Happy Summer! This blog will focus on summertime risks for teens and offer pointers on how to talk with your teens, party guidance and other tips.
TEEN SUBSTANCE USE OVER SUMMER MONTHS
Spike in Use. Summer is an exciting time for teens. Many can unplug the alarm clock and forget about tests and deadlines. With a break from the rigid structure of school, parental rules tend to loosen up and teenagers feel a profound sense of freedom. As temperatures in the summertime rise, however, so do the number of teens who engage in party activity involving alcohol, marijuana, vaping and other drugs.
Each year, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health asks preteen and teenage students (ages 12-18) to report the year and month they first used a substance. The results of this survey reveal that summer is most definitely a time for experimentation. Key findings include:
First use of alcohol peaks in June and July (and also in December).
First use of marijuana, tobacco (vapes, cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco), and inhalers peak in June and July.
Those teens who start substance use are far more likely to continue drinking, vaping and using drugs throughout the year.
Higher Rate of Accidents. Not so coincidentally, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveal that during May, June, July, and August, nearly twice as many teens die in highway crashes every day when compared to the rest of the year. Youthful drinking also contributes
to injuries and deaths during other popular summertime activities, such as boating and swimming.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that alcohol use is a factor in up to 70 percent of adult and adolescent deaths associated with water recreation, almost a quarter of emergency department visits for drowning, and about one in five reported boating deaths.
Drugs to Watch Out for in Summer Heat. Cocaine, Ecstasy (MDMA or Molly), Amphetamines and Alcohol are especially risky in hot weather. These drugs can dehydrate users (alcohol and ecstasy), delay sensations of heat and exhaustion (amphetamines) and disrupt the ability to regulate body temperature (cocaine), sparking potentially fatal heart stroke. It is especially risky to mix alcohol with these other drugs.
What Can Parents Do? As summer approaches, it is important for parents to be aware of summer temptations among teens and to take positive steps to prevent experimentation and regular use. Parents can:
Find daily activities and events that provide structure and appealing alternatives for teens.
Impose curfews in the evenings.
Restrict access to alcohol and other drugs by following BTI protocols and tips, as outlined in our "Welcome Newsletter" on this website,
Monitor your teens' whereabouts.
Determine your teens' level of supervision and access to substances by reaching out to other parents using the BTI Parents Lists.
Reinforce messages about the risks involved with using substances through active discussions to make teens aware that parents care about their well-being. See "How to Talk with Your Teens about Substances" below.
Model responsible substance use of your own. Summertime can be party time for adults too, but remember your teens are watching and listening to you!
Although parents may feel tempted to take a summer time break from monitoring their teens, parenting is a 24-7 job twelve months of the year!
If you are leaving town but your child is not...
Make sure your child understands that you absolutely forbid parties. There should be no wiggle room on this. Be clear about the consequences for violation of this rule.
Consider not allowing your child's friends into your home. An innocent gathering of a few friends can escalate into a raging bash in a matter of minutes with social media, in spite of your child's best intentions.
Have your child stay with a friend or relative, or have someone stay in your home. At a minimum, have them randomly check up on your children.
Alert your neighbors to your absence. Ask them to keep an eye out for suspicious activity.
Notify your local police department of your vacation plans. Doing so may result in patrols by your house and help ensure that you won't be liable under any social host ordinances in your area if there are any parties at your home during your absence. Make sure your child knows the police will be checking.
Lock up or otherwise make inaccessible any alcohol and prescription medications. This action should have been taken already but take extra care when you are away.
HOW TO TALK WITH YOUR TEEN ABOUT SUBSTANCE USE
Summertime gives parents extra R&R time to bond with their children and have meaningful, unrushed conversations. But it's still no easy matter for many parents to bring up the subject of substance use. Your child may try to dodge the discussion and you may feel unsure about how to proceed. As intimidating as it may be, the topic should not be avoided. Having these conversations decreases the chances of having to talk with your child about seeking professional help down the road. So talk with your child as soon as the time is right - and keep the conversation going.
