Teenagers, Drinking, Drugs and Parenting
When our daughters reached adolescence, my wife and I knew that there were many potential problems that concerned us. To us, two of the most important problems were, 1. Our kids would be exposed to other youngsters who drank and used drugs and 2. They might be pressured to drink, use drugs and even drive with kids who were drunk. Needless to say, these were realistic worries. To add to the reality, is not only is there the presence of alcohol and drugs, but also, the fact that kids drive. Potentially, this is a deadly combination.
It has always been natural for parents to be concerned about their children as they enter the outside world. There have always been temptations out there. But none like there is now. The widespread availability of all types of drugs is very scary. Combined with driving, they make it even worse for parents.
How do you teach your children to say, "No, I don't want to drink. No, I don't want to get in a car with you drunk? No, I don't want to take drugs." Peer pressure is a powerful force in the lives of young people. In many ways, peers exert more power and influence than parents and family. The pressure is to conform, to do what others are doing, to not be left out or excluded. The price of resisting the peer group is banishment, ridicule, social isolation, all of which are too painful for most teenagers to face.
There are a variety of things that parents can do to prevent these things from happening or, at best, to teach kids how to cope:
First, parents are powerful role models. If parents drink and drive or drink or use illicit drugs, the kids will do so. No, that does not mean that parents cannot or should not have a drink when socializing. Good judgement and moderation are the best approach.
Second, it's really important for parents to start talking to their kids about alcohol and drugs when they are young, and to continue those talks. However, that does not mean only talking to them, but, listening to what they have to say as well as responding to their questions. Parents need to make it comfortable for kids to come to them and discuss problems. If they fear your reaction, they won't talk to you.
Third, role playing how to resist the temptations and the pressure to drink and use drugs can be useful because the kids learn how to phrase things so that they know how to respond. This is a case where it's ok for kids to lie to friends: "I will get into too much trouble if..."
Fourth, it's a good idea for kids to have a cell phone when they are out so they can call home and ask for help if they need it. Even calling to ask parents for a ride home can be enough of a safety valve to prevent a tragic accident or to get them home so as to avoid using drugs and alcohol at a party or elsewhere.
Fifth, make certain that the liquor cabinet in your home is locked or don't have liquor at home and keep the medicine cabinet locked. Kids are learning that they can find pain killers, such as Oxycodone in the medicine cabinet, and then use or sell them at school.
Please remember, if you drink, use drugs, drive drunk and "party," and try to advise your kids not too, they will see through it and you will be perceived as a hypocrite. Teenagers are very aware and know when adults or trying to con them.
Also, don't make the mistake of believing your sons and daughters will never get into trouble or experience these types of problems. Parents are often shocked and dismayed when they realize, often too late, what their kids have been doing. It's now a very, very dangerous world out there with regard to drugs.
Know where your kids are. Speak to the parents of the other youngsters. Be firm and consistent with your teenagers. Sometimes, parents need to say NO!
Given the seriousness of this issue, all of you are encouraged to respond to this blog so that the issue can be discussed.
Allan N. Schwartz