Parenting in these times is getting tougher. At best being a “helicopter parent” can appear like the only option. By being in constant surveillance mode, we will at least have some chance of bringing our precious offspring into adulthood in one piece. The reality: drugs are a very real and dangerous threat in a culture that seems to promote alcohol and marijuana use as normative and commonplace. In the face of these pernicious forces we can however be watchful and wise enough to discern when our children are at risk.
I believe in this month of drug awareness we are being called to examine our own personal relationship to substance use and whether it is a model based on balance or abuse. If alcohol is your substance of choice, what are your use and consumption habits around your children? Do you sit and light up a spliff in front of them? You may adhere to the adage, ‘Do as I say and not as I do’, but have you considered the remarkable influence a parent can have on a child in their formative years? Have you also considered that you may abuse because your genetics and family history has led you there? Ever thought that by setting an example of misuse in front of your children you are socializing them to see it as acceptable, while ignoring the fact that their substance use may potentially be worst than yours?
Psychology offers some informative guidelines for decoding whether an individual has the propensity to become an addict. It has delineated so called protective and risk factors. These can only show us the warning signs and are however not absolute predictors.
Protective factors serve to protect the child, while risk factors increase the probability that the worse can happen. In this case protective factors such as high parental involvement; family bonding; strong, positive family values and parental monitoring and supervision, as well as positive social behaviours in your child are all said to be key in preventing substance abuse. Whereas risk factors such as parental abuse or neglect, a child’s lack of interest in school or pro social activities, aggressive behavioural issues, and association with a negative peer group, all predispose a child to future substance abuse.
Studies have shown that a parent should begin to insist on a clear zero-tolerance for drug use long before the teen years. It is important to have clear messaging before adolescence because it is the most turbulent period in your child’s life.
Research suggests that due to the mind-altering nature of drug use once your teen begins at the age of 13 or 14 it is very difficult for them to turn back. Teenagers are at their most vulnerable during this period due to the enormous amount of growth and development taking place in their bodies, especially in the brain.
Actually brain growth is only said to end at age 25 when full maturity is reached. This means that even though your teen has the capacity to articulate and strongly argue a position, there’s still a massive amount of pruning and rewiring going on in their brains that make them more prone to poor decision making, high-risk behaviour and experimentation.
Beyond what is taking place in their bodies there is also an extraordinary amount of emotional, social and academic challenges arising. Your child therefore, in striving for their own independence, may not express it, but needs your parental engagement more than ever.
Parents at this juncture need to spend time talking, bonding and guiding their teens. They should never overlook signs of something being off with their teen or pre-teen as a phase, particularly during periods of major transition, such as moving from primary to secondary school, divorce, loss of a loved one, a romantic breakup, or even a major exam.
Parents who are not as attuned to worrying signs generally put their children at greater risk. In fact as far back as pre school if your child is showing poor social skills, being overly aggressive and has difficulty learning and interacting with their peers these are all red flag indicators. A child that is struggling to master the important domains of their life like school, peer relationships and bonding well with parents is a child in need of help.
One might also want to dismiss changes in the adolescent years as a phase. However, if your teen is showing moodiness, has made a lot of new friends, has much less or much more energy, is experiencing weight loss or gain, or is not paying attention to personal hygiene, then this needs your attention.
Protective factors readily assist in most cases to help minimize risk. On the home front it is important to instill good family values in your children by spending time with them and engaging them in talks about drugs and being a positive role model for a substance-free lifestyle. It is known that parents who do not properly monitor or supervise their teens and the type of friends their child keeps are asking for trouble over the long term.
Parents have a big part to play in protecting their children from addiction. Being aware and actively involved can be one of the best ways to keep your child safe and drug free in times like these.