Defending Your TeenA program developed by DARE Officer of the Year 2013, Timothy Shoemaker
Navigating the teen years can be formidable. You probably have wondered about the potential risks your child will face. Alcohol, tobacco or illicit drug use, dangerous driving, sexual activity are a few of the possible risk. Maybe even the pressures of the school, sports or just fitting in.
You may worry that you’re no longer the most influential person in your child’s life. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Your child needs your influence and guidance now more than ever.
For this reason, you will be receiving a series of emails containing a segment of a five part parenting program called, “Defending Your Teen.” While the focus of the series is maintaining a drug free life style, parents will develop skills to improve communication, set boundaries, and improve decisions making when interacting with their teens. Each segment is designed to provide a brief overview (5-7 minutes) of a topic that can be viewed right from your computer.
I hope you enjoy the series. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at Randie.ONeil@riverdell.org.
Randie O’Neil, PhD., LCADCStudent Assistance Counselor
River Dell Regional School District
Below is the RD parenting program, “Defending Your Teen.” This is the first of a 5 part series that tries to educate and support parents as they navigate the teen years.
To view the remaining segments go to:
Coalition resources: Data Analysis
This week, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA Columbia) released the 17th annual National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVII: Teens. This year’s back-to-school survey reveals that 86 percent of American high school students say that classmates are using drugs, drinking and smoking during the school day and almost half know a student who sells drugs at their school.
The survey also reveals that 52 percent of high school students say there is a place on or near school grounds where students go to get high during the school day. Thirty-six percent say it is easy for students to use drugs, drink or smoke during the school day without getting caught. And teens are more likely to be able to get prescription drugs than marijuana within an hour or within a day.
“For millions of American teens, drugs and alcohol, not more advanced education, are what put the ‘high’ in the high schools they attend,”said Joseph A. Califano, Jr. Founder and Chairman Emeritus of CASA Columbia and former US Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. “For millions of parents trying to raise drug-free kids, the ‘high’ school years are the most dangerous times their children face, and the ‘high’ schools are a dangerous place to send their kids.”
For the first time in the survey’s history, more than half of private high school students say their school is “drug-infected,” a 50 percent increase over the past year, from 36 percent in 2011 to 54 percent in 2012. The survey showed that the gap between “drug-infected” public and private schools is closing.
This year’s survey also examined teen social networking and digital “peer pressure” and found that 75 percent of 12- to 17-year olds say that seeing pictures of teens partying with alcohol or marijuana on Facebook,MySpace or another social networking site encourages other teens to want to party like that. Compared to teens who have not seen pictures on Facebook or another social networking site of kids getting drunk, passed out, or using drugs, teens who have seen such pictures are:
• Four times likelier to have used marijuana;
• More than three times likelier to have used alcohol; and
• Almost three times likelier to have used tobacco.
Also for the first time this year, the survey asked 12- to 17-year olds if they are ever left alone without adult supervision overnight.Nearly one-third of teens (29 percent) say they have been left alone overnight.Compared to teens who are never home alone overnight, those who are left home alone overnight are:• Twice as likely to have used marijuana;
• Almost twice as likely to have used alcohol; and
• Almost three times likelier to have used tobacco.
Parental expectations, particularly expressing strong disapproval of teen substance use, can be a decisive factor in a teen’s decision to drink, use drugs or smoke, according to the survey.
“The take away from this survey for parents is to talk to their children and get engaged in their children’s lives. They should ask their children what they’re seeing at school and online. It takes a teen to know what’s going on in the teen world, but it takes parents to help their children navigate that world,” said Emily Feinstein, CASA Columbia’s Senior Policy Analyst and the project director of the teen survey. For more of this year’s finding read the report.
The Teenage Brain
What Every Parent Should Know
What’s really going on inside your child’s head?
The Teenage Brain and Decision Making
Historically, adolescents were seen as miniature adults. Then the role of hormones was seen as the major influence in adolescent moods and behaviors. Now we know that the brain itself is responsible for a wide range of behaviors and experiences throughout adolescence.
Perhaps you’ve recognized some of these symptoms: difficulty planning, organizing and setting priorities; inability to foresee consequences; difficulty postponing gratification; poor impulse control; heightened emotional reactions and mood swings; exaggerated “black and white” thinking; difficulty interpreting or responding to social situations and challenges; high risk-taking behavior—and paradoxically—a fear of new situations and people; and difficulty gauging what others are thinking, feeling, or experiencing.
This may sound like a laundry list of typical adolescent behavior—and in many ways it is. These behaviors and experiences are related to a still developing and critically important area of the brain called the frontal lobes—particularly the prefrontal cortex (PFC)—located in the front of the brain just behind the forehead. The frontal lobes are considered the “chief executive” of the brain, responsible for reasoning, judgment, motivation, impulse control, application of effective social skills, and overall coordination of the various subsystems in the brain to solve problems, relate to others, and negotiate one’s way in the world.
