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Teens and Alcohol: A Scary Mixture

10:23 Halloween copy

Halloween is just around the corner. That means parties & festivals start to increase and sometimes alcohol is also invited. How can we protect our teens and help them say “No!” to alcohol?

Statistically, your teen will drink alcohol in high school.  Some parents know it.  Some don’t want to admit it.  According to national studies, 11% of the alcohol consumed in the United States is consumed by underage kids.  The Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, 39% admitted to drinking some amount of alcohol within the last thirty days.  8% of those students drove after drinking alcohol, and more than 24% said they rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.

With that in mind, are you still willing to believe your child won’t be offered or even start drinking alcohol in their teen years?  With all the kindness and Christian charity this Texan can muster, can I say:  That’s just crazy!

I am a teen advocate.  My career revolves around helping teens and their parents deal with serious issues, and I have seen too many broken hearts and wounded lives as a result of teen alcohol use to take it casually.  A teen’s maturity level is simply not developed enough to make good decisions regarding alcohol. The physical changes they are undergoing in their brains and bodies mean they cannot properly assess the impact drinking is having on them.  Regardless of your position on alcohol use by adults (and I know many good people who draw that line in different places), we all agree that teens and alcohol is a dangerous mixture.

KNOW THE STORY

Before we can ever address the problem of teen drinking, it helps to know why a teen drinks.  If you find out your son or daughter is drinking, take a moment to uncover the bigger story.  In my experience, many teens drink to fit in.  It’s the feeling of camaraderie and community that leads even good kids, who have strong beliefs and values otherwise, to pick up a bottle.  In some cases, teens drink to erase painful memories.  My wife was sexually abused for years, without anyone finding out.  Those images are replayed over and over in a child’s mind, and sometimes they are looking for a way to make those agonizing movies stop.  Worried or anxious teens may use alcohol in order to sleep.  Some kids drink because they are frustrated, feel like failures, or are angry.  Of course, I’ve talked to teens who were simply curious about alcohol or enjoyed the feeling of being drunk.  But you’ll never know why your child may be drinking if you don’t ask.

ASK QUESTIONS

Uncovering the reasons behind teen drinking requires moms and dads to ask questions.  But notice I did not say interrogate.  You’re not asking questions to prove your case and bring down the hammer.  You want to ask questions so you can understand your child better.  Ask your child questions like “Do any of your friends drink?” “Have you been pressured to drink?” “What do you think about alcohol?” If they respond by saying they tried it, I encourage you to thank them for being honest and work with them to understand why it isn’t a good idea for teens to drink.

Several of the teens at Heartlight are here primarily because of issues that come from drinking. I asked one of them the other day why she started drinking, and she said, “Because my friends were drinking.” In order to fit in, this sixteen-year-old girl began using alcohol despite what her parents had taught her and the fact that her older brother had died in a drunk driving accident.  She went on to say, “I was scared to say no.  I didn’t want to be the outsider.”

The best strategy for preventing teens from experimenting with alcohol is to have an ongoing conversation with them about drinking.  This isn’t something that can be mentioned once and then left alone.  Keep the dialogue going.  Keep asking questions.  And if you have suspicions, don’t be afraid to ask your child directly, “Are you drinking?

SET BELIEFS AND CONSEQUENCES

Preventing or dealing with teen alcohol use doesn’t end with asking good questions.  The next step is to communicate your beliefs on the subject and set concrete consequences should your child step outside the lines.  Concerned parents need to lay down clear and firm boundaries in this area.  Your child needs to know what the consequences will be before they use alcohol.  For example, you might tell them that they will lose their car if you learn they have been drinking and driving.  And if they get arrested for a DUI, you won’t provide bail for them.  That may sound harsh, but consider the alternatives.  What will happen if they hit and kill someone while driving drunk?  Teens don’t think about those possibilities when they drink.  In their minds, they’re untouchable and invincible.  It’s our job to make them aware that they are not!

You can tell your 16-year-old son, “When you are 21, whether you drink is up to you. Right now, though, it is up to me to make sure you don’t drink. I’m going to draw the line and hold that line to protect you.”  Your teen may not like the boundaries you set (although he’ll probably appreciate it more than he would ever admit), but he needs them, if for no other reason than to tell his peers the dire consequences if he is caught.  And even if your teen doesn’t have a problem with alcohol, set these guidelines and consequences now, so that everyone in the family is on the same page.

Teenage alcohol use is an issue that needs to be addressed head-on.  You may think “my teen will never become an alcoholic, or get arrested for driving under the influence, or get pregnant because she was too drunk to care.”  But it happens, and it may happen to your child.  I don’t say this to scare you.  I say it to prepare you.  When it comes to alcohol use by teens today, passive (“Don’t ask, don’t tell”) parenting certainly won’t protect your teen.  Permissive (“Let’s allow kids to drink at home”) parenting can actually encourage it.  So it is up to you to practice proactive (“No alcohol until age 21″) parenting, and hold the line.


Is My Teen Using Drugs?

In recent years, the average age of the drug abuser has dropped dramatically.  In fact, we’ve seen shocking evidence that drugs are often consumed by children beginning during their   middle school age years.  Yes, times are changing.  The culture has grown tolerant of experimental drug use at a younger age and kids have access to drugs long before they reach puberty.

Every parent wants to guard their children from the insidious destruction drugs unleash.  So, how do you know whether your teen is using drugs?  And if they get caught using drugs, how do you help them get back on the right track?

In today’s brief article, we’ll attempt to answer both of those questions.  Over my years at Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school for teenagers, I have seen many students come to our program with drug issues.  We have found that drug abuse is always a mask for disguising deeper problems that need to be exposed and dealt with.

