It may seem that a new drug or trend is affecting the lives of children and teens every day. For parents, it's just as important to learn about these issues as it is to take action and talk to their kids. Ignoring the problem or assuming your child isn't affected prevents you from setting the stage and helping your teen feel comfortable having an open and honest conversation with you if they are ever in need of help.
As a parent, to get the most out of these conversations, it's essential to understand what drives substance abuse in teens. All teens have different experiences and reasons for getting involved with drugs. Some teens are curious about these substances because they are uninformed and may already be vaping or drinking and have a false sense of security. Teens also have a low perception of risk and think taking one pill won't affect them. But, unfortunately, when it comes to drugs like counterfeit pills and other illegal opioids, using them just once can be deadly.
Teens may use these substances as a coping mechanism for stress and trauma. Stressors vary greatly among teens and can be as simple as arguing with a friend or doing poorly on a test. Learning about your teen's life outside of the home is essential to keeping track of their stressors. Adverse childhood experiences, mental health disorders, and attention deficit disorders also increase the risk of substance abuse. Therefore, it's important to diagnose and treat these conditions early on and develop healthy methods of regulating emotions and coping with stress.
In other scenarios, teens may become dependent on pain relievers prescribed after an injury or surgery. Under these circumstances, it's essential to be vigilant and keep track of how much medication your child is using.
When parents talk, children listen, and when they talk about substance abuse, children are 50% less likely to use drugs. The start of the school year is an excellent opportunity to talk about and emphasize the dangers of substance abuse. Every situation is different, and the way a family communicates with each other can vary. The key things to remember are that it should be done early in childhood, often enough to form habits and maintain consistent methods. Use these tips to help you get started:
- Share the facts and avoid opinions about substance abuse
- Ask open-ended questions to get the conversation started, avoid yes or no questions
- Tell me about your day?
- Work to understand them and their point of view
- Ask them about their interest, their friends, etc.
- Show your concern rather than anger or disappointment
- Maintain them, their health and wellbeing as the focal point of your conversation
- Practice long term thinking and focus on their goals
- Talk about the consequences of actions and mindful decision making
- Make an internet safety plan and be transparent about monitoring social media use
- Keep it simple and set realistic limits
- Come up with a "rescue" plan if they need to get out of an uncomfortable situation
When kids and teens feel they can communicate honestly with adults, they are more likely to ask for help. If your teen has a substance abuse problem, take time now to learn the signs of an overdose and make sure you carry Naloxone and keep it in your medicine cabinet. At home, make sure to keep your prescriptions in a location not accessible to teens and get rid of any unused or expired medication.
We all play a role in helping kids and teens make safe choices every day. Don't be a bystander in the fight against substance abuse. Learn what you can do today to create safer communities for tomorrow. For more information, visit our opioid epidemic page.
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