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GET EDUCATED

Parents, Parties and Peers 

October 16, 2015  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

The Falmouth Prevention Partnership (FPP) is one of more than a thousand community coalitions throughout the country established to help prevent substance abuse among kids, teens, and young adults. Social Advocates for Youth (SAY) is a school-based prevention and early intervention program for middle school and high school students in the suburbs east of Cleveland. Some of the following information and tools in this article are from SAY and underscore the message that FPP has been promoting in our community for the past eight years.

Adolescence is a time for trying new things. This experimentation can be both positive and negative. Teens express a desire for more independence and less parental control. At the same time they want to be liked and valued by their peers. Some parents find themselves conflicted by their teens requests for more freedom and their own need to know that their teens are behaving responsibly and are safe. Many parents can’t believe that their “responsible” teenager would ever experiment with alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. Why would they?

Teens use alcohol and other drugs for many reasons, including wanting to feel grown up, to fit in and belong with their peers, to relax and feel good, to take risks and rebel, to satisfy their curiosity, and to deal with stress, anxiety or depression. Young people who use alcohol and other drugs are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, experience failure in school, and be the victims or perpetrators of violence. It is difficult to determine which teens will experiment and stop and which ones will develop serious substance-related problems. However, there are some known risk factors for longterm use and addiction:

  • Teens who start drinking - even small amounts - before age 15 are more likely to use drugs and to suffer from chronic alcohol abuse.
  • A family history of alcohol or drug abuse places all family members at greater risk.

The Role of Parents

As a parent, you possess a unique ability to help your children remain healthy and drug free. Adolescents are less likely to use alcohol and other drugs when they have caring adults who are involved in their lives and when they are involved with positive activities at school or in the community. Parents can help through early education about drugs, open communication, good role modeling, and early recognition if problems are developing. Get involved -- develop a weekly routine for doing something special with your child. Don’t be afraid to ask where your child is going, who they will be with, and what they will be doing. Get to know your child’s friends and their parents. Teens are more likely to experiment with drugs if their friends do. Establishing relationships with your teen’s friends will place you in closer touch with your child’s daily life.

Communicating with Your Teen: Expectations

Teens whose parents talk with them regularly about drugs and alcohol are more than 40% less likely to use substances than those whose parents don't. Let your teens know that you expect them not to use alcohol or other drugs at parties (or at any time, for that matter!). The following are a list of recommendations for parents from the SAY coalition and are important ways to help keep your teen safe:

  • Be absolutely clear that you don’t want your teen using drugs ever and leave no room for interpretation. Talk often about the risks and results of drug use. Be careful not to react in a way that will hurt further discussions – avoid harsh, judgmental accusations and threats.
  • Make clear rules and enforce them with consistency and appropriate consequences. Do not make empty threats or let your teen off the hook if rules have been broken.
  • Set a curfew and have your teen check in with you at regular times.
  • If your teen hosts a party, be in attendance. Be clear that you will not tolerate alcohol or drug use in your home.
  • Call parents whose home is to be used for a party. Offer to bring food or beverages as a way to connect with other parents.
  • Make it easy for your teen to leave a party where alcohol or drugs are being used. Discuss in advance how you will come to pick your child up the moment they feel uncomfortable. Later, be prepared to discuss what happened.
  • Listen to your instincts. Don’t be afraid to intervene if your gut tells you that something is wrong.

Parental Disapproval Matters: National surveys (the same or similar survey to the one used in Falmouth schools) show that teens who believe their parents would strongly disapprove of them using substances are less likely than their peers to try them. For example, current marijuana use is less prevalent among teens who believe their parents strongly disapprove of their trying marijuana than among youth who do not perceive this level of disapproval. The difference is significant: 5.0 percent vs. 31.5 percent.

Teen Promise and Party Checklist

The SAY coalition has developed a Party Checklist and a Teen Promise that is distributed to parents as part of a substance abuse prevention brochure. SAY recommends that parents have their teen sign the document before heading out for the evening. According to SAY, “Parents and their children should have open discussions about expectations before the teen heads out to a party, event or activity. The Party Checklist and Teen Promise are great tools to guide discussions.”

THE PARTY CHECKLIST

Dear (insert name of teen):

  • If we don’t know, then you can’t go!
  • What is happening?
  • Why/what is the purpose?
  • When are you going?
  • Where will this event take place (address and phone number)? 
  • Who is going to be there?
  • Who are the parents? Will the parents be home?
  • When will you be home?
  • How will you get there?
  • How will you get home?

Love, Mom and Dad

THE TEEN PROMISE

Dear Mom and Dad:

I promise to call you for a ride if there is alcohol or any other illegal substance at this party, and/or if I am feeling pressured to do something against my will.

Love, (insert name of teen)

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