When it comes to teenage drug and alcohol abuse, some parents are part of the problem. Kendall Ball’s parents were trying to keep him safe while teaching him a lesson about alcohol. They provided the sixteen- year-old with a few shots of Jack Daniels and beer to drink at home after the boy expressed an interest in drinking. He went to bed that evening around 10:30 p.m. By all accounts he was ok. But by 3:45 a.m. the next morning Kendall was unresponsive. Surrounded by vomit, the child’s lips and eyelids were dark blue. An autopsy later determined the cause of death was acute alcohol poisoning.
When your child is born your world changes, and suddenly everything you care about is swaddled carefully in a sweet pink or blue blanket. You do everything you can to keep her from harm. You keep regular check-ups at the pediatrician, ensure she’s getting proper nutrition, keep her away from sick relatives and put her on her back to sleep. Later, you baby proof your home and never let her out of your sight. All to make sure she grows up strong and healthy.
After your chubby legged tot makes it through all of the stages in the book, yes, book, because we are so old we used the What to Expect When You Are Expecting paper edition, it’s onto Pre-K and then kindergarten. You keep a keen eye on her reading skills, ABC’s, & 1,2,3’s because you know this is a critical time…your child is growing and developing, and you want to do everything in your power to help her.
Then something happens. Usually, just around the time, your sweet little cherub becomes a hormonal maniac-also known as puberty.
There’s a shift.
Not with every mom, but with some.
I’ve seen moms shift into the lecture mom. You know, the ones that set down the rules and there’s no discussion allowed. It is what it is.
Then there are the yes moms. Moms who are so afraid of losing their relationship with their kids that they say yes to everything.
The cool moms are the ones who not only say yes but contribute to the problem. You can find them at the beer store buying a kegger for her freshman’s pool party.
All of these parents love their teenagers.
All of them are making huge mistakes.
Teenagers need parents, not friends who happen to be their moms. They need guidance, but not lectures. And they need to be given a little bit more credit than we give them.
See, the thing about teenagers is that we underestimate their intelligence. These kids know way more than we give them credit for. Sure, they can be emotional and lazy at times, but teens are pretty amazing creatures.
Teenagers are a passionate, quirky mix of child and adult. Nobody can make me laugh like a teenager. A typical talk with a teen is anything but typical because they are filled with possibility, and most of them want to contribute to the world and they already know how they’re going to do it! I am blown away by the amazing talent, creativity, and leadership I see in the teenagers I interact with daily.
But this I know for certain.
They are going to screw up.
See, the part of your brain that controls decision making about right and wrong and behavior inhibition is the frontal lobe. This part of the brain has been studied by folks way smarter than me, and it continues to change into a child’s early 20’s. In other words, teenagers have an adult’s body, but they do not have an adult’s brain.
Jay Giedd, M.D. Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist explains, “It’s not that the teens are stupid or incapable of things. It’s sort of unfair to expect them to have adult levels of organizational skills or decision making before their brain is finished being built…”
Teen’s brains are still under construction.
Even the most intelligent, responsible teenager with the purest intentions does not possess a fully formed frontal lobe. That’s one of the reasons honor students are drinking and doing drugs.
Showcasing their bad behavior on social media.
They lack impulse control, and they seek an escape.
An escape that comes easy through drugs and alcohol.
When a parent allows them to experiment at home, they are setting their kids up for failure.
When a parent “lays down the law” and allows for no conversation, they are doing the same.
I wonder if parents have thoroughly discussed the consequences of using drugs and alcohol enough with teens? Is it possible to talk about it too much?
Do parents understand that the teen years are their last opportunity to make their kid’s brain as healthy and smart as possible?
In How to Raise a Drug Free Kid, Joseph A. Califano writes: a child who gets to age twenty-one without smoking, using illegal drugs, or abusing alcohol or prescription drugs is virtually certain never to do so.
If parenting did come with instructions, this book would be in the file. Califano has spent over two decades researching at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. He teaches parents how to teach and empower their children to make the right choices. I have read the book and I highly recommend it to all parents.