Bonding. Developing a strong, connected relationship between you and your child is essential to helping your child avoid substance use. If your child feels comfortable talking
openly with you, you'll have a greater chance of guiding your child toward healthy decision-making. When the relationship between a parent and teen is full of conflict or is very distant, the teen is more likely to use substances.
Don't underestimate your power. Surveys consistently show that the number one response by teens when asked "why are you not using drugs? What's holding you back?" is "because my parenting expect me not to use them". Of course, they will never admit this to you!
Just Say "Know". Before you discuss substance use with your teen, its best to familiarize yourself with the topic by reading the facts about alcohol and various drugs. (To do so, review our Newsletter Archives on this website. However, don't assume that simply dropping information on a teen will automatically lead them to make wise choices. Drill home key points, e.g., marijuana is habit-forming and may be addictive, affects the adolescent brain and respiratory system, and contributes to anxiety, depression or psychosis. However, don't let all the fact based research you know dominate your conversation.
Talk early. Adolescents are being exposed to drugs at earlier and earlier ages. Experts say it is best for parents to talk to their kids around age 10-12 or even earlier. Ideally, you'll start the conversation long before your child really needs it. By the time they are ages 12-14, it is likely they already have been offered substances.
Of course, its never too late to start. However, if your teen already has started using substances, the conversation will be different. Even if your child has experimented, there is still time to make sure he or she has all the facts. Knowing the risk may inspire a teen to cut back or quit.
Choose the right time and place. You can look for blocks of time to talk such as after dinner, before bed, on the way to or from school and extracurricular activities. Turn off your TV, radio, cell phone and computer and really listen. Before having the discussion, consider telling your teen that you have something important you would like to talk about and ask them when they would like to have this conversation. If teens set the time and place for the discussion, there's a good chance they will be more actively engaged.
Another option is take a walk or go for a drive together. With less eye contact,your teen won't feel like he or she is under a microscope.
Take advantage of "teachable moments". Additionally, use opportunities to naturally start conversations. These are less threatening to the child and can be more productive. Use every day events to start a conversation. For example, if you see a group of kids vaping, talk about
the addictiveness of nicotine and its negative effects. Point out alcohol and drug-related celebrity headlines or stories going on in your own community that show the negative consequences of alcohol and drug use. When watching TV or a movie together or if you notice a billboard advertising alcohol, vaping or marijuana, ask how the show or advertising makes alcohol or drug use look, how that makes your child feel about drugs and whether it's a problem at school.
Do not discuss the issue if they are under the influence. If your teen comes home drunk or high, it's tempting to confront the issue right then, but this won't be productive. Wait until your teen is sober, coherent and can be fully present for the discussion.
Don't shame them with anger. While you may feel blindsided or disappointed if you catch your teen under the influence, don't let these normal emotions guide conversations with your
teen. Yelling matches won't help. Anger and accusations only make your teen defensive and encourages him or her to shut down. Instead approach your teen with concern. Take a few deep breaths. Show compassion. Remain calm. Explain the concerns you have. Let your child know your are a source of support rather than guilt or shame.
Approach your talk with openness. If you want to have a productive conversation with your teen, try to keep an open mind and remain curious and calm.
Get their Perspective. Instead of leading with facts, start with genuine curiosity and ask open ended questions without sounding judgmental. Ask open ended questions (that don't result in a simple "yes" or "no" response) like "what do you think about weed"? or "are a lot of kids drinking" or "hey, I just read about this thing called a JUUL. What do you know about it?"
Finding out what your teen already knows and thinks about a substance will determine how the rest of the exchange might proceed. If your teen wrinkles her nose and says, "I tried it and didn't like it", you're going to have a different conversation than if she responds "lots of kids are doing it and its not a big deal".
Asking teens what they know about a topic increases the chances that they will want to hear
what we know about that topic too. For an excellent list of questions to start conversations and help your child develop agency, go to the website of The Coalition Connection at https://www.thecoalitionconnection.com/get-real and click on "Conversation Starters" or go directly to https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/dc1317_900c9ea10f5b49149bd75916ae12ac63.pdf.
