It’s cliché for a reason, but our kids are growing up in a world which seems to be moving faster and faster. I will be the first to admit, I do not have personal experience with teenage kids beyond being a teen myself once upon a time. My girls are all 3 years old and younger; however, I get a sense of what is coming up and things are not slowing down.
I am particularly concerned about the pressure kids feel to perform socially and academically. Life does not slow down or turn off at the end of the day because social media, the internet, WiFi, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Vine, Instagram… they all keep going when we go to sleep and by the time you read this, there is probably going to be a totally new and different craze and hashtags will be old news (which I still don’t fully understand). There are so many social media options; I am worried about keeping up myself! Our kids’ lives do not turn off, and I wonder how teens cope. Moreover, how do parents cope with their concerns for their teens when we’re living in a social media pressure cooker?
The landscape of drugs and alcohol seems to be moving faster and in directions I did not anticipate as a teen myself. I have prescription medications in my cabinet. I have never considered this a potential source of drug abuse, but almost 4 in 10 teens (38%) who have misused or abused a prescription drug obtained them from their parents’ medicine cabinet. Furthermore, almost 1 in 4 teens (23%) reports abusing or misusing a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime and nearly a third (31%) of teens believe prescription drugs can be used as study aids. And one-third of parents (34%) believe there is little they can do to prevent their kids from trying drugs other than alcohol (source). According to the CDC, in 2013, 52% of drug-related deaths were due to prescription drugs (22,767 deaths). I know I am aging myself, but long gone are the days of the “Just Say No” campaign.
When I was a teen, drinking and smoking (marijuana and cigarettes) was the stuff to stay away from. I was “straight-edge” in its truest form, all the way down to being a vegetarian and never even taking a puff from a cigarette, but I was not entirely sheltered from party life. Yes, I was a goody two-shoes, but I don’t expect my kids to follow my example. I am not alone in this concern, but what I find even more concerning is the apparent relaxed attitude teens exhibit regarding their parents perception of drug use. About one out of three teens believe their parents would say it is okay for them to drink beer every once in a while (PATS 2013). What?! Also, more than two in ten parents believe ADHD medications can improve a child’s academic performance, even if the child does not have ADHD. This is all sorts of wrong. As a parent, and parent of young children, what can I do?
Research shows kids who learn a lot about the risks of drugs and alcohol at home are significantly less likely to use than those who do not. The answer is clear to me:
. Simply talking to your kids, even from at a seemingly incredibly young age (like toddlerhood) makes an impact.
I notice myself talking to my 3 year old about prescription drugs and medication she sees in the cabinets. She sees it and asks about the bottles and what they are for. She says I “eat” them (when swallowing a vitamin. Even then, I explain to her these medicines are just for mommy and daddy. It’s for grown-ups when they are sick. The little kid pain reliever we have in the house is sweet like candy. Esther will say she doesn’t feel well, or feign illness when she sees her sisters getting medicine for a fever, but we explain the proper use for medicine is when you’re not feeling well. She doesn’t understand what medicine is for yet, she only knows it tastes good and it makes her feel good. It’s my responsibility to teach her about this, but I know the concept of health may seem difficult to explain to a toddler. Even so, we have to start somewhere and this is the perfect “teachable moment.”
Another great resource is The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. This is where is where families find answers: www.drugfree.org. This non-profit translates the science of teen drug use and addiction for parents, and will help you navigate the complicated issue of substance abuse. Learn more at their website or call the toll-free helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE.