Warning signs of alcohol and other drug abuse
The “tween” and teen years can be a difficult time for many kids. It may be hard for you as a parent to tell the difference between typical adolescent behavior and symptoms of drug use. If your child consistently exhibits the following warning signs, it could be that your child is taking drugs:
- She’s withdrawn, depressed, tired, or careless about her personal grooming.
- He’s hostile, uncooperative, and frequently breaks curfews.
- Her relationships with family members have deteriorated.
- He’s hanging around with a new group of friends.
- Her grades have slipped, and her school attendance is irregular.
- He’s lost interest in hobbies, sports, and other favorite activities.
- Her eating and sleeping patterns have changed; she’s up at night and sleeps during the day.
- He has a hard time concentrating.
- Her eyes are red-rimmed and her nose is runny—but she doesn’t have allergies or a cold.
- Household money has been disappearing.
- You have found any of the following in your home: pipes, rolling papers, small medicine bottles, eye drops, butane lighters, homemade pipes, or bongs (pipes that use water as a filter) made from soda cans or plastic beverage containers.
Some of these indicators can be caused by emotional problems or physical illness. Discuss the possibility with your child’s doctor and, if necessary, take him in for a physical exam. If illness is not the problem, it’s time to choose a course of action.
21 Tips for Parents from the Office of National Drug Control Policy
- Establish “together time.” Establish a regular weekly routine for doing something special with your child—even something as simple as going out for ice cream
- Don’t be afraid to ask where your kids are going, who they’ll be with and what they’ll be doing. Get to know your kid’s friends—and their parents—so you’re familiar with their activities
- Try to be there after school when your child gets home. The “danger zone” for drug use is between 4-6 pm, when no one’s around; arrange for adult supervision if you are not able to be there
- Eat together as often as you can. Meals are a great opportunity to talk about the day’s events, to unwind, reinforce, bond. Studies show that kids whose families eat together at least 5 times a week are less likely to be involved with drugs or alcohol.
Learn to communicate
- Be absolutely clear with your kids that you don’t want them using drugs. Ever. Anywhere. Don’t leave room for interpretation. And talk often about the dangers and results of drug and alcohol abuse. Once or twice a year is not enough.
- Be a better listener. Ask questions—and encourage them. Paraphrase what your child says to you. Ask for his or her input about family decisions. Showing your willingness to listen will make your child feel more comfortable about opening up to you.
- Give honest answers. Don’t make up what you don’t know; offer to find out. If asked whether you’ve ever taken drugs, let them know what’s important– that you don’t want them using drugs.
- Use TV reports, anti-drug commercials, news or school discussions about drugs to help you introduce the subject in a natural, unforced way.
- Don’t react in a way that will cut off further discussion. If your child makes statements that challenge or shock you, turn those statements into a calm discussion of why your child thinks people use drugs, or whether the effect is worth the risk.
- Role play with your child and practice ways to refuse drugs and alcohol in different situations. Acknowledge how tough these moments can be.
Walk the Walk
- Be a living, day-to-day example of your value system. Show the compassion, honesty, generosity and openness you want your child to have.
- Know that there is no such thing as “do as I say, not as I do” when it comes to drugs. If you take drugs, you can’t expect your child to take your advice. Seek professional help if necessary.
- Examine your own behavior. If you abuse drugs or alcohol, know that your kids are inevitably going to pick up on it. Or if you laugh uproariously at a movie when someone is drunk or stoned, what message does that send to a child?
Lay down the law
- Create rules—and discuss in advance the consequences of breaking them. Make your expectations clear. Don’t make empty threats or let the rule-breaker off the hook. Don’t impose harsh or unexpected new punishments.
- Set a curfew. And enforce it strictly. Be prepared to negotiate for special occasions.
- Have kids check in at regular times. Give them a phone card, change or even a pager, with clear rules for using it.
- Call parents whose home is to be used for a party. On party night, don’t be afraid to stop in to say hello (and make sure that adult supervision is in place).
