Arguably, the most difficult job on the planet is raising children. From the moment children are born, keeping them safe is second nature: we hold them close as they get their first shots, teach them to look both ways before crossing the street, teach them to ride bikes, skip rocks, and help them develop healthy habits that will nurture them throughout their lives. Through the years, parents face all types of challenges that involve keeping their kids safe. Children are their own persons, so of course, it’s impossible to control their every move. They are trying to find out who they are and where they fit in this world, pushing boundaries and testing their limits. This is what makes the younger years so difficult.
One thing that makes raising children very difficult is that parents have very little education about how to protect kids from the disease of addiction. When we hear the word “addiction” we tend to think of our adult friends, relatives, or neighbors who are struggling with substance use, but the reality is that addiction is a disease that begins in childhood. The topic of drugs and alcohol usually comes up sometime in the preteen and teenage years. Prevention is easier than treating an addiction, so we recommend starting the conversation as early as possible and refresh the conversation periodically as new information arises. Some parents think that talking to their child before he/she becomes a teenager is useless because they think the child will not understand. See these statistics:
- In 2016, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 19% of youth ages 12-20 years old drank alcohol, and 12% admitted to binge drinking in the last month.
- In 2017, the Monitoring the Future Survey found that 8% of 8th graders drank alcohol in the last month, and 2% of 8th graders binge drank in the same period.
- Between 2017-2018, increases in teen vaping were the largest ever recorded in the past 43 years for any teen substance abuse. Both nicotine and marijuana vaping are on the rise.
- 90% of Americans with a substance use disorder began using drugs or alcohol before the age of 18.
Just as we build protection against other medical conditions well before the symptoms are likely to appear, it is essential that we begin strengthening our kids’ protective factors against the disease of addiction prior to the teen years. There are some risk factors for addiction that we cannot change– genetics, for example– but there are other critical ones– like delaying the age of first use and limiting access to substances– that we can impact.
Here are some of the things parents can do to help fight teen drug addiction:
- Be active in your child’s life: Pick them up from school. Go to their school activities. Strike up normal conversations when you have time. Ask them questions about their day, and then give them time to talk. Have dinner as a family whenever possible. When you are active in your child’s life, you can pick up on signals that something isn’t right.
- Support healthy activities for your child: Whether it’s sports, church, Future Farmers of America, 4-H, music, drama, volunteering, or fishing, kids do better when they are kept busy and feel part of a healthy community. It turns out those extracurricular activities are less about résumé-building and more about building protective factors to keep them safe!
- Know your child’s friends: This is important. Get to know your child’s friends – their names, where they live, the activities they are involved in and so forth. You can learn a lot about other kids by talking to your child directly or including yourself in some conversations. Also, make your home a friendly place where your child’s friends are always welcome (providing that they are respectful and follow the rules). Your child’s friends may not have any place to go either. Making your home available keeps things safer for all.
- Educate yourself: Many parents do not imagine that they will be affected by drugs and alcohol, especially if they did not use them themselves. Unfortunately, no one is immune to drugs and alcohol. It can take one bad decision, a natural curiosity or the need to self-medicate to start a lifelong addiction. Rather than believing that you will never be touched by addiction, make it your priority to be informed.
- Call for help if needed: If you suspect that your child is using drugs and alcohol, don’t chalk it up to normal behavior. Take it seriously and intervene. Because each child and family is different, it’s best to speak with a professional counselor who can help you make the best decisions for you and your family. We are facing a public health crisis in terms of overdose deaths, so addiction is nothing to take lightly.
Call (405) 273-1170 to speak with a professional if you need guidance on addiction or mental health issues.