This is the time of year when shopping for school clothes and the latest electronics and accessories is foremost in your child’s mind. But, for parents, back-to-school season brings up more pressing concerns that should find their way into conversation, whether casually at the mall, in the car or watching TV or in a more formal family discussion around the dinner table.
Thousands of recent high school grads are stocking up on dorm essentials and packing their bags for college. Since your blossoming young adult may be far from home for the next few years, and they’ll be none too quick to call with updates, there’s a good chance you’ll be in the dark about what really happens at college. Here are five of the less savory aspects of college life every parent should be on the lookout for:
#1 Stress Leads to Drug Use, Binge Drinking.
Transitions can be extremely stressful, especially for young people trying to balance a full load of classes, a part-time job, a social life, and new responsibilities like cooking, shopping and cleaning. Whether it’s the stress of school, the first taste of freedom or an attempt to fit into an unfamiliar environment, studies show that substance abuse and other risky behaviors increase significantly during this time.
She looks like an adult, sounds like an adult and occasionally dresses like an adult. But take a closer look and you’ll see someone who more closely resembles a teenager than a bona fide grown-up. The increasingly common phenomenon of taking the long road to adulthood goes by different names – failure to launch, Peter Pan syndrome, the boomerang generation – but is becoming a pressing concern for many families.
Most young people don’t struggle with the transition into adulthood, and of those that do, there are often understandable – even healthy – reasons for it. Some are busy seizing other opportunities – trying on different jobs and romantic interests to see which fits, traveling, or building job skills at unpaid internships. For these youth, living at home and settling down later makes sense.
While all that glory may feel undeserved at times, it turns out we might just matter more than many people think. Research shows that good dads have certain traits in common and the paternal influence runs much deeper than once imagined. On this Father’s Day, consider what studies say about all you’ve done for your children and all your dad did for you.
A disturbing trend has emerged in the health care field: Parents are visiting their doctor’s office asking whether children as young as 2 could have a diagnosable mental illness such as depression. And now more than ever, parents are likely to leave with a prescription in hand.
According to Medco Health Solutions, one in four children now take regular medication. The number of children diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the percentage using antipsychotic medication has doubled in the past decade (Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly one in 10 children has been diagnosed with ADHD.
Have we become so accustomed to medicating problems away that we see pathology everywhere we look, or are we getting better at identifying disorders that were once dismissed as personality traits?
Unless it’s happening to your child, you probably haven’t given bullying a lot of thought. A bold Wisconsin town is trying to change that by hitting parents where it counts: in the pocketbook. Under the town’s “parent liability” approach, parents of bullies who do not cooperate with authorities in addressing their child’s behavior can be fined up to $177 for each instance of intimidation or abuse.
While this approach sends a strong anti-bullying message, it has left the rest of the nation asking: Are parents to blame if their child is a bully? If so, is punishment the best way to get parents’ attention?
Home Is Where the Lesson Is
When people think about bullying, their first question is, “What’s happening at school?” But bullying is an issue long before children step foot on campus. For many children, bullying is a learned behavior. Parents, caretakers and relatives can be bullies, and their influence is even stronger than peers because it comes from people who purportedly love the child and are the ultimate authority in the child’s life.
By the time most children enter middle school their parents are starting to realize they’re not little kids anymore. They’re not quite teenagers yet, either. Regardless, many are playing the part, wearing makeup, spending hours on Facebook and, much to their parents’ dismay, asking to go on dates.
Conventional wisdom says there’s no “right” age to start dating – it depends on the child’s maturity. But new research suggests there is probably a “wrong” age to start dating: middle school. If your pre-teen is in pursuit of a junior-high romance, make sure you’ve talked with them about these five risks:
#1 Drug Use – Building on a large body of research, a recent study from the University of Georgia found children who date in middle school use alcohol and marijuana twice as much as their peers who hold off on dating until high school. The more time teens spend with a love interest, the more likely they are to use drugs. Those most at risk for substance abuse are girls who date boys two or more years older than them.
If you’ve lived through a family member’s addiction, whether a grandparent, aunt, cousin, sibling or your own, you intimately understand the gravity of the disease. But your children, blissfully unaware of their family history, may not take drugs and alcohol as seriously as they should – that is, until you make them.
Genetics accounts for about half the risk of developing addiction. Those with a family history of addiction, meaning one or more blood relatives has had a drug or alcohol problem, are at a significantly higher risk of suffering from addiction and other mental health disorders. Children of alcoholics, for example, are four times more likely than other children to become alcoholics themselves. They also tend to suffer from low self-esteem, poor academic performance, abuse and neglect, and other issues at higher rates than other children.
In working with the spouses and significant others of addicts, I’ve often heard it said, “I’d rather be an addict than love one.” While few people would ever walk eyes-wide-open into a chronic disease like addiction, the statement speaks to the confusion, loneliness and despair common not only among addicts but also the men and women who love them.
A history of addiction doesn’t necessarily turn Mr./Mrs. Right into Mr./Mrs. Wrong. In fact, addicts who are solid in their recovery can make excellent partners. They’ve waged a courageous battle, spending a great deal of time working to take care of and improve themselves. But before you put yourself in a position to fall for an addict, there are a few things you need to know:
For anyone considering dating an active addict, it is important to realize that love cannot conquer addiction. Addiction takes priority over everything – you, children, career, financial security, even one’s own freedom. Before diving into a relationship, find out if your prospective partner is actively using drugs or alcohol, or if they display addictive or compulsive patterns in other areas (e.g., gambling, work, sex, food or spending).
Among the most tragic consequences of addiction is the devastating – and sometimes lifelong – impact on the children of an addict. More than 28 million Americans are children of alcoholics. Prescription drug addiction has been rising over the past decade, with more stories about moms keeping their addiction secret. While many of these children go on to lead healthy, productive lives, they also struggle in a way that is characteristic of their upbringing. For example, we know that children of alcoholics:
• Are up to four times more likely to struggle with alcoholism and other drug abuse than other kids.
• Exhibit more symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other emotional and behavioral disorders than children from non-addicted families.
• Score lower on academic achievement tests and have other difficulties in school.
• Take on too much or too little responsibility to compensate for the lack of parenting they receive from an addict.
• Struggle in interpersonal relationships as a result of mistrust and deficits in communication skills (50 percent of children of alcoholics marry an alcoholic).
• Are more likely to witness domestic violence and become victims of abuse, incest, neglect and other childhood traumas, sometimes resulting in removal from the home.
In the midst of active addiction, the addict can do little to help themselves, not to mention their children. So what can spouses, relatives, friends, neighbors and others do to help when they see a child suffering in an addicted home?