Make your expectations clear. Long before your kids face the pressures of adolescence, they should know your stance on alcohol, marijuana, vaping and other drug use. Don't treat alcohol and marijuana lightly, even in conversations with other adults your children may overhear. If you convey the message that experimentation is okay, they are more likely to use substances. Parents' disapproval is a huge factor in preventing substance use.
Clearly state your expectations and set firm rules - that you do not want your teen using drugs. You can say something like "my exceptions is that you won't drink, smoke or use other drugs. I have high standards because I know you'll meet them and do what's right." Establish that there will be appropriate consequences for breaking your rules - and consistently enforce them.
Make driving under the influence a nonnegotiable "no-no". This also extends to getting into a car with a driver who has been drinking,using marijuana or other drugs. In particular, explain that the prohibition includes being under the influence of marijuana, as a lot of teens think this is safer than driving under the influence of alcohol. Our teens report that it is no unusual for so called "designated drivers" or "DDs" to have used marijuana.
Acknowledge the limits of your authority. After stating your expectations, concede that you don't have the power to make your teen's decisions for them and they must make those choices themselves. And that you hope they will be healthy decisions. Point out that whereas adolescence centers on the wish for independence, independence centers on the willingness to look after oneself.
Use active listening. Let your teen know she is understood by reflecting back what you hear - either verbatim or just the sentiment. Listen without interrupting, then sum up what you've heard, and allow her to confirm. Examples of phrases are "It seems like you're feeling ...", "I hear you say you're feeling ..." or "Am I right that you're feeling ...."
Use "I" statements. These let you express yourself without your teenager feeling judged, blamed or attacked. Describe his behavior, how you feel about it and how it affects you. Then spell out what you need.
An example is "when you don't come home on time, I worry that something terrible has happened. I need for you to call me as soon as you know you're going to be late so that I know you are okay". Or "because I love you and I want to keep you safe, I worry about you going to the concert. I need to know that you will obey our rules about not drinking or using drugs".
Don't just use scare tactics. While it is important for parents to tell children that alcohol and other drug use can have negative consequences, focus on the positives too. Tap into their vested interests, by explaining that avoiding substances can make easier something they value or are working toward: a scholarship, their first-string playing time on the court or field, a high GPA, a high SAT or ACT score, passing driver's ed, getting into a desired college, getting a job, etc.
Use carrots in addition to sticks. Teens want our trust and their freedom. Explain that you are much more likely to give them that if you have confidence they will abstain from using substances. Offer praise when they are doing so. "Catch them being good".
Teach them how to say 'NO". Tell your teen to stand up straight, make eye contact, say how they feel and don't make excuses. Standing up for yourself applies to other situations such as unwanted sex.
Give teens more advice than "just say no". As a back up to just saying "no", help your teen think of other ways to refuse offered substances. Examples are "I have to get up early", "My parents wait up for me to see if I'm sober", "I don't like the taste of alcohol", "My mom is crazy. She drug tests me".
Give kids a "way out" of a risky situation. Decide on a code word that they can say or
text you to get them with a "no questions asked" policy. Make sure they know they can always call you for a ride home or use an Uber in an emergency.
Discuss your childhood environment. Teens like hearing about their parents' personal experiences. While it is not wise to overshare or tell war stories, it is helpful to get their attention by sharing the environment you navigated as a teen and compare and contrast it to theirs.
Whatever you do, don't lie. When asked "did you drink or smoke when you were young?", an approach is to admit that you did use substances as a teenager, but that it was a mistake. Give your teen an example of an embarrassing or regretful moment that occurred because of your substance use.
Differentiate between what we know now about the effects of substances on the developing adolescent brain. Point out how powerful today's marijuana is versus its low potency back in your day. Or distinguish between chugging a bottle of beer as you may have done in high school and a taking gulps from a bottle of vodka, as teens do today.