- Make it easy for your child to leave a party where drugs are being used. Discuss in advance how you or another designated adult will come to pick your child up the moment he or she feels uncomfortable. Later, be prepared to talk about what happened.
- Listen to your instincts. Don’t be afraid to intervene if your gut reaction tells you that something is wrong.
- Praise and reward.
- Reward good behavior consistently and immediately. Expressions of love, appreciation and thanks go a long way. Even kids who think themselves too old for hugs will appreciate a word of thanks or congratulations.
- Accentuate the positive. Emphasize the things your kid does right. Restrain the urge to be critical. Affection and respect—making your child feel good about himself—will reinforce good (and change bad) behavior far more successfully than embarrassment or uneasiness.
Starting a conversation about drugs, alcohol, and tobacco with your kids won’t be easy, but it can stem from everyday situations and become a natural exchange between you and your children. Take advantage of these daily “teachable moments” and, you’ll develop an easy and ongoing dialogue with your child.
The following are “teachable moments” that can be a starting point, and lead you to develop your own opportunities for exchanges:
- Point out alcohol-, tobacco-, and drug-related situations going on in your own neighborhood. If you and your child are at the park and see a group of kids drinking or smoking, use the moment to talk about the negative effects of alcohol and tobacco.
- Use newspaper headlines or TV news stories as a conversation starter. The daily news is filled with stories that detail the consequences of alcohol and drug abuse. Talk to your child about the mother who used drugs and was arrested. Who will take care of her baby now? Did she make a good decision when she used drugs?
- Watch TV with your kids, and ask them what they think. Do the shows and advertising make drug use look acceptable and routine? Or do they show its downside? How did that program make your child feel about drugs? Write a letter with your child to companies or TV networks about the messages they put out about drugs. Also remember that anti-drug advertising—such as that from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America– is a great kickoff to discussion.
Underage Drinking and Media Literacy
Kids and teens are bombarded with media messages at every turn—whether it’s product placement in a television program or an ad on their Facebook profiles. Sometimes those messages—whether purposefully or inadvertently—promote activities like drinking and smoking to kids and teenagers.
What Is Media Literacy?
Media literacy is the ability to analyze media messages, understand the intent of those messages, and judge how the information is used. The media include channels through which messages are delivered—such as television, radio, the Internet, movies, video games, magazines, and newspapers.
Media literacy is not “media bashing.” Because media are dominant forces in our culture and an important part of teenagers’ lives, media should be evaluated fairly. Media literacy can help youth keep perspective.
The road to media literacy involves starting a discussion with teens. Although this activity can be conducted formally in a classroom, the richest opportunities may arise when parents are watching television or listening to the radio with their kids.
Too Smart To Start offers a model for discussion based on the Media Literacy Ladder (see graphic). Ultimately, the goal is to get kids asking the right questions about media messages. Those questions include:
- Through what medium is the message delivered?
- Who created the message and why?
- What words, images, or sounds are used to create the message?
- How does the message make you feel?
- What is the message maker’s point of view?
The resources offer a sample script for an impromptu conversation that can lead to answers and get kids thinking. For example, if they are watching a music video, parents can ask simple questions like, “Who made this video?” and “What is this video about?” or “Why do you think they made the video?” With enough practice, kids may start to ask those questions on their own.
Media literacy doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a process. Too Smart To Start offers some tip sheets to parents for working through difficulties. They include “Reading Between the Lines,” “Talking with Teens about Media Literacy,” and “What Are Some Ways I Can Work With My Teen?”
Climb the Ladder!
The media literacy ladder can teach teens to look deeper into media messages and not take them at face value—especially those about drinking. Each step includes a question that leads teens deeper into the heart of the message.
Step 5—What are the message makers trying to accomplish—sell a product, promote a belief, etc.?
Step 4—How does the message make you feel?
Step 3—What words, images, or sounds are used to create the message?
Step 2—What’s the purpose—who created the message and why?
Step 1—How is the message delivered (e.g., TV, billboard, the Internet)?
The ladder helps teens make comparisons, link cause and effect, distinguish fact from opinion, and investigate bias and slant.