At puberty, the brain undergoes a series of fairly profound growth spurts and transformations where the number of nerve cells and (more importantly) their connections alternately increase and decrease. Periods of increased growth (called exuberance) are associated with times when adolescents are most capable of learning new information and skills. This is also the time when the developing frontal lobes help to consolidate learning and experience in order to apply critical life skills and coping mechanisms. Periods of decreased growth (called “pruning”) occur when the brain actually erases or modifies cells and connections that are not used. Thus, neuroscientists are beginning to describe brain development based on the “use it or lose it” principle.
The recent developments in brain research have major implications for adolescent development. If teenagers don’t learn and practice effective coping skills at this time, they may have difficulty ever getting them completely in the future. And lack of exposure or practice is not the only threat: drug and alcohol use, media influences, and negative adult and peer role-modeling all have the potential to prevent or distort the development of executive functions and social skills. Kids who use drugs, aggressive confrontation, passive avoidance, or any other ineffective coping skill run the risk of “locking in” (biologically!) that pattern of behavior, making it more difficult to either resist or unlearn these behavioral responses in the future.
The solution is to provide teenagers with the opportunity to learn and practice effective coping strategies, especially when dealing with the most common adolescent issues: inclusion vs. exclusion, boredom, social/emotional coping skills, assertiveness and confrontation skills, ability to gauge others’ responses, and realistic self-appraisals.
One effective way to practice these coping skills is to provide opportunities for teenagers to “think through” problems, considering various alternatives and their likely outcomes. Reasoning out different possibilities can “stretch” the brain (stimulating neural connections), leading to more efficient problem-solving skills.
Adults (parents, teachers, counselors, etc.) often try to solve teenagers’ problems too quickly. Sometimes, the best assistance for a teenager facing a problem is to ask them to identify the potential options and then assist them in considering the pros and cons of each of those options. Not only does this lead to a resolution of the problem, it also gives the brain a workout that develops reasoning and decision-making skills for the future.
A more in-depth discussion of the developing teenage brain and its behavioral/emotional implications can be found in the book “The Primal Teen” by Barbara Strauch, which I highly recommend.
Listen to an interview with the author of "The Primal Teen" and browse through this and other books on my suggested reading list page (see link below).
Children need you to be their parent, not their friend. Parents can be very close and friendly with their children, but it is always your right and responsibility to establish structure and set limits, even when these limits make you unpopular or "un-cool." If children don't receive structure at home, they may one day get it from the police--or possibly never get it at all. Set boundaries - kids always resist limits and rules, but they need them and (even though they may not admit it) really want them. Often, adolescents push limits as a way of learning where the limits are. Limits provide a basic sense of security and predictability for both kids and parents. Rules and boundaries should be clear and consistent, and consequences should be predictable. Rules and boundaries are more effectively accepted and internalized when kids are provided with clear explanations and allowed to discuss the reasons for rules and limits (even if they don't initially agree with them). Rules and boundaries can be amended when appropriate or necessary. Responsible behavior should lead to greater freedom and trust; irresponsible behavior should lead to restrictions on freedom and more careful monitoring. Help your child understand how their behavior essentially dictates how much freedom and autonomy they earn. Initially saying "no" and then eventually giving in typically teaches children that relentless nagging will wear you down. When kids don't realize that "no means no," it's probably because it doesn't. Know your child's friends - many of our grandparents told us that they could know a person by the company he/she keeps, and they're right. Get to know the parents of your child's friends - If your child is going to a party, make sure the party is supervised and that you've spoken directly to the parents who will be in charge. Kids will sometimes say "if you call their parents you'll embarrass me and I won't go." If that's the case, they're better off not going. Besides, you'll be giving the other parents the message that it's OK for them to call you. Talk to your child. Always. Even when you think they're not listening, they probably are. If you think that giving the same message over and over is not getting through, remember that the messages they receive now are likely to be repeated by them to their children--so do it for the sake of your grandchildren. One of the best times to talk to your child...while you're driving in your car (a guaranteed captive audience). If you want to know what's going on in adolescent culture today and your child does not want to talk...try talking to their friends. You might find that other children are much more likely to talk to you about adolescent issues in general ( but don't expect them to incriminate themselves). By keeping the focus on general issues in adolescence, you will appear genuinely interested in their world--as opposed to investigating them or digging for private information about your child. Rewarding positive behavior is preferable to punishing negative behavior. Kids don't come with an "owner's manual," but see this link on developmental assets to learn how to cultivate specific characteristics that correlate with health, responsibility and success. Click HERE If you discover alcohol, drugs or paraphernalia in your child's room and they say it belongs to a friend, they're lying. Never, ever, think that your child is not at risk. ALL kids are at risk. When you think your child has absolutely lost his/her mind, they're probably perfectly normal (see link to the The Teenage Brain). If you have any questions or concerns about your child, ASK. Reach out to school counselors, other parents, etc.