Karen Jarczyk, Prevention Director
April 19, 2017
A robin puffs up on grass a brighter green. A dog pants, walked further. Smoke clears the fence, neighbor is grilling. White tents, folding chairs pop up in backyards. Baby faces in formalwear spill onto fresh cut lawns, thumbing phones. Laughter.
Celebrations of spring. Enjoying the moment, together. Caring for each other.
Being healthy, and safe is the norm. Nationwide, the law bans teen drinking. Statewide, the sales of marijuana are illegal. Locally, the sale of tobacco is prohibited until age 21. These laws were informed by medical science, and created to keep youth safe from accidental harm and injury. This includes often overlooked permanent damage from chronic use that can change the natural patterns of healthy brain development. Fortunately, most youth don’t use alcohol or other drugs during middle school and high school. Delaying age of first use and, sometimes, a teen’s repeat of usage, is worthy of consideration. Why? Because unfortunately, some will try. This is true certainly if a parent suspects or knows their teen may be using a substance, as discussed in the most recent newsletter for parents of high school students.
Set aside time to be around your teen without talking about stuff they dread: deadlines, rules and consequences.
Just sitting with them reading in the same room will allow comfort and opportunity for regular conversations. Try to have fun, and keep a sense of humor.
Parents should be aware that sleepovers can provide late night opportunities for adolescents to experiment.
Structure with boundaries while allowing some freedom to explore. This helps them grow incrementally over the years, until they take full control of their lives.
‘I Suspect Or Know My Teen May Be Using—Now What?’
The most important thing to do is to act. Act regardless of what the substance involved is. Don’t write off tobacco or alcohol or marijuana as something that is “normal” for teens to use. Whether you think your teen is experimenting or using regularly it is really important to take action. There is a fine line between experimenting and regular use. How many “experiments” does it take before a teen has decided they like using and continues to do so?
Parenting is parceling out trust even to that “good kid” involved in AP classes, varsity sports, excellent grades, volunteering, with lots of friends.
Gather information if needed. Gather support if needed. If you are co-parenting, work together to have a united front in your conversations with your teen about your concerns. What information do you want to get from your teen. Why did they choose to use. Are they struggling with some other aspect of life that is making them more vulnerable to using. Are they depressed or anxious? Have they experienced a trauma or loss? Plan out your key messages… what do you want to be sure is communicated. Have important conversations when no one has been using. Consult with a professional if you feel in over your head—both to address any underlying issue(s) and the use.
If you have clear family expectations that include a “no use” message, what now? If you haven’t been clear about expectations, what next? No use expectations should include the concept that if we think you are using we will take the steps necessary to get help for you and the family—whether that is drug testing, drug assessment, early intervention, counseling (related to underlying issues, family issues and parenting support) and/or treatment.
What is the plan of action? What consequences are needed? What care is needed? How do we monitor this? It’s important to have a plan before you need it.
Sometimes parents fear overreacting and do nothing, or not enough to address this issue. It is important that your teen get the message that they are very important to you and that you will take action to guide and protect them. If you sweep the behavior under the rug or give it passing attention, the message is that it is not that significant of a concern.
Move on and Trust Again
If a mistake was made by your teen, state the obvious, “I smell alcohol on your breath. We’ll talk about this in the morning.” While calm, ask them the next morning how they came to have alcohol on their breath last night. Be sure to discuss the science of brain development and addiction so you are providing information. Nudge them as to restraint thinking and avoiding parties or leaving if alcohol or other illegal substances appear. Explain you want them to have the future they are dreaming of and planning for themselves.
And, set your alarm, get up and read in the kitchen before curfew rolls around so you can greet them as they come home and get hugged goodnight.
It is a parent’s job to love teens, while guiding them. The stage of ages 13-25, when the brain is still developing, awash in hormones, the young human being is risk minded more than at other stages. They have an instinct is to head out, explore, seek and find stimulating experiences.
It can be very tough to parent during this stage. Some teens know the rules are out of love. Teens who don’t may generate household turmoil.
It may or may not help to remember that you’re not alone. If you are concerned about your ability to manage your teen, or want to talk to someone to discuss whether your teen might benefit from support and talking to someone—friends, family, school counselor or someone who works with teens and families, we are here at 360. 360 Youth Services is headquartered on Oswego Road on the property of an old farmstead. The farm house porch lights stay on. Just in case.
Talk to someone? Our friendly staff are working most days at locations throughout the community, helping teens know healthy behaviors are the norm of their peers in the schools. Prevention resources at 630.961.2992 ext 1128 or Counseling advice 630.717.9408 ext 1180.