The past six months have likely been one of the most challenging and confusing times of our lives. While trying to manage work, money, and health, you have had to determine how best to meet the educational and emotional needs of your children during this bizarre time. It is overwhelming for parents, it’s overwhelming for schools, and it’s overwhelming for kids. You might be tempted to let things slide that you normally wouldn’t out of either fatigue or in an effort to placate your children....
“Can I stay up an extra hour?”, *sigh* “Alright.”
“Can I have some extra dessert tonight?”, “Okay, just this once.”
“Can I have a beer with you?”, “Um, NO!"
When it comes to substance use, this is one area where you don’t want to let down your guard and get lax. Would you let your child play football without a helmet? Would you let them snowboard down a black diamond without a helmet? No, because you want to protect them from damaging their brain.
While the brain is still forming and developing during adolescence, alcohol and other drug use can cause damage. Having a firm ‘no-use’ stance, monitoring your teens actions, and continuing to talk with them about their choices acts a helmet would to further protect the one and only brain they will ever get- the organ that will guide every thought they have and every move they make for the rest of their lives. Learn more about the impact of substance use on the developing brain.
To start the school year off right, I encourage you to have high expectations. Teens often tell us that their parents have said to them, “You are a teenager, I know you are going to drink/experiment, just be smart about it.” A parent might think they are being realistic with that attitude, but what their kid just heard is permission to use. Instead of expecting that your teen WILL use, expect that they WILL NOT use. Time and again research has pointed to the fact that teens will live up to our expectations. Expecting them not to use often creates an environment where they know you care and they don’t want to let you down. Learn more the impact of parental attitudes on their children’s use.
Additionally, promote accurate social norms. It is very common for teens to overestimate the rate of risky behavior among their peers. You may hear them say things like, “everybody vapes.” Although it may sometimes feel this way, it simply is not true. Highly validated surveys of teen use show that substance use rates are at an all time low. Most teens are not drinking, vaping, or using other drugs. Those teens are simply quieter about their choices and therefore less obvious. Let them know that they can still have a wonderful social life in high school if they decide not to engage in substance use, sometimes they just might have to search around to find the right friends.
Finally, talking with your teens about this topic is not a once and done occasion. It is a conversation that needs to happen early and often. Think about the number of messages they are hearing on a daily basis about substances from peers, social media, music, television, and movies. These messages are usually portraying substance use as fun, glamourous, hysterical, a way to cope with stress, and an excuse for unhealthy behaviors. They need ongoing guidance from you to help them reconcile all these competing messages with the goals they have for themselves in life.