitions

What Parents Can Do

  • Pay even closer attention to your child's behavior during—and AFTER—transitions such as:
    • The move from grade school to middle school
    • A relocation to a different town
    • Parents' divorce
    • Serious illness in the family
  • Amp up the monitoring and communication during such times
  • Try not to get too lost in your own needs during transitions
  • Encourage an open dialogue with your teen about his experiences
  • Set aside regular one–on–one time with your teen to bond and have fun together


Take Charge!

Wow, this is a pretty comprehensive list, and applying it to a young person is sure to cause some heated family arguments, but the product of a parent's labor is so worth the effort. Doing these things involves showing a good mixture of "tough love" and the need for essential, open communication.

I honestly believe all teens (and even most older young adults) need solid structure, mentorship, and monitoring. Parents owe these commitments to the children they love. Some of the advice seems to be meddlesome, but most intrusion into the privacy of dependents can be lovingly modified to prevent a loss of trust. And, at times, parents have significant cause to deepen their routine investigations and assume authority to tighten rules and restrictions.

In a new report on drug, alcohol and tobacco use among teens in the U.S., the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University finds 

that 75% of all high school students have used alcohol,
tobacco or either legal or illicit drugs
and that 20% of these adolescents are addicted.

(Alice Park, "Teens and Drugs: Rite of Passage or Recipe for Addiction?"
Time Healthland, June 29 2011)

The data also supports previous studies that link early substance use to addiction later in life. Science confirms that the earlier children start to use, the greater they risk becoming addicted. Adolescence is the critical period for starting to use drugs and acquiring addictions.

 90% of Americans who are currently addicted
started smoking, drinking or using drugs before age 18.
A quarter of those who begin using addictive substances
 at these early ages become addicted as adults,
while only one in 25 who start using these substances after age 21 does.

(Alice Park, "Teens and Drugs: Rite of Passage or Recipe for Addiction?"
Time Healthland, June 29 2011)




Walker says that arents must educate themselves about the harm that using substances such as tobacco, alcohol and marijuana can have on their child’s cognitive development, affecting their ability to form proper judgments and mature emotionally. If parents excuse use of these substances because they’re preferable to “harder” drugs such as cocaine, then teens won’t learn the important lesson that any exposure to these substances can be harmful to them.

Parents must be "parents" and take responsibility for their children. Psychologists and successful parents agree, and the court system "seals the deal" with laws concerning parental requirements for the proper care of minors. Those in charge must help their children develop good habits and good ethics early in life and continue fulfilling this charge forever. Taking control is not easy because it involves administering untold doses of love.

Safeguarding and loving children is not the same as manipulating them with overbearing oppression. John Grohol, author and mental health expert says, "No matter how much you may try and control it, you will end up losing (successful parenting) if that is your only goal — control. Children and teens learn through example and the morals you instill in them from day one." (John M. Grohol, PsyD. "Parents Spying On Teens," PsychCentral, 2012)


The entire Drug Free America article: http://timetoact.drugfree.org/think-why-teens-use.html
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