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Talking to your teens

How was your day? Fine. How was school? Good. How was your test? OK. Anything you want to tell me? Nope. Does this sound familiar?  Here is a question to ask on the way home from practice or at the dinner table tonight to break out of the one word, yes or no questions and have an actual conversation with your kids!

Why do you think I don’t want you to drink or use drugs?

Recent studies show that teens whose parents talk to them regularly about drugs are 42% less likely to use than those whose parents don't.  The most important thing to remember when it comes to talking about difficult subjects like drinking and drugs is that it's not a five-minute "talk,"  it's about building an ongoing dialogue.  As your children grow up, they will need more and more information, so start early and build on the conversation as your teen matures.  Use the questions in this column to get you started.  Rather than badgering your child with them, use one as the jumping off point for a two-way conversation.  Start by asking your child the question, and listen to the answer, remembering to reflect back what she’s saying so they know you understand. Don’t shy away from expressing your opinions, as long as you remember not to lecture; kids are often curious what parents think. 

The better you communicate, the more at ease your teen will feel about discussing drugs and other sensitive issues with you. Here are some tips:

  • Be absolutely clear with your kids that you don't want them using drugs. Ever. Anywhere. Don't leave room for interpretation. And talk often about the dangers and results of drug and alcohol abuse. Once or twice a year won't do it.
  • Be a better listener. Ask questions - and encourage them. Paraphrase what your teen says to you. Ask for their input about family decisions. Showing your willingness to listen will make your teen feel more comfortable about opening up to you.
  • Give honest answers. Don't make up what you don't know; offer to find out. If asked whether you've ever taken drugs, let them know what's important: That you don't want them using drugs. Get the facts on drugs by visiting www.http://www.theantidrug.com/drug-information/default.aspx
  • Don't react in a way that will cut off further discussion. If your teen makes statements that challenge or shock you, turn them into a calm discussion of why your teen thinks people use drugs, or whether the effect is worth the risk.

Help your kids live above the influence. Talk to your kids about not using drugs or alcohol.

Talking about Alcohol

Many parents worry about how to talk to their teen about alcohol, but having these conversations doesn’t have to be that hard. The fact is, teens actually want to communicate with their parents.  Here are a few things to keep in mind when talking to your teen about alcohol or other drugs.

It’s a two-way street. Every teen and parent-child relationship is different, but experts agree that the more you talk to your teens every day, about the small stuff the easier it is to talk about the big stuff. It's really not that hard to find an opening for a conversation. Sometimes the best time to talk is when you are just spending time together, like cooking a meal, going for a walk, riding in a car together, or watching TV. You'd also be surprised how many situations come up that represent great moments to check in with your teen. Here are just a few to consider:

  • Making transitions or entering new situations—a new school, a new team, new friends, requests for more privileges.
  • He/she says something surprising or untrue—comments about alcohol or other drugs not "being a big deal," misinformation about the risks of alcohol and other drugs.
  • Friend's or relative's struggles—a friend or someone at school getting into trouble, a relative's struggle with alcohol or other drug abuse.
  • Reactions to news stories and popular media—latest celebrity rehab or arrest, alcohol's portrayal in the movies, alcohol advertising on TV.

What you say is important, but how you say it also matters, especially when you're talking to a teenager. Here are a few more tips for good communication:

  • Listen first – It's fine to share, but resist the urge to do all the talking and share story after story from your own experiences. Nod frequently and use a caring tone.
  • Encourage their thoughts and opinions – Ask open-ended (not "yes" or "no") questions. If you respect their opinions, they'll be more likely to respect yours.
  • Try not to let your emotions get the best of you – Stay calm and don't criticize. Don't respond in anger to something you don't like; you don't want to cut off the conversation.
  • Reflect on the conversation afterwards – Teens may need time to think things through, and you might as well. What went well? What can you improve on next time? Who did most of the talking?