Fun Family Activities
Directions: Mix two parts Elmer’s glue with 1 part liquid starch. Then add food coloring. Store in a ziploc bag.
2 cups flour
1 cup salt
2 cups water
4 tsp cream of tarter
2 tbs cooking oil
Directions: Stir together all ingredients until smooth. Add food coloring if desired. Pour into skillet, and stir constantly over medium heat (cook like you do scrambled eggs, being sure to scrape the bottom of the skillet). When it’s cooked through, remove from pan quickly, and knead until cool. Store in a ziploc bag.
There are several options here. Each of these has a different textured quality and provides a different sensory experience.
A . Mix liquid dish soap and tempera paint to make finger paint. The mixture should be 3 parts paint to 1 part dish soap.
B. Soap paint: Whip Ivory Snow flakes with water and food coloring using a hand mixer. Place in bowls for fingerpainting.
C . Flour and Salt fingerpaint: 1 cup flour, 1 1/2 cups salt, 3/4 cup waterfood coloring
Mix together, and put in bowls for painting. You may have to add more flour or water to get the consistency you want.
D. Flour Fingerpaint: 3 cups flour, 2 tbs liquid soap, 2 cups water, food coloring (or tempera paint)
Pour each of the first 3 ingredients into a big mixing bowl. Mix well. Mix in color.
E. Rice Paint: Depending on how much you want to make, add equal parts Elmer’s glue and finger paint to a mixing bowl. Add in uncooked rice. Have your child paint on paper with it. The glue will help the rice *stick* to the paper.
Ingredients: 6 cups water, 3/4 cup corn syrup, 2 cups Joy dishwashing liquid
Directions: Mix together. Let set 4 hours (to let bubbles settle), then enjoy.
No-Bake Clay Beads
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup corn flour
1/2 cup salt
3/8 cup warm water
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Add water gradually until mix can be kneaded into a stiff dough. To reduce stickiness, dust with dry flour. Pierce each bead with a tooth pick or large blunt needle and allow to dry for a few days. Holes may need to be repunched before stringing. Paint if desired. Coating beads with clear gloss enamel brings out the color.
3 Tbs. Plaster of Paris
2 Tbs. Powder tempera paint
3 Tbs. Water Molds ( dixie cups, candy molds, muffin tins, etc.)
Mix plaster paris and tempera paint; add water, and mix well. Pour into molds. Allow to dry for 24 hours; remove from mold. Let air dry for 2 days to 1 week, depending on size of mold.
About Parent-to-Parent: A video-based parent training series
Since 1988, Parent-to-Parent , developed by Bill Oliver, has provided millions of parents with practical “hands on” ideas for raising children in today’s world. When it comes to preventing children from engaging in dangerous behaviors such as drug use, a trained and motivated parent is the greatest “prevention program” ever intended.
Parent-to-Parent is a video-based adult training series designed to create a parent culture that is both supportive of youth and intolerant of the negative influences of modern society. The purpose of the training is to develop the skills, abilities and confidence level of moms and dads in our community.
Well over one million parents and thousands of communities have included Parent-to-Parent as part of their long-term drug prevention strategy.
If you are interested in participating in a Parent-to-Parent facilitator workshop or a Parent-to-Parent session near you, contact MDC Coalition member Peg Hightower at 594-5070. Ms. Hightower is a Drug & Violence Prevention Specialist with the Knox County Student Assistance Office. She will be glad to tell you how you can become a Parent-to-Parent Facilitator, so you can bring this powerful program to concerned parents in your neighborhood.
Making the decision to take a parenting class says a number of things about you, the parent:
It says that you care.
It says that you value your children’s lives as well as their future.
It says that your children rank very high on your priority list.
It says that you believe that you can and will make a difference in their lives.
It says that you already have a “valued family.”
-Bill Oliver, Parent to Parent Founder
Websites for Parents
Information about teen sexual health and STD’s
Keeping Youth Mentally Healthy and Drug-Free
Office of National Drug Control Policy
Current news and trends in treatment, prevention, research and other substance abuse issues
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Information about teen sexual health and STD’s from the American Social Health Association