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.
#1 Alcohol Is Off-Limits
The old adage is true: education begins at home. When it comes to alcohol use, a child’s perceptions of what’s okay begin forming early. A 6-year old knows alcohol is for adults, but by age 9, many children think it’s no big deal to drink. Since around 80 percent of children feel their parents should have a say in whether they drink alcohol, make sure your kids know that underage alcohol use is strictly off-limits. Talking with children early about the risks of drinking is critical to ward off experimentation in the teen years that can later lead to addiction.
But parents need to do much more than just talk. Remember that your children are keenly aware of what you do. They watch and learn from your actions. If you have a problem with alcohol or drugs, your children are much more likely to take up drinking as adolescents.
Research shows that when parents are more involved with their teens’ day-to-day lives, their children are much less likely to use drugs or alcohol. By closely monitoring your children’s activities and friends, you’re conveying the healthy impression that you care about your child and want to help them grow up responsibly. It’s also important to listen to what your child has to say with an uncritical ear, allowing plenty of opportunity for questions that might come up.
#2 Stay Off the Grass (and Other Drugs)
Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the U.S. and the go-to drug of choice for millions of adolescents. However, it is not a harmless drug. Teens who regularly smoke marijuana show personality and behavioral changes that include indifference, hostility and negativity. Changes with memory and concentration may cause or worsen academic problems.
Marijuana is also addictive and poses serious risks, especially to adolescents. About 9 percent of users become addicted, with risks higher among those who begin marijuana use young, use it regularly, or have an underlying mental health disorder.
There is also fake marijuana to contend with. With names like Spice, Blossom, K2, these synthetic mixtures of chemicals and herbs are sending teens to hospital emergency rooms with rapid heart rate, agitation, vomiting, convulsions and hallucinations after using these drugs.
#3 Ignore the Hype About Study Drugs
The pressure to get good grades can overpower a child’s logical understanding of the dangers of study drugs, especially if peers are doing it and seeming to excel. The most common study drugs are those stimulants used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as Adderall and Ritalin, as well as modafinil (Provigil), a wakefulness-promoting drug. These are powerful drugs, classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as Schedule II controlled substances – the same class as cocaine – with a high potential for abuse and dependence.
Misinformation about study drugs abounds. According to a University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on children’s health, one in 10 teens are using study drugs, while only one in 100 parents believes their teen has used such a drug. In fact, The Partnership at Drugfree.org found that nearly one-third of parents think Adderall and Ritalin help boost academic performance in children even if they don’t have ADHD – a claim that has yet to be supported by scientific evidence.
#4 Coping with Bullies
One-third of today’s youth have been bullied and one in six has been cyberbullied. As parents, we can help a child deal with bullying before it happens and after. Talk with your children about their day. Ask them if they see anyone being bullied, if they were bullied, or if anything else makes them uncomfortable. Look for any warning signs of bullying, such as torn clothing, social isolation or a sudden drop in grades.
If bullying has occurred:
- Reassure your child that it isn’t his fault, that bullying is wrong, and that you are glad he has the courage to discuss what happened with you.
- Curb the urge to criticize how your child handles a bullying incident, even if you disagree with the action. Remember that children often don’t know how to handle such situations, especially the first time it happens, but also if it happens repeatedly.
- Never tell your child to ignore the bullying. That won’t make it go away or allow your child to heal from it.
- Reign in your emotions. You want to protect your child, but to do so you need to step back and think about next steps in a logical and level-headed manner.
- Report the bullying incident to school officials immediately and work closely with them to resolve the problem.
- Teach your child safety strategies to use in the event of bullying, such as asking an adult for help, walking away, talking it out, and sticking with friends.
- Encourage your child to develop other interests and hobbies. This helps build resiliency, a trait that is helpful in navigating stressful situations like bullying.
#5 Resisting Peer Pressure
Kids want to fit in, to be accepted, to belong. When confronted with pressure from friends, they may not know how to say no to sex, drugs or other risky behaviors. Having clearly defined rules and preparing children to assert themselves and refuse to go along with activities they know are dangerous or wrong is an important parental responsibility.
Teens need help practicing how to say no. Encourage them to do so and also reinforce the message that they have the right to say no – and mean it.