Research has now made clear that alcohol kills far more young people than cocaine, heroin, and every other illegal drug combined. Had our parents known then what we know today, things might have been a lot different back then! Early and frequent conversations are critical, and research has shown that teens who say they have a close relationship with their parents are less likely to drink. Help your kids live above the influence. Talk to your kids about not using drugs or alcohol.

Talking about Pot

Talking with teens today about marijuana is complicated, in part because parents who've smoked it aren't sure whether or not to "'fess up." Parents have to make their own decisions about how much to share with their children, but being honest and reflecting on how you feel about the risks you took in youth is a good way to engage teens in dialog about what's going on in their lives. Whether or not you've used marijuana and choose to share that with your children, it's essential for them to know some important things about the drug. Marijuana is one of the most easily available drugs to young people, so it's important to begin talking with kids about it by the time they are 12, even if they don't raise the issue themselves.  Here are a few tips on talking to your kids about marijuana.

Give a Clear Message

Kids get mixed messages about marijuana, but your message needs to be clear let them know it’s an illegal substance. While many people feel that marijuana should be legalized, and it's not thought to be as lethal as drugs like heroin or cocaine, smoking marijuana is not harmless.  The adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable to the effects of marijuana (and alcohol) as it is in a period of strong developmental growth. Using brain scans, researchers have found abnormalities in areas of the brain that interconnect brain regions involved in memory, attention, decision-making, language and executive functioning skills. These effects can be mild or severe, depending on how long a person used, how much use occurred, what other substances were used, and how vulnerable a particular brain is. Don't wait! Talk to your kids about marijuana use before it's too late.

Share the Facts

  • Possessing marijuana is a criminal offense. A person arrested for possession of marijuana can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the amount involved and may receive a prison sentence.
  • The main active ingredient in marijuana, temporarily alters brain functioning that affects sensory perception, reflexes, and coordination. Because it changes the way people see, hear, and feel, it can impair judgment. Driving under the influence of marijuana is extremely dangerous. The fact that many teens smoke marijuana while they are drinking alcohol makes driving even more lethal.
  • Studies suggest that marijuana may cause permanent short- and long-term memory loss.
  • As with any drug use, smoking marijuana can interfere with school performance, extra-curricular activities, and peer relations. Heavy smokers often lose their sense of motivation and find it difficult to concentrate.
  • Regular use of marijuana may play a role in causing cancer (particularly lung cancer) and problems with the immune or reproductive systems. For additional information, contact The National Institute on Drug Abuse at 1-888-NIH-NIDA or www.nida.nih.gov

How to answer the dreaded have you ever question

For many parents, a child’s “Did you ever use drugs?” question is a tough one to answer. Unless the answer is no, most parents stutter and stammer through a response and leave their kids feeling like they haven’t learned anything, or even worse, that their parents are hypocrites. You want your kids to follow your rules and you don’t want them to hold your history up as an example to follow, or as a tool to use against you. But the conversation doesn’t have to be awkward, and you can use it to your advantage by turning it into a teachable moment.

Some parents who’ve used drugs in the past choose to lie about it, but they risk losing their credibility if their kids ever discover the truth. Many experts recommend that you give an honest answer, but you don’t have to tell your kids every detail. As with conversations about sex, some details should remain private. Avoid giving your child more information than he or she asked for. And ask her a lot of questions to make sure you understand exactly why she’s asking about your drug history. Limit your response to that exchange of information. The discussion provides a great opportunity to speak openly about what tempted you to do drugs, why drugs are dangerous, and why you want your kids to avoid making the same mistakes you made.

The following are some good examples of the tone you can take and wording you can use:

"I took drugs because some of my friends used them, and I thought I needed to do the same in order to fit in. In those days, people didn’t know as much as they do now about all the bad things that can happen when you take drugs."

“Everyone makes mistakes and trying drugs was one of my biggest mistakes ever. I’ll do anything to help you avoid making the same stupid decision that I made when I was your age.”

“I did drink in high school, butt things are different now, and there is a lot of research on how underage drinking can hurt people, which we just didn’t know about 25 years ago. But now we know, and my job as your mom is to do what is best, and that means making a family rule against underage drinking.”

