The last full week of January (January 23-29, 2017) is National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week (NDAFW) and the theme is “Shatter the Myths.” Beyond sorting out fact and fiction, myth from reality, we have a guide for parents, teachers, and supporters of young people, for educating teens and advocating for healthy choices.
Starting the Conversation
The teenage years have always been a time awkwardly poised between childhood and adulthood: old enough to make decisions and want independence, young enough to get confused by life’s choices or succumb to peer pressure. Adolescence can also come with a certain short-sightedness: where today’s friends and life decisions feel dauntingly permanent in nature.
Adults of a certain age have come to realize how often we actually change (careers, friends, even, perhaps, spouses). The key ways to “steer the ship” in the teen years have more to do with pointing in the right direction, developing a sense of self, and finding one’s own integrity. The details of everyday life change, but character development is lasting.
That’s where conversations about drugs and alcohol come in: the younger an individual is at first use, the more likely to develop an addiction.
Yet all of the preaching, anecdotal scare tactics, and “Look, I’ve been there” stories of well-meaning adults do not necessarily get a teen to listen.
That’s where facts come in.
Getting the Facts Straight
Teens are inundated with information, perhaps even cynical. How do you break through? Follow these four key strategies:
- Lead by example. While no one might listen to a hypocrite, teens are particularly sensitive to double-talk. If you struggle with addiction, get help. Watching you make a difficult change will do more to get a teen to listen than all the talk in the world.
- Listen more than you speak. You may be surprised what they already know, and what they don’t. Teens may have information or misinformation. When you only lecture or judge, you risk losing a listening ear. Listen twice as much as you speak, even if it starts with silence and “just hanging out,” it can lead to a heartfelt conversation when you listen attentively and with kindness.
- Arm yourself with facts. Rather than focusing on the social or emotional effects of drug or alcohol use, focus on the facts. For example, almost one in six people who drink alcohol by age 14 will develop dependence, but only about 2% of people who wait until age 21 to drink. For some substances the risks are even higher, one in four people who misuse prescription drugs by age 14, develop addiction at some point in their lives. These and other facts including the science behind a developing brain and addiction can be found on the National Institute on Drug Abuse website.
- Start early, speak often. If you take the opportunities, you can have effective conversations with the young people in your life long before drugs or alcohol become a problem. When you see a story in the news about drugs or alcohol, find out what your child thinks. When they watch a show or hear music that references drinking or using drugs, what do they have to say about it? Pausing the entertainment and looking for “teachable moments” in media, or in real life, can open the door to honest conversations that will continue when temptation arises.
Seeking Effective Help
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, the young people in our lives turn to drugs or alcohol. While it’s easy and normal to be angry or ashamed as a parent, it is more effective to get help. A free consultation is only a phone call away.