Young people in our community have access to alcohol and illegal drugs on a regular basis. At this month’s Straight Talk for Parents session, community members will have the opportunity to learn about local drug trends, drug paraphernalia and signs of possible drug use.
Drug and alcohol abuse by youth has been a risk factor for generations. Throughout history, almost every community has been touched by this issue in some way. This ongoing and evolving struggle presents new situations for youth given the availability and acceptance of drug use in today’s culture.
Every day young people are faced with tough decisions. Messages in the media tell them that using drugs and alcohol is a normal part of being a young person. Kids hear messages about using drugs and alcohol to party, to relax, to handle stressful times, and to be independent and grown up. These messages normalize the behavior and may lead youth to believe that there is no risk involved in engaging in substance use.
Messages such as these are constant and dangerous. As parents and community members, it is our job to set clear expectations for children regarding drug and alcohol use and to educate them about what is acceptable for young people in our community. Kids need rules and guidelines for their behavior. The messages we send our kids should be clear, and our behaviors should model those messages.
There are several things that we can do to help our children remain drug and alcohol free and, at the very least, delay onset of alcohol use. Being present and attentive as parents is one of the most important factors in parenting. This means that we will be parents first, not friends. Our young people have plenty of peers to be their friends. As parents, we need to set clear guidelines, monitor behavior and follow through with consequences.
The teen years are hard enough to maneuver without adding the challenges that come with substance abuse and addiction. Being able to recognize the signs of drug and alcohol use is important if we are to help teens successfully navigate the teen years. Studies show that youth who engage in drinking behavior at a young age are more likely to have addiction issues as adults. If we can help kids to make safer choices and delay drinking behavior until they are older, they will be less likely to have addiction issues as adults. Talking with our kids, being present in their lives, setting firm guidelines and expectations about drug and alcohol use, and monitoring behavior are all strategies that parents can use to address the challenges of drug and alcohol use in adolescence.
Alison Turley is a prevention services coordinator for Centre County Youth Service Bureau prevention programs. This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.