“I started drinking when I was young and, as you can see, it’s been a battle ever since. Because of my drinking, I missed a big part of growing up, and every day I have to fight with myself so it doesn’t make me miss out on even more ,my job, my relationships, and most importantly, my time with you. I love you too much to watch you make the same mistakes I’ve made.”

For more information on how to answer the dreaded have you ever question, visit www.timetotalk.org  

Learn to Listen

Just talking to your child is only half the job. You can keep the lines of communication open by knowing how to listen and when to talk. Your teen will tell you about the sights and sounds that influence him or her every day. They are the experts about fashion, music, TV, and movies that people their age follow.

Ask your teen what music groups are popular and what their songs are about, what his friends like to do after school, what’s cool and what’s not and why. Encourage your teen with phrases such as: “That’s interesting” or “I didn’t know that” and by asking follow-up questions.

Try these tips:

  • Encourage your children to feel comfortable telling you about problems they may be having and asking you for help.
  • You might try rephrasing your teen's comments to indicate that you have understood orgive nonverbal support and encouragement by nodding and smiling.
  • Use a caring tone of voice to answer your teen and use encouraging phrases to express interest and to keep the conversation going.

Whether you’re asking serious or light hearted questions the key is to keep the lines of communication open with your child.  You can learn a lot about your child by asking fun or light hearted questions and it can make it easier to talk about serious subjects such as drugs and alcohol.

Source: The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign's Behavior Change Expert Panel

This information and more can be found at Parents: The Anti-Drug, www.theantidrug.com

Enforcing Rules at Home

We all want a peaceful household, but conflict will probably arise when your teen does not follow the rules. A question you might ask is: What is the consequence for breaking the rules? Dr. Ramirez has a few suggestions. The important point here is to not overreact; however, you should set a punishment that has some impact. Remember, you’re the parent and you set the rules and consequences, which are not negotiable.

Here are some suggestions for reasonable punishments. Keep in mind that the punishment should not be much longer than three weeks. If it’s too long, your child will forget why he’s being punished.

  • Restrict television, Internet, or cell phone use.
  • Have your teen read and discuss information about the harmful effects of drugs, tobacco or alcohol.
  • Suspend outside activities such as going to the mall or movies.
  • Temporarily restrict friends from coming over to the house and don’t allow visits to friends’ homes.
  • Have your teen perform a community service to encourage positive usage of time.
  • Disallow phone calls.

Here are suggestions for how you might deliver the punishment when they break the rules:

"Because you stayed at a party where there was no adult supervision and where people were using drugs, you’re not going anywhere: no mall, no movies, nowhere, for one week (up to three depending on whether the child lied and on how severe the act was)."

"You broke the most important rule, no drugs. We’ve talked about how I feel about that; here are the consequences of your behavior. You get no phone or television privileges for one week (up to three depending on whether the child lied and on how severe the act was). You do get Internet privileges, so that during that time, you can read a paper on the effects of drugs."

This information and more can be found at Parents: The Anti-Drug at www.theantidrug.com

Setting Ground Rules for Teens

Research shows that young people are less likely to use tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs if their parents set clear rules about not doing so. If parents have not previously established rules around more basic activities of daily living, however, they will have little chance of getting their children to obey a rule about not using marijuana, tobacco, or other drugs.

Here are some rulemaking tips:

  • Set clear rules and discuss in advance the consequences of breaking them. Don’t make empty threats or let the rule-breaker off the hook. Don’t impose harsh or unexpected new punishments.
  • The rules must be consistently enforced; every time a child breaks the rules the parent should enforce a punishment.
  • Punishments should involve mild, not severe, negative consequences. Overly severe punishments serve to undermine the quality of the parent-child relationship.
  • Set a curfew. And enforce it strictly. Be prepared to negotiate for special occasions.
  • Have kids check in at regular times when they’re away from home or school. If they have a cell phone set clear rules for using it. (When I call or text you, I expect a call or text back within 15 minutes.)
  • Call parents whose home is to be used for a party. On party night, don’t be afraid to stop in to say hello (and make sure that adult supervision is in place).
  • Make it easy to leave a party where drugs are being used. Discuss in advance how to signal you or another designated adult who will come to pick your child up the moment he or she feels uncomfortable. Later, be prepared to talk about what happened.
  • Listen to your instincts. Don’t be afraid to intervene if your gut reaction tells you that something is wrong.

