Marijuana the Teen Drug of Choice Overtaking Alcohol – What Parents Can Do
Teen alcohol use is declining while marijuana use is on the rise. Read Part One on Marijuana the Teen Drug of Choice Overtaking Alcohol.
Faced with the alarming increase in marijuana use by teens, it might seem that there’s not a lot that parents can do to reverse the trend. The fact is, however, that there is a lot that parents can do to help their teens come to grips with the reality of just how dangerous marijuana use is as well as discuss the dangers of alcohol and other types of drug use.
One of the most widely-recognized and effective anti-marijuana messages was the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign’s “Above the Influence” initiative. Unfortunately, Congress eliminated the campaign’s admittedly modest budget this year, despite the recent published studies documenting the success of the campaign’s message to teens. This is but one example of budget cuts affecting drug prevention programs aimed at teens. Now, the responsibility lies solely with parents. Still, it isn’t an overwhelming burden or even all that difficult to do.
Here are some suggestions on how parents can make a difference in their teen’s perception of drug and alcohol use and impact their children’s behavior.
- Know the facts. – There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you don’t know the first thing about what’s going on in the drug arena with today’s teens. But you do have a responsibility to learn all you can about drug use and its dangers, along with how alcohol affects the still-developing brains of young people. The more educated you are about drugs and alcohol, the more you can be both an ally and a loving parent to your teens who are likely going to be challenged in the days and months ahead. To get started, check out the Drug Guide published by The Partnership at Drugfree.org.
- Understand and recognize the signs of use. – Learning about the dangers of drug and alcohol use can help prepare you with the basics, but you also need to familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol use. The most important thing to remember is that if something doesn’t seem or look right with your teen, and he or she is acting differently than normal and you also notice other things that seem off about your teen’s behavior, drugs and/or alcohol may be the culprit. Marijuana is dangerous because it can cause memory and learning problems, hallucinations, delusions and depersonalization. Signs of abuse include slowed thinking and reaction time, impaired coordination and paranoia. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana can be addictive.
- Communicate openly and often with teens. – Have family discussions about a number of things, especially about issues involving drug and alcohol. It could be a discussion you have after watching a news report about a teen overdose or when a friend of your teen has gotten into trouble with marijuana or alcohol or some other substance. By communicating openly and often with your teenage son or daughter about all aspects of their lives, it won’t seem unnatural to have a discussion regarding drug and alcohol use.
- Set clear family rules regarding drug and alcohol use. – In your discussions with your teens about the dangers of drug and alcohol use, be sure that you set clear family rules regarding such behavior. It should be made absolutely clear that there is no tolerance for any alcohol or drug use, period. In stating the rules, also be very upfront and straightforward about the consequences for disobeying the family rules.
- Be prepared to enforce the consequences. – It may seem tough, and you might not really want to go through with the consequences that you’ve spelled out for your teen should he or she violate the family rules about drug and alcohol use, but you really have to be prepared to enforce the consequences to the max. If it’s a curfew and being grounded for some period of time, don’t be dissuaded by tears or persuaded by promises that it will never happen again. Consequences for actions are just that, and your teen needs to know you mean business when you have clearly stated ahead of time what the family rules and consequences for disobeying them are.
- Know your teen’s friends. – One of parents’ worst nightmares is that their teen is in trouble with a friend, and the parents don’t even know anything about that friend. One way to keep this situation at bay is to make it a point to know your teen’s friends, all of them, not just one or two of them. Have the kids over to your home so you can get to know them. Do things together with your teen and his or her friends, not so much that you’re a fifth wheel, but that you’re nearby and can monitor activities.
- Form a cohesive unit with other teen parents. – Once you know your teen’s friends, it’s also a good idea to become acquainted with that teen’s parents as well. By forming a relationship with them, you can discuss issues related to your teens and anything that comes up that may be of concern to you and the other parents regarding behavior in the community, issues at school, difficulties that may be bothering more than one teen, and so on.
- Be a willing and nonjudgmental listener to your teens. – Naturally, there are going to be times when your teen has something to say that you may not want to hear. It could be that his or her friend overdosed on a particular drug or got wasted during a party and attempted to drive home. While your alarm bells may be going off full-tilt, hold your judgment in check and listen carefully to your teen. The result you’re after is that your teen feels comfortable talking with you about anything, including any issues with drug or alcohol use.
- Be supportive of teens who may require an intervention and/or treatment.– Suppose your teen does get into trouble with marijuana and other drug or alcohol use? Enforcing consequences may not be enough. You need to be supportive of your teen should it become apparent that he or she has developed a problem with drugs. An intervention may be needed or you may need to enroll your teen in a drug or alcohol rehab program. Be prepared to be in it for the long haul, and remember that your support and encouragement will make a world of difference in his or her effort to overcome any problems with substance abuse. If you need help finding treatment, check out the Treatment e-Book put out by The Partnership at Drugfree.org.
- Never give up on your children. – Not every teen will get into trouble with marijuana, other drugs, or alcohol. Some will experiment briefly and then get on with their lives. But some will go off the deep end, causing incredible pain and tension within the family. You may think that your world will never be the same, that you have lost your teen forever, and blame yourself for your failures. On the other hand, you may be tempted to walk away from your responsibility, particularly if your teen with a substance abuse problem continually rejects you and claims there’s nothing wrong. But never give up on your children. As parents, we have a duty and a moral obligation to be there for our offspring, no matter what they have done or failed to do.