Offer empathy and support. Let your child know you understand that the teen years can be fraught with social, emotional and academic challenges. Acknowledge that everyone struggles sometimes, but alcohol and drugs are not a useful or healthy way to cope with
Remind your child that you are there for support and guidance and that its important to you that your child is healthy, happy and makes safe choices. Make sure your child knows that if they make the wrong choice, you're still there for them.
Share your family history. If there is a history of chemical dependency in your family, educate your teen about genetic vulnerabilities towards substance abuse. If you have personal experiences with addiction and recovery, share them. Don't hide valuable knowledge you've gained from experience in an effort to maintain a perfect image. Your teen can learn from your mistakes, but you have to be willing to share them.
Make it an ongoing conversation. Remember you don't need to cover everything at once. In fact, you're likely to have a greater impact on your child's decisions by having a number of talks about substance use throughout their adolescence. Think of your talks as part of an ongoing conversation. If they are not complaining that your are talking about the topic too much, then you are probably not talking about it enough!
A note about marijuana legalization. Legalization bolsters the common belief among adolescents that the drug is safe for their recreational use. Teens are likely to be skeptical of adults bearing bad news about a widely used drug that is now legal for adults.
One suggestion for a successful conversation is to discuss what legalization does and doesn't mean. Point out that its easy to be on the right side of the law and the wrong side of science. Examples are cigarettes and tanning beds. Explain that savvy consumers need to look at the available evidence, not legislation when making decisions about their own health and well-being. Adults might say "Whatever has happened with the laws, I hope you'll keep your eye on the science. You only get one brain for your whole life. I'm rooting for you to take great care of it".
A note about sex and consent. Its important to have the conversation about drugs and
sex with your teen, especially those who are college bound in an area where "affirmative consent" is the law. Explain that alcohol and other drugs can cloud people's judgment, increasing the chances of unprotected sex. Just as important, being under the influence can vitiate consent, putting a teen at risk for sexual assault.
Sources: http://drugfree.org/article/how-to-talk-with-your-teen/; https://www.projectknow.com/5-no-nos-when-talking-to-teens-about-drug-use/; https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/05/11/talking-with-teenagers-about-marijuana/; https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/14/well/family/how-to-talk-with-teenagers-about-vaping.html
Additional guidance on talking to your teens with specific language suggestions is available on the website of The Coalition Connection at https://www.thecoalitionconnection.com/get-real (Click on "Conversation Starters") and directly at https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/dc1317_900c9ea10f5b49149bd75916ae12ac63.pdf.
Taking a "Harm Reduction" Approach. At some point, prevention efforts by necessity may turn to reality based "harm reduction" efforts - especially for older teens with more autonomy who are using substances. A list of talking points using this approach is at http://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/SafetyFirst-8-Tips-for-Talking-Tip-Sheet.pdf,
Talk alone is not enough. Finally, remember that while parent-child conversations about substance use are essential, you also need to take concrete action to reduce access to substances. Use the BTI Parent Lists to reach out to other parents to monitor your child and ensure there is adult supervision without teen use of substances.
GENERAL PARENTING TIPS
In addition to discussions with your teen and using BTI's Parent Lists, review the comprehensive list of parenting tips here such as restricting access to your liquor or prescription pills or searching for fake id's and drug paraphernalia.
How to Host
Plan Ahead.The overarching advice when hosting a party is to plan ahead. Planning together offers an opportunity to discuss the responsibilities assumed when hosting a party and your rules.
Set Ground Rules. Discuss the ground rules that need to be followed for the party to happen. It goes without saying that no alcohol, marijuana, smoking, vaping or other drugs will
be allowed. Make sure your child is aware of the legal repercussionsyou face as an adult and host. For a description of your local laws, review Legal Consequences on this website.
Have your child inform each invitee of these rules in advance. If a guest brings alcohol or other drugs, ask that guest to leave. If someone shows up under the influence, consider calling the parents. You may be liable if you send them away and something happens to them.
Other ground rules include setting a definite start and end time, which areas of the home will be open and which will be off limits, how many guests will be invited, etc. Consider sending an email to parents informing them of your ground rules and giving out your contact info.
