By Sarah Goodman
Summer months are typically about going to the beach, getting a tan, creating memories, sharing backyard BBQ’s and planning family vacation time including trips to Grandparent’s house. For some teenagers, summer is about having one last “fun summer” before going off to college or joining the ‘real world’ with getting a job. Summers, however could be full of idle time which can lead to negative behavior such as underage drinking and drug misuse/abuse.
In a recent report, “Seasonality of Youth’s First-Time Use of Marijuana, Cigarettes or Alcohol,” from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows a 40 percent increase in first-time youth marijuana use during the months of June and July, compared to the rest of the year. More than 1,500 youths per day, used hallucinogens for the first time compared with averages of about 1,100 to 1,400 per day in other months. First-time use of inhalants also peaked in July with more than 1,800 new users on average per day compared with about 1,100 to 1,700 new users each day in other months. This isn’t what we typically think about when preparing our family activities for summer months.
Teenagers’ are constantly looking for adventure and wanting to explore and learn and have fun. So when they are pressured to explore drug use and underage drinking, they might have found a new form of entertainment for the summer when left with nothing better to do. Many researchers have discovered that a main predictor to whether teenagers will begin drinking/drugs at an early age is if their best friends drink and have access to it. Although a family history of alcohol or drug abuse can play a role in this decision, gaining acceptance from friends and access to drugs and alcohol is the most important factor, these researchers say. Adolescents who get their first drink/drug from friends are more likely to begin using earlier in life compared to those who get it from other sources. Young, adolescent brains are less developed in the “life decision” skills department. Researchers have discovered, through looking at pictures of the brain in action that adolescents’ brains function differently than adults with decision-making and problem solving. Based on the stage of their brain development, adolescents are more likely to:
· Act on impulse
· Misread or misinterpret social cues and emotions
· Get into accidents of all kinds
· Get involved in fights
· Engage in dangerous or risky behavior including drugs and alcohol
Adolescents are less likely to:
· Think before they act
· Pause to consider the potential consequences of their actions
· Modify their dangerous or inappropriate behaviors
Now that we are aware of this information about adolescents (less developed decision making skills and the high risk of early drug and alcohol use due to brain development and idle summer time); what do we do? There are many prevention strategies that can be applied to help teens avoid drug use during the summer months and even into the fall season. There is not one specific undiscovered hidden secret to keep your child away from these self-destructive behaviors. According to several sources, this can be prevented through several solutions:
1. Keep them busy with productive activities to cut down on boredom and give them something to do. Also, it can be additionally helpful to set a goal within the activities that has worth in the eyes of your teenager. If they are taking a class, involved in a sport, or in any way active in something that interests them and contains a goal they wish to reach, they are less likely to risk throwing it away by taking part in drugs.
2. Ensure adequate supervision as much as possible. Perhaps your teenager is at an age where they no longer require a 24 hour babysitter, but they can be made to check in regularly and to not be left somewhere for hours at a time. The longer a teenager is left alone, the longer they have to try a drug without worrying about being caught. It’s also important to take note of who is doing the supervision. For example, if they are being watched over by the parent of one of their friends, have you met the parent(s)? Not all adults are equal in their level of responsibility and care for their children. Ensure you take the additional step of meeting the parents that may be watching your teen, not just in the summer, but all year round.
3. Educate your child. You may very well be told by your teenage daughter or son that they know drugs are bad and they don’t need to talk about it. Yet, sitting them down and looking at statistics and articles on drugs and asking questions to ensure their understanding on how drugs can negatively affect a person’s life is well worth the time invested. Often enough, a reminder can go a long way and if your teen has the idea that they may drink alcohol or try drugs for the first time in the near future, it may just steer them back onto the right path.
4. Come up with a rewards and penalties system. Inform them of what the consequences will be, possibly in terms of loss of privileges, if they do try drugs and alcohol. However, set up a system where the penalties will be less if they ever come clean on any alcohol or drug use. Establish a rewards system where they will earn something of value to them if they say no to drugs and continue to do so despite any possible peer pressure. This ensures that you keep it safe enough for your teenager to trust that they can always talk to you about the subject and get help and guidance when needed. Kids will be kids, as the saying goes, but what kind of kids? Are these the kids with idle time or sober ones attempting to be safe and making healthier decisions? We can’t always control the outcome, but we can control providing preventative solutions that just might help, serve and keep our young ones safe and away from self-destructive behavior. Keeping idle time to a minimum during summer months is possible and idle time can become ideal solutions.