As Kids Return to School

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In a post this week on the University of Pennsylvania website, Megan Jones shared some good back-to-school tips for parents about teens and substance use.  While we would all love to think that none of our teens and their friends are getting “lit”, the reality is that pressure is coming from friends, school and parents.  The human brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s and this leaves adolescents particularly vulnerable to the potential of addiction.

Her post offers advice from Matthew Hull, a Prevention Specialist with Gaudenzia drug treatment centers:

There can be too much of a good thing. Over scheduling your K-12 student, and placing unrealistic expectations for their academic, artistic and athletic accomplishments, is counterproductive and unfair. Childhood is about balance, and having a strong peer group, quality down-time with friends and family, and an appropriate level of autonomy in deciding their own schedule is vital to maintaining that balance.

Family ties. Predisposition toward addiction is a hereditary trait, and should be disclosed to your kids. Bringing up this topic when the conversation naturally opens up is a good way to take the stigma and sermon out of the discussion (See our Blog on “Should you tell your children about your own use of drugs and alcohol?")  Having a "real" talk about addiction, mental illness, and other sticky subjects, in terms of your own shared history, is a great way to help your teen or pre-teen begin to understand the challenges of living in a complicated world in a matter-of-fact way.

Make the connection. Teens and pre-teens are changing RAPIDLY, not just physically, but mentally as well. It's very hard to tell the difference between raging hormones and a life that's out of whack. Keeping in contact, and on good terms, with the teachers your kid sees every day keeps you 'checked-in' to your kid's life outside your home.

He also suggests some other indications that your child might be using:

Evolving technology makes parenting harder. Traditional back-to-school shopping has been replaced by online shopping, watch out for some clothing purchases that slip under your radar. Some messages on t-shirts such as "710", which reads "oil" upside down, refer to marijuana oil. Texts similar to "Play it Loud" suggest that the person might be selling or looking to buy uppers. Also, check out hats with secret pockets, decoy soda bottles with hidden compartments, and other seemingly common items are often used to hide drugs.

Smiling faces tell lies. If your child is suddenly more popular following a surgery or injury, be cautious. Word gets out quickly among the drug-seeking crowd if there's a potential new source for prescription pain medication, or medication for a chronic illness such as ADHD. Best post-op care practices involve talking to your young patient about medicine safety, notifying the school nurse regarding their needs following their procedure or injury, and parental monitoring of all medicine. If a member of your household is prescribed dangerous pain medicine, consider keeping it in a safe. 

Last and importantly instruct your teen or pre-teen in how to politely decline their friends offers of alcohol or drugs.  As difficult as it might be to say NO to a friend, and as much as it might hurt their feelings, kids need to know the difference between real friends and opportunists.