Making the Most of Dinners with Your Teen

Dr. Anne Fishel is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at the Harvard Medical School and the Director of the Family and Couples Therapy Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. She is the executive director and co-founder of The Family Dinner Project, a non-profit initiative based at Massachusetts General Hospital, that helps families online and in communities to have better and more frequent family dinners. She has lectured to parents, teachers, and health professionals about the benefits of family meals and written numerous articles about family issues for NPR, The Washington Post, Psychology Today, The Los Angeles Times, PBS, and others.
Her book about family dinners, Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun and Conversation for Happier Families and Healthier Kids, is available through Amazon. She is a co-author with The Family Dinner Project team of Eat, Laugh, Talk: The Family Dinner Playbook. This insight was originally written by Dr. Fishel for Parent Up in February 2022 and has been reposted.

Of any age group, teens may have the most to gain from eating dinner with their families. Numerous studies over the last 25 years reveal that dinners can protect teens from engaging in a host of risky behaviors: smoking, drinking, getting pregnant, developing an eating disorder, and using drugs. Teens who dine with their families also report experiencing less overall stress, feeling more known by their parents, and having better relationships with them (CASA, 2012).

Why do family dinners offer such benefits? The simplest answer is that dinner is a reliable occasion for teens to feel connected to their parents. It is this connection that provides the real seat belt on the potholed road of adolescence.

Dinnertime also creates the opportunity for parents to check in and monitor their teens’ behavior without putting their kids on the hot seat. Instead, questions about their day are softened by answering while enjoying a delicious meal, and by hearing about everyone else’s funny tales of the day.

The really good news is that when teenagers are asked to list the activities they most enjoy, family dinner is consistently ranked high on that list.

That said, teens can be sulky, irritable, prickly and challenging, and may not make the easiest dinner companions. Not only that, but their schedules may seem too busy to fit in regular dinners, what with sports practices, after school jobs, hours of homework, and heavy social media upkeep.

So, how can parents make dinner compelling for adolescents, and enjoyable for everyone else in the family? Showing up at the dinner table with certain parental attitudes may help: showing interest in your kids’ new discoveries (e.g. music, friends, favorite athletes, video games, etc.) without judging them; tolerating strong expressions of feelings; and talking in a more honest and self-disclosing way about your own lives, if these disclosures are relevant to your kids’ struggles.

Adolescence is also a time when kids are figuring out who they are and how they want to be similar to and different from their parents, and they have the brainpower now to engage in philosophical and abstract thought.  It is no wonder, then, that this is a time when kids may declare that they have food preferences that differ from their parents. Consider the New Yorker cartoon of two teenage girls talking. One says to the other: “I started to be a vegetarian for health reasons, now it’s just to annoy!” But this kind of questioning of parental values can also lead to rich conversations about things that matter.

How to Keep Dinner as Lively as Your Teenagers

  • Agree that dinner will be off limits for discussing conflicts—no talk about homework, or whose turn it is to take out the trash, or a recent “D” on a math quiz, or how late the curfew should be on Friday night.
  • If possible, parents as well as teens should make dinner a technology-free zone. If this isn’t possible, then negotiate rules that everyone can agree to, such as: ‘We’ll only use our phones to resolve factual disagreements that come up at dinner’ or will only use it to play a game like Selfie Hot Potato.
  • If scheduling conflicts interfere with nightly dinners, consider having a healthy after-dinner, take-a-break-from-homework snack. This might be frozen yogurt with berries, a bowl of soup, or cheese and crackers.
  • Initiate conversations about subjects that matter to you and to your children. Did you read an article in the newspaper today that confused, upset, or delighted you? Talk about it and ask for your kids’ reactions. Check out our Conversation of the Week blog for more ideas.
  • Offer to make a new meal, based on your teen’s interests—if they are studying Chinese history or Indian literature, check out www.epicurious.com and search for recipes by country. Even better, make that new meal with your child so that they can teach you something about another culture they know more about than you do.
  • Invite your kid to make a course or part of the meal, particularly something fairly quick (but special and dramatic) that will elicit “oohs” and “ah”s from the rest of the family. Popovers, fruit smoothies, or a vegetable or fruit no one has ever tried before (anyone for dragon fruit?) all do the trick.
  • Speak about your own experiences of the day in a way that is honest and self-disclosing, perhaps revealing something that was embarrassing or challenging. Or, repeat a joke that you heard at work.
  • Ask your teen to choose music for you to listen to during dinner. On other nights, you might play your own music, or play the music that you listened to when you were your child’s age. Both will give you something to talk about that may be of great interest to your teen.
  • Since adolescence is a time of increased exploration, buy cookbooks when you travel to new places, ask for recipes at restaurants, or from the parents of your child’s friends. Some of my favorite recipes are ones I’ve requested from a Chinese mother raised in Hawaii whose cooking my son raved about whenever he visited.

Some of these suggestions may fall flat like a pancake. Others may get you only a few more minutes of conversation at the table. Still others may not work the first few times you try them. When it comes to parenting teens, persistence pays off, so don’t let a little pushback or negativity keep you from trying again.

Watch the recording of Dr. Fishel’s Why Family Meals Matter webinar!

To watch for free, just register here: tinyurl.com/FamilyMealsMatter

The Northland Coalition Prevention Network and Parent Up hosted The Family