Teens and Summer Trouble: How to Head It Off
As they take summer jobs and have less supervision – school’s out, after all – teens can find themselves facing some challenging situations that are altogether new.
How can parents help to prevent perplexing puzzles like experimentation with alcohol and drugs?
“Parents can educate themselves and stay in tune with changes in their kids’ behavior – it all starts with keeping communication open,” said Malia Holbeck, LCSW, LAC, outpatient manager with Avera’s Addiction Recovery Program. “It can be a tough challenge for parents, but with some facts and patience, you can worth through these issues with your kids when it comes to dangerous behaviors.”
Holbeck knows parents have questions – she offers these insights for the most common ones.
Don’t "Let it Go"
Whether it’s breaking curfew sober or coming home intoxicated, kids need consequences. “They should be appropriate, and many parents find that if they discuss what will happen if rules are broken, then kids know what to expect,” said Holbeck. “Discuss what they see as appropriate punishment, and compromise to get buy-in from both sides. If you do nothing at all, they will continue to repeat the behavior.”
Remember Brain Development
Human brains continue to develop well past age 20, and when parents remember this fact, they can sometimes better understand what they see as foolish behavior. “Kids can go full steam ahead on something, but they don’t have the brain development that reminds them to hit the brakes – so parents have to be the brakes, in some cases,” she said. “They’ll be curious and may experiment, in part because those impulses are part of development.”
Self-Disclosure and Role Modeling
Children in a home where alcohol or drugs are used are more likely to use these substances themselves. “Each family is different, but parents know they are role-modeling all the time. The way they act can affect the way their kids act,” Holbeck said. “In terms of disclosing the use of alcohol and drugs to kids – that should only be done if it’ll benefit them. It’s best to remind them of all the risks, from injury and death and arrest due to DUI, to school suspensions or losing privileges. Remind them to put safety first and call you if they are going through something.”
If They Come Home Intoxicated
The anxiety-filled 3:30 a.m. conversation with an intoxicated child is not a great place for anyone to have clarity or emotional control. “Again, think safety, and know the physical signs that indicate intoxication – get medical attention if needed,” said Holbeck. “If they are OK, send them to bed and then talk about it when they are sober – and when you are not as angry or anxious as you were when they finally got home.”
Help When Needed
Start talking and keep it up, even with a sullen and distant teenager. If you notice big changes, such as sleeping too much, a change in peer group or friends or isolating from family, these can be red-flag warnings. You should look into available resources.
“An adolescent’s first experience typically would not require involvement from a counselor,” Holbeck said. “However, those first actions may be part of something bigger. Parents have to stay aware and offer kids the chance to talk. If they don’t want to talk to mom or dad, a counselor’s appointment can be helpful, even if it’s only for a single session.”