A New York Times and Morning Consult poll found that parents continue to fix their kids’ problems well into adulthood.
Have you ever wondered what struggles other parents or caregivers of teens encounter when dealing with drugs and alcohol today? With vaping on the rise, the legalization of marijuana spreading across the country and the influence of social media, we were curious as to how parents deal with these new challenges facing their families.
The staff of wellspring Center for Prevention has been working with youth, educators and parents and guardians for almost 40 years. In that time, we’ve gained a great handle on what parents are facing and how they are responding to issues many of you face every day.
What many parents tell us is that they try to lean on the experiences that they had growing up, but the world is evolving so rapidly that their personal childhood experience is often irrelevant. Parents lament that their children are exposed to more information — not all of it good — more frequently, and they find it difficult to be “gatekeepers.”
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Many parents are surprised to learn that 90 percent of people with addictions started in their teen years — sometimes even earlier. Using substances like drugs or alcohol during this critical time can hurt teens’ brains. In fact, some teens who have heightened risk factors are even more vulnerable to adverse impacts than others.
These risk factors include a family history of problematic substance use or other addictions, underlying mental health problems (such as depression, anxiety or ADHD), childhood trauma (such as witnessing or undergoing school shootings, abuse or neglect, or violence) and being bullied. And some parents are concerned about their kids having “addictive personalities.” While there is no formal diagnosis of this as a personality disorder, lots of parents use it as a sort of “catchall phrase” to describe kids who are impulsive, risk-takers or rebellious. These kids can be more likely to try substances and have it turn into an addiction.
What worries parents and caregivers the most is their child’s instant access to information – smartphones and social media have made parenting more difficult. They believe that it’s harder today than when they were growing up. It’s both more difficult to engage with their children when they are buried in their smartphones, and their kids are exposed to more outside information than ever before. They want to be fully informed on key issues before having serious conversations, or risk not having the information needed to back-up their positions when their kids argued with them.
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Almost all the parents we talked to were concerned about differentiating between typical teenage angst and mood swings versus having a mental health disorder. Research indicates that kids who have struggled with these issues have a higher risk of developing a drug or alcohol problem – an estimated 30 to 45 percent of adolescents and young adults with mental health disorders also have a substance use disorder. It’s important for parents who suspect their child might have a mental health problem to get an evaluation. Otherwise, self-medication through substances could be a possibility.
So it all comes down to prevention!
If you are certain that your child hasn’t engaged in any substance use, the following strategies related to prevention you may find useful:
- Make sure you create an open and ongoing dialogue where your child can “tell you anything.”
- Please hold open and honest prevention conversations when it comes to substances, not waiting for the school, friends or social media to fill in the blanks.
- Very important. Set YOUR own example as parents, like modeling ways to reduce stress or relax without turning to alcohol or other substances.
- Using techniques to monitor your kids’ behavior (such as making sure they had access to all passwords and social media, driving them places and listening to backseat conversations, meeting kids’ friends, etc.).
- Being willing to talk to other parents about which kids are reported to be using substances – including their own.
We know you are concerned about your child. We don’t blame you. But help is available. Through parent-to-parent groups, in schools, in your house of faith and always right here, at Wellspring Center for Prevention.
Ezra Helfand is CEO/Executive Director of the Wellspring Center for Prevention. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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