But what if they make a mistake? What if we haven’t prepared them enough with the skills to say No to drugs and alcohol?
Drinking alcohol is more dangerous and harmful to teens than adults because their brain is different. That frontal lobe is growing, and if they drink during its critical growth period, it can cause lifelong damage in brain function. Memory, motor skills, and coordination are all affected.
Alcohol is easy for them to obtain. I live in a close knit small town, and I know for a fact underage drinking happens every day. I know some parents allow it at their homes. These parents who fed their kids natural foods and had a checklist for development markers on the fridge when their kids were little are now serving up cocktails. Binge drinking on the weekends is the norm for many kids as young as fourteen.
Same goes for marijuana. It’s readily available and if you don’t think smoking pot is scary enough think about this-what is laced with that marijuana these kids are buying on the street? Lead, glass, PCP, heroin, embalming fluid, laundry detergent, LSD, methamphetamine, ketamine, and cocaine are the usual suspects.
I guess they could ask that shady drug dealer if their pot is “clean”, but I’m not sure that he’d be candid with them. Also, how comfortable are you with this interaction between your kids and drug dealers? Because I’m here to tell you, it’s happening.
Other Dangerous Substances
Then there are bath salts. You don’t get these at Bath & Body Works. These chemicals can be ingested, snorted or injected. Evidence of consumption is often the small foil packages the user leaves behind. Bath Salts are strongly addictive stimulants that can lead to paranoid delusional behavior.
Sizzurp (AKA Purple Drank, AKA Lean) This stuff originated back in the 1960’s when blues musicians would take Robitussin and cut it with beer. Of course, we are at another level today. This concoction is made up of codeine based prescription cough syrup laced with promethazine, sprite and just to mix things up jolly ranchers candy. It produces a feeling of euphoria and can act as a sedative-the combination of drugs can cause the user to lean over-hence the nickname-“lean.” Sound fun? Well, not so much if your central nervous and respiratory systems get in on the “lean” and your heart and lungs stop. It also causes nausea, dizziness, impaired vision, memory loss, hallucinations, and seizures. I’m betting that full disclosure does not come along with the offer your kid gets on a Saturday night, so maybe you should pass this along-just in case.
The Silent Epidemic
Prescription drugs are the fastest growing drug problem for our teenagers. They don’t know the damage they are doing to themselves. Operating under the false belief that they are safe because a doctor prescribed them (to someone else) they feel a false sense of security. Teen prescription drug abuse has become a silent epidemic. They see a painkiller and think “high” not “addiction.” Teenagers are also not concerned with drug interactions; they are taking multiple unprescribed medications by the handful along with other drugs and alcohol. They don’t comprehend the effects these drugs have on their central nervous system or how the use of these drugs now can compromise them for life. What’s scary is that in many cases their drug dealer here is the family medicine cabinet, so parents must stay vigilant at home and educate their kids on every consequence that will occur as a result of this abuse. Sadly, in most cases, the prescription drugs serve as a gateway to more serious drugs like heroin. I’ll save that one for another post, but know that heroin has hit the suburbs. Hard.
I have a soft spot for teenagers. All of the them.
I know around here kids get labeled easily as “bad kids” if they make a poor choice. I disagree with that logic because let’s face it; there’s no such thing as perfect. Putting kids in categories like “good” and “bad” is a disservice to all of them.
They are going to mess up. They will make mistakes. They need us to help them through that, not with that. Parents who are buying alcohol for their kids thinking they will be safer at home are misinformed. Not only are they hurting their kids, but they are breaking the law. And how do you expect a kid to respect the law if their parents don’t?
Everyone makes mistakes. That’s how we learn. There are no perfect people. That goes for teenagers and parents. I have to think that if we sit down and talk with our teens, not at our teens, we would understand them better and they would be more open to what we have to say. You’ll be surprised at what you learn. They’ll appreciate the fact you listened.
You can find more in depth information about teens and drug abuse here.