Teen Substance Use and Abuse
According to the results of the 2012 MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey, 61% of LS students had used alcohol, with 21% of students reported binge drinking within the past 30 days. In addition, 27% of 12th graders reported riding in a car driven by someone who had been drinking and 23% of 12th graders admitted to driving after drinking in the prior 30 days. Concerning drug use, 31% of LS students report having smoked marijuana, 8% misused prescription drugs, 6% used hallucinogenic drugs, 4% used cocaine, 4% used ecstasy, 3% used methamphetamine and 2% have used heroin. The percentages may seem small, but the numbers are not. 2% of the LS population represents approximately 29 students. It is time for us as parents and as a community to examine our own attitudes towards teen drinking and drug use and the messages that we send (consciously and unconsciously) to our teens about substance use.
What steps can we take to help keep our children safe?
Talk to your Teen
It is important to have open, frank discussions with our teens about alcohol and drugs (among other topics). The primary message we should send to our teens is that we care about them and would like them to make healthy choices. We should provide them with facts regarding substance use and the consequences that could result in choosing to drink or use drugs. We can’t make choices for our teens – they need to do that on our own. We can only supply as much information as possible and hope that they make good choices. Of course, our teens will sometimes make “not so great” choices. When that happens, our primary concern should be their safety. We should let our children know that if they are ever in a situation in which they have been drinking or using drugs, or the person who is driving has been drinking or using drugs, they can call us for a ride and we will come and get them – no questions asked. This is a really tough concept for parents to agree to, but if it saves lives, it is well worth the compromise.
We, as adults, need to understand the negative consequences of alcohol and drug use on the teenage brain. (There will be information on this subject continually posted to this website). We then must do our very best to help our children understand the effects of substance use on their developing brains.
Lead by Example
From the time they are quite young, our children accompany us to numerous social events at which alcohol is almost always served. When was the last time you went to a neighborhood or family get-together where there was no alcohol? This is not to say that adults drinking socially is wrong. It is just a reminder that what we do as adults is watched very closely by our children who in turn are very likely to model our behavior. Do we drive after having a few drinks? We may be fine to drive, but the message that our children receive could be “it is ok to drive after a few drinks”. It is important for us to think about our own behaviors and the impact they have on shaping the attitudes and beliefs of our children.
Get to know your teens friends and their parents
During the middle school high school years, most teens form groups of friends with whom they tend to associate. Get to know your teen’s friends and their interests. And get to know the parents of your child’s friends and communicate with them. Communication is the most effective tool we have to help keep our teens safe and to help them make healthy decisions. It may be helpful to get together with other parents to shares thoughts and ideas about the issues that our teens face and how to help guide them safely through the high school years.
Make the Call!
One of the biggest problems we face as a community is the prevalence of drinking parties at homes in which no adult is present. This should be an easy problem to solve. What if we ask our child where they are going for the night and then call the parents at the home to which he is headed to verify that there will be adult supervision? That phone call serves many purposes: it sends the message to our teen that we care about his safety and well-being, it alerts the “host” parents that their child has invited friends to their home, it reduces the chances that your teen will go to a different venue, it gives your teen an “out” if he knows the “party” may not be a good decision (parents saying “no” is a perfect excuse not to attend), and it is a common courtesy to the other parents. In addition, if you plan to be away from your home for an evening or weekend, you could call the parents of your teen’s friends to let them know that you will not be at home.
At this point you may be thinking, “my daughter hates it when I call other parents, she says I am the only one that does it and it is soooo annoying.” We have all heard the same complaint from our teens, but if we all “Make the Call”, the kids will start to get used to the routine (they may not like it, but they will get used to it). If they continue to complain, we have to remember one thing – we are the parents. It is our job to be parents to our children, not their friends. In fact, even though our teens don’t consciously realize it, they are looking to us for boundaries and guidance. We all want to be able to trust our teenagers, but we also have to remember that lying is part of what teenagers do, and often do quite well. To help keep our children safe it is important to “trust but verify”.
Be proactive in your own home
According to Massachusetts Social Host Law, an adult (or a minor) can be held responsible for allowing an underage guest in their home to consume alcohol. The term “allowing” is much broader than you think, however. If it is determined that the underage guest was drinking as a result of negligence – defined as failure to do what is required; carelessness; inattention on the part of an adul; – the adult can be still be held responsible. So, if teens sneak alcohol into your house (or out of your house for that matter), you can get into a lot of trouble. More importantly, the lives of our teens could be in danger. So, what steps can we take to reduce the chances of this happening?
- Ensure that alcohol in your home is properly secured (be aware of the age-old “water down” trick – you may think that vodka bottle is at the same level, but is it really vodka?)
- When your teen has guests to your home there are numerous steps you can take:
- Have guests arrive and leave through one door only (no basement doors, garage doors, etc)
- Have guests leave any bags, backpacks, purses, coats and water or other drink bottles at the door (water bottles often contain alcohol, not water)
- Make it very clear to your child and all of his guests that drinking will not be tolerated and that if it occurs other parents will be notified
- Periodically circulate through the area in which the teens are congregated (you could bring food and drinks or have some other “excuse” to make your visit less intrusive). This is important though! Some parents do not want to invade their teen’s privacy when he has guests, but remember, it is your home, your rules – if he wants to have guests, he and his guests must abide by your rules.
- If you plan to be out for the evening or away for the weekend, do not allow your teen to have guests and alert the parents of your teen’s friends regarding your absence (if you are friendly with your neighbors, they can also be a valuable resource – let them know when you are not home and they can keep an eye out for any trouble)
- Instruct your teen that if she does end up in a situation in which she has unwanted guests and you are not home, she can call the local police department for assistance
Resources and Links
Substance Abuse Resources and Referral Services
Substance Abuse Counseling & Referral Services – Including Treatment, Hospitals and Hotlines. Here you’ll find links to the websites of organizations that provide services on Substance Abuse.
Substance Use, Abuse and Prevention Suggested Reading
Including helpful links to resources and news articles about Substance Use, Abuse and Prevention