Agree on a guest list and limit attendance. Do not send invitations via email, social media or any other method that can be duplicated or widely forwarded. Greet guests as they arrive and consider checking names off as they enter. Don't admit party crashers. If its a large party, consider the use of customized wristbands for attendees that are handed out to each guest as part of the invitation.
Leave backpacks and coats at the door. The same goes for birthday presents if it's a birthday party as teens have been known to sneak in alcohol or drugs in beautifully wrapped boxes! Don't underestimate teens' creativity - the internet offers a dizzying array of products designed to hide substances, e.g., plastic pouches that secure to underwear.
Don't allow outside food or beverages. For example, even water bottles can be filled with vodka instead of water. Soft drinks can be mixed with alcohol. Marijuana edibles are common.
Don't allow in and out privileges. Partygoers who choose to leave will not be allowed to re-enter. Consider hiring security.
Plan activities and themes. Music is a given. Consider a theme party centered around participation such as games (glow in the dark tag is fun if you have a big back yard), karaoke, pizza making, filming iPhone movies, Silent Disco, etc. Get creative!
Secure any alcohol, marijuana, or prescription drugs. Keep it all out of sight, preferably under lock and key. Safely discard unused prescriptions drugs before the party.
Notify your neighbors and alert your local police department. Many police departments will be happy to increase patrols. Ask your neighbors to keep an eye out for any behavior they thinks questionable and to call you with any issues.
Circulate during the party. Be visible, available and aware of what's going on - but don't join the party! Do so even if you are hiring security. If you are not hiring security then invite another parent or couple over to help with chaperoning (don't drink or use marijuana yourselves during the party). Serve plenty of snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. Circulate regularly through the party, frequently checking out of bounds areas, including your yard, outside in cars and the streets.
Never allow anyone you suspect to be intoxicated or high to drive. Call their parents/caregivers or ask a sober adult to drive them home.
Don't allow an intoxicated guest to "sleep it off". Alcohol poisoning and overdose can be fatal, and laypeople cannot assess the medical condition of a teen under the influence. Call 911 for an unconscious teen. Good samaritan laws are in existence in most areas.
Attendance at Parties
Use the Be the Influence Parent List. Determine whether the hosting parents are BTI participants. If so, reach out. If not, still reach out using other means (your school directory or ask your child).
First, find out if they know about the party. Get assurances that they will be present and
actively chaperoning the party. Although it can be uncomfortable to ask additional questions, doing so will give you peace of mind. In particular, ask:
What is the start and end time, theme, activities and other party particulars?
Is this is an invite only or open party and how many guests are invited?
Will alcohol, vaping, marijuana use and other drugs be prohibited?
Who will be chaperoning the party?
Will there be in and out privileges?
What are plans if things go awry?
Drop your child off if possible. If you drop your child off, introduce yourself to the host's parents. Provide your phone number to the host's parents and encourage them to call if there are any issues. If something feels wrong, trust your instincts and don't let your child stay. (You can leave first and have your teen follow a few minutes later to save face). Be wary of allowing sleepovers. If you allow one, consider a FaceTime or other checkin.
Discuss safety precautions. Instruct your teen never to leave a drink unattended. Consider providing GHB test strips at http://drinksafe.com or "Smart Straws" (soon to be released). Suggest they inspect food for the symbol indicating THC.
Follow the additional tips for Monitoring Your Teen on this website.
For a complete list of tips on hosting and attending parties as well as other tips such as meting out consequences, read the book "Where's the Party", as recommended below.
Also see our Party Guide on this website which not only has tips on hosting but when your teen is going to a party or dance and what to do when parents are away. (This is also translated into Spanish).
“Where’s the Party” by Jonathan Scott and Kelly Townsend. This book is the ultimate guide to the issue of teen parties. It also includes an excellent discussion of consequences, understanding peer pressure and the teen brain.
I'd Listen to My Parents If They'd Shut Up: What to Say and Not Say When Parenting Teens by Anthony E. Wolf. This is an excellent book on communicating with teens.
That's it for now. We hope that you have a wonderful and safe summer!
—The Be the Influence Committee