WHEEL Council, Inc.
What contributes to children and teens abusing drugs?
Parents have been pulling their hair out for years wondering, “ Why is my child is abusing drugs. I’m a good parent, they’re good kids, what’s wrong?” Some parents have teens who are addicted, and have tried to get them into treatment over and over, and sometimes tragedy strike, and a teen dies in a car accident. Drugs today have also become more virulent, with the meth epidemic. Meth is cheap, can be addictive for some in one or two uses, highly addictive and difficult to treat without an in- patient stay. Parents need help.
Psychologists have found some things that could contribute to substance abuse. No longer is the parent blamed as happened in the psychoanalytic 1950’s when everything was the mother’s fault. Certainly there is a lot of individuality in responding to genetic predispositions and environmental factors. But one key factor appears to be a child’s temperament, what psychologists call ego under control. These children don’t seem to be able to control their impulses and are all over the place. Another factor appears to be the lack of adult role models who a child looks up to, these adults don’t need to be parents, but can be an uncle or a family friend. One group of psychologists focuses on risk factors like hanging out with peers who use. Still others point out that distant parent-child relationships can contribute to abuse. This can be no fault of the parents, for example, if parents are poor and need to work two shifts, there isn’t time.
What can be done by parents?
Communicate, Communicate, And Communicate. Teens don’t like to talk to their parents or sometimes they don’t want to spend time with them. Teens are “individuating” figuring out how to be a person outside of being someone’s child. It is natural but sometimes the teens push it a bit far. But there are creative ways of spending time with your children that can keep communication open. Have you noticed that when you are driving at nights, just you and your children, and you are both looking ahead, sometimes your children will start talking? Have you noticed when you go out for ice cream or coffee and you are both sitting at a ledge looking at the window, your teen might ask you a question about dating? Find an activity that you both enjoy that is not high pressure, and doesn’t have the expectation of communicating. Just sit with him and her and let things happen.
Communication about teen’s activities is also important. Keep the expectation that you need to know where they are during what hours. Get phone numbers and addresses. Teens will resist this, but they need to know you care where they are, and it can also give the teens an excuse to get themselves out of difficult situations.
Express your values clearly. There is some research that teens will act like they don’t care what parents think and rebel, but in the later teen years they will return to these values. So say what you think, for example, “I think it is really bad for a person to experiment with meth or heroin, since it can be addictive immediately.” This is a little academic, I know, but say what you think and value, never use “you should”.
If you notice your son or daughter has an impulse control problem, get him or her in martial arts, yoga, dance or sports. This type of eye-hand discipline helps overcome some impulses.
What can be done by teachers?
There is a lot of research that the “fear” approach doesn’t work. Remember that ad, this is your brain on drugs? Well it didn’t do much. Teens feel invincible and also they find out they can experiment and nothing bad happens. Teens need solid knowledge about health risks and also the definition of addiction. When you are addicted to something, you can’t say no when you are in its presence, you can never go back. We have found that many teens don’t understand addiction. And what is even more important is for teens to learn how to make decisions and deal with peer pressure. All of the WHEEL Council’s material in our catalog, have the strategy SODAS-stop, options, decide, act and self praise. We have scenes and role plays. Many of our teens have said they didn’t know they could refuse drugs when a friend offered and are relieved to learn ways of getting out of a weird scene. Another thing to do is to get your students in small groups and start them talking about the drugs around them and how they feel about them, and what they want to do about it when they are around it. The reason for this, is that if teens perceive their friends aren’t using they will be more apt not. Also some teens are deeply troubled when their friends start using and need some peer advice about how to help or how to stay out of a scene.