This is the number one message from the forum for parents on adolescent substance abuse and other social issues held at the King Philip Regional High School on Wednesday, December 17th.
Dr. Nicole Danforth from the Massachusetts General Hospital Addiction Recovery program highlighted this in her summary of the four take aways she provided to the parents. She carefully explained that teenagers are having a tough time growing up but that this is due to the normal biological development period that occurs. If she were to put her finger on the single age when the human brain is completely formed and enabled for rational decision making, it would be 25. So there is no need to wonder why a 15 or 18 year old can’t make a good decision especially where alcohol and other substances are involved.
Dr. Danforth’s four take aways
- Adolescents are not mini-adults
- Risk taking is normal, biologically driven and inevitable
- Binge drinking is common
- You (as a parent) matter more than you think
You need to be a parent for your teen. They have plenty of friends. Be a good role model. Set out the guidelines on what you will allow, what you won’t. Show your concern. This will help them to frame the risk taking they will try. They can and do take risks in many aspects of their life. At this age with the peer pressure and culture that abounds, just speaking out in class can be taking a risk. They don’t need to be taking a risk with alcohol where the consequences can be life altering.
Steve Adamec, director of the Bristol County Family Stabilization Team seconded Dr. Danforth’s line on clear expectations with consistent consequences. He emphasized that this can come from communication, communication, communication.
He provided 3 c’s
Teens who have developed a strategy for dealing with stress are more likely to avoid substance abuse.
Image via Wikipedia
How can you connect with your teen? Steve outlined 5 key opportunities:
- Pick a fictional character
- Use a “role” model from media (i.e Brittany Spears)
- An athlete
- A classmate
- A relative
Any one of these opportunities can provide an entry to the conversation. Ask specific questions that require more than a single word answer. Follow up on the first response. Not to be negative, not to be punitive but to be inquisitive and caring.
“Silence is permission.” If you don’t say anything, you have provided your tacit approval for their behavior or conduct.
Michael Jackman from the Norfolk County District Attorney's Office reinforced the importance of keeping the conversation going. He referenced studies that show when teens are provided a clear message with distinct consequences; they are less likely to end up with substance abuse.
Parents will benefit when they can delay their teens first use of alcohol. This ties back into the biological development going on at this time that Dr. Danforth discussed. Alcohol early in their teen years can do some damage. If their first drink is in their 20’s, the damage will be less. They will be better enabled to handle it.
Michael went on to discuss the online behavior of today’s teens. They are tech saving, texting and always connected via their cell phones. Parents who have been focused on the predator awareness for their younger children still need to have conversations with their teenagers. The teens do not grasp the fact that once they post a picture on the internet that is available for anyone to see. Their online profile is important. Parents need to be involved because the teens are so into the moment and invincible, they do not think about the long term consequences of their actions. They are not capable of it at this age.
Plainville Police Chief Edward Merrick emphasized that it is the parents job, really their obligation to be involved with their teen. Make the effort to know your teens friends, and the parents of their friends. If they are going to do an overnight, check to see that the parents are there. Those parents will appreciate the fact that you checked in with them. Be aware of the social host obligation. There are ramifications if you don’t. Parenting is not rocket science but it is not something you have to do alone. There are plenty of resources available.
Let your teen know that there will be consequences every time they step outside the boundaries you have set for them.
King Philip Superintendent Dr. Dick Robbat facilitated the Q&A section. The panel agreed that there is no such thing as “healthy adolescent drinking”. This is not to say that for a special occasion, religious or cultural event, that there can’t be a sip of wine or champagne. This is a family decision and due to the religious and cultural aspects of it, they would not say it was good. Framed in that context, the act of a single drink becomes special.
Just as the W.A.S.T."E".D. Information session at Franklin High was the first of a series, there will be additional forums and information sessions on this and related topics at King Phillip.
The conversation needs to continue.