Take the Initiative

If you have any suspicion that your son or daughter might be using drugs, don’t be shy about snooping around their bedroom and belongings to find out.  At Heartlight, we use a few different approaches to ensure our kids remain safe.  We do random drug testing and also bring in drug dogs to sniff out backpacks, living quarters and typical hiding places.  But the drug test isn’t the first sign we have that tells us that the teen is using.

Signs of Drug Use

You know your teen better than anyone else, but even so, if your teen is using drugs they will be part of a culture that helps them hide what they are doing.  Lying, hiding and keeping secrets are all part of the game.  They may also be feeling shame over their drug use.  Whatever the case, they are probably working overtime to keep their new habit a secret from you.

One common trick is for teenagers to cover up their drug use by consuming counteractive things.  For instance, some vitamins can fool some drug tests, so if your teen has started some new vitamin or supplement, do your homework and find out whether there’s a tie to drugs.  Or you may pick up an unusual odor on their clothes or be using something obnoxious to mask the smell.  Has your teen started using incense and candles or placed dryer sheets in his clothes?  All of these help a teen veil the obvious scent of drugs.

You might notice a change in your teen’s regular routine.  Has his schoolwork slumped? Has his sleeping pattern changed?  Usually there’s something behind these new behavioral patterns.  Your teen could also exhibit a lack of motivation.  He’s become lazy.  Or he could care less about the things he once enjoyed, like sports, friends or hobbies.

Teens are created to be relational beings.  Most kids don’t do things because of their friends.  They do things with their friends.  So if friends are using, they may give it a shot.  It’s amazing how many kids say they started using when they were at a sleepover at someone’s house.  If your teen has new friends or has shifted away from other friends, you might begin to suspect their motivation.

If your teen begins lying to you, he might be using.  Or it could just be a shift in attitude.  Your teen could show aggression, anger, or have unreasonable mood swings.  If you built a strong relationship and have created reasonable boundaries for the people in your household, then when your teen starts using, or breaks any of these boundaries, he may shift blame to someone else or something else.

Here’s the point.  Even if you have nothing more than a gnawing feeling in your gut, or a parental hunch, I would suggest you  follow your instincts.  If these clues persist, you might start doing random drug tests on your teen.  Maybe not with drug dogs like we use at Heartlight, but they make convenient at-home drug tests (similar to pregnancy tests) that you can administer.  Using them can alienate your teens, but it can hold them accountable.  If you have built the relationship with your teen, the drug tests won’t be punitive.  Instead, it will deter him or her from taking that dangerous step towards drugs.  That’s part of your role as a parent – to build boundaries that your teen is still learning to build on his own.

Not My Kids!

Parents, if you’ve found yourself in this unenviable position of discovering drug use in your child, you may feel like a failure.  Look, don’t waste time beating yourself up.  Instead, try to spend your time in more productive expressions of recovery.  Try to help your teen understand what he or she is trying to anesthetize.  Drugs are just one way to find relief from the pressure they feel.  It’s an escape, like video games, hobbies, sports, or any other getaway.

If you have a solid relationship with your child, it’ll help you when she or he comes home and confesses to a drug problem.  Or you discover their secret.  When the cat’s out of the bag, it’s very important to determine if it’s simple experimentation or a heavy pattern of abuse.  Either way, you’ll want it to stop, but the way you handle it may be different.  If it’s just experimenting, try not to overreact.  If you crush their spirit, your child may not come to you again when life gets difficult and they’ve done something they want to confess.  If your teen comes to you with a heartfelt confession, it’s certainly not the moment to reinforce your standard.  This is when you reinforce the relationship.  You want your children to tell you the truth and come to you.  If it happens again, then you’ve got a problem that requires deeper action.

Obviously, every situation is different.  And as I write these thoughts to you, I realize there’s so much more to be said and much more to be explored.  But I hope some of the things you read in this article will draw you closer to your teen and to help them be all God intended.

As a parent, you want good things for your teen.  We all do.  Your relationship with your son or daughter won’t change because they’re using drugs.  You still want the very best for him or her.  Just as God’s relationship with us remains unconditional, we should also remain in relationship with our teen.  No matter what they’ve done or how bad they’ve blown it, your son or daughter desperately needs you to remain in relationship with them.

I hope you’ll listen to the upcoming radio program on this subject.  The Parenting Today’s Teens weekend broadcast will go deeper into the issues of drug use in teens.  Visit www.parentingtodaysteens.org to find a radio station near you, or to sign up for the podcast.

If you are in the Laredo, Texas area, we will be having a Turbulence Ahead Seminar on Saturday, January 28th in the United Middle School.

Tickets: $10/person and $15/couple. Call 956.726.3899 for more information or to purchase tickets.

If you have any questions about bringing a Turbulence Ahead Seminar to your city, please contact Sam Sheeley in our office at 866-700-3264, or e-mail him at Sam@TurbulenceAhead.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in East Texas.  Call 903-668-2173.  Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.


Alcohol Abuse and Teens

Recently I read an article about a new trend in America—parents allowing their teens to drink at home. Apparently, the idea behind this is that drinking in the home setting will demystify alcohol and help the young people learn to drink responsibly.

Before I tell you what I think about that trend, let me share this fact with you. 11% of the alcohol consumed in the United States is consumed by underage kids. That’s a staggering statistic. Alcohol abuse among teens is becoming an enormous problem in America.

With that in mind, here is my comment on parents letting or even encouraging their teenagers to drink at home. With all the kindness and Christian charity this Texan can muster I ask these parents:  Are you nuts? If you follow that same line of thinking, then you’ll also allow them to have sex at home, take drugs at home, lie and cheat at home. That’s just crazy! Continue reading “Alcohol Abuse and Teens”