So, your teenager went to his first high school party with friends. It’s 15 minutes past curfew and there’s been no response to your texts and calls.
Try not to panic.
If you’ve had a talk with your teen about the dangers of drugs and alcohol – make that many talks over many years – you can be comforted in the knowledge that you’ve done your best to educate your child.
When it comes to teens and substance misuse, experts say parents should be having regular discussions with their children.
And according to the local data, it appears they are.
In Palm Beach County, youth are making better choices than ever about drinking. About 80 percent of middle school and high school students in Palm Beach County reported being alcohol-free in 2016, according to the Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey. That’s a major improvement from 65 percent in 2006.
Drug use also is down in Palm Beach County from a decade ago, with 87 percent of youth surveyed reporting they are drug-free, compared to 84 percent in 2006.
The drop in substance misuse can be attributed to education, especially when it comes to alcohol, said Jeff Kadel, executive director of Palm Beach County Substance Awareness Coalition.
“I think everybody has become acutely aware of how alcohol use at a young age affects the brain in a permanent fashion,” said Jeff Kadel, executive director of Palm Beach County Substance Awareness Coalition, which receives funding from Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County.
Kadel said it’s never too early for parents to start talking to their kids about alcohol and drugs. These informal conversations could be had anywhere, whether in the car or at the dinner table. The goal is to avoid reaching the stage when you need to have a sit-down “talk” because you fear your child might be drinking.
Children should feel they have an open line of communication with their parents so they are comfortable sharing what’s going on in their lives, Kadel said. That means parents should ask questions about their children’s day, and empower them to make their own decisions, such as picking out their clothes or choosing dinner.
Other suggestions for raising drug- and alcohol-free youth, from Partnership for Drug-Free Kids:
- As early as fourth grade, act out scenarios involving drugs and alcohol so your child is equipped to respond if someone offers either.
- Have your child understand there will be consequences for drinking. Studies have shown children are less likely to use alcohol and drugs if there clear rules are in place.
- Emphasize how poor choices about alcohol could affect their future. When they are older, use news reports about drunk drivers as springboards for discussions.
- Get to know the parents of your children’s friends. If there’s a party, don’t be afraid to call the host’s parents to get assurances there will be no alcohol.
When it comes to your child and substances misuse, trust your instincts and educate yourself, Kadel recommends. If you catch your child under the influence, wait until your teen sobers up, and you have calmed down, to deal with the situation.
The conversation should be direct; and you should try withhold judgment so your child feels comfortable being honest, experts say. Remember, this is about your child’s health, so frame the conversation in such a way that your child knows it’s coming from a place of love and concern.
It’s important to keep the focus on the behavior — that underage drinking is bad and can have serious consequences, but that doesn’t mean your child is a bad person. If you suspect your child has a serious drinking problem, the Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County offers a free alcohol- or substance-use screening at www.mhapbc.org.
For more valuable parenting information and incentives for your family, sign up at www.EveryChildPBC.org.