Source: The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign's Behavior Change Expert Panel

This information and more can be found at Parents: The Anti-Drug, www.theantidrug.com

Ongoing Teen-Parent Communication

No loving relationship can exist without communication. Teens believe they have valuable things to say and, when a parent listens genuinely, it helps self-esteem and confidence. The most important thing to remember when it comes to talking about difficult subjects like drinking and drugs is that it's not a five-minute "talk" — it's about building an ongoing dialogue. As your children grow up, they will need more and more information, so start early and build on the conversation as your teen matures.

Virtually all parents in America (98 percent) say they've talked with their children about drugs; however, only 27 percent of teens (roughly one in four) say they're learning a lot at home about the risks of drugs, according to a national study by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA).

There aren't enough hours in the day. Sometimes it's frustrating how few chances there are to have conversations about drugs with our children. In our busy culture, with families juggling the multiple demands of work, school, after-school activities, and religious and social commitments, it can be a challenge for parents and children to be in the same place at the same time.

Yet the better you communicate, the more at ease your teen will feel about discussing drugs and other sensitive issues with you.

Here are some tips:

  • Be absolutely clear with your kids that you don't want them using drugs. Ever. Anywhere. Don't leave room for interpretation. And talk often about the dangers and results of drug and alcohol abuse. Once or twice a year won't do it.
  • Be a better listener. Ask questions - and encourage them. Paraphrase what your teen says to you. Ask for their input about family decisions. Showing your willingness to listen will make your teen feel more comfortable about opening up to you.
  • Give honest answers. Don't make up what you don't know; offer to find out. If asked whether you've ever taken drugs, let them know what's important: That you don't want them using drugs.
  • Use TV reports, anti-drug commercials, or school discussions about drugs to help you introduce the subject in a natural, unforced way.
  • Don't react in a way that will cut off further discussion. If your teen makes statements that challenge or shock you, turn them into a calm discussion of why your teen thinks people use drugs, or whether the effect is worth the risk.
  • Role-play with your teen and practice ways to refuse drugs in different situations. Acknowledge how tough these moments can be.

Source: The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign's Behavior Change Expert Panel

This information and more can be found at Parents: The Anti-Drug,  www.theantidrug.com

A Parent’s Guide to the Teen Brain

Everyone knows the importance of guiding and nurturing toddlers, whose brains are developing at extremely fast. But what about the development of the teen brain? We’re now learning that adolescents go through a similar wave of major development. From ages 13 to about age 25, a cut back and strengthening process is happening in their brains. During that time, the brain cells and neural connections that are used the least get cut away and die off; those that are used the most get stronger.

This new knowledge about adolescent brain development explains why it’s so important for parents to encourage teens to have healthy activities: The more time your teen spends learning music or a sport, the stronger those brain connections get.

This period in a teen’s life—when the brain is rapidly changing and most vulnerable to outside influences—is when youth are most likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Why? One reason may be because the brain region that’s responsible for making complex judgments won’t be fully mature until around age 25, and therefore, is prone to being over powered by the emotional or impulse regions that are more mature. Scientists believe this part of teenage brain development explains why young people sometimes use poor judgment and don’t have good impulse control.

Because of the huge changes happening in the teenage brain, it’s possible that a poor decision your teen makes now may affect them for life. Brain scans, for instance, have linked alcohol abuse with decreased memory functioning!

BCAAPC wants to remind parents that they are the most powerful influence in their child's choice to not drink alcohol underage – start talking before they start drinking!

To read this full article or for more information, go to www.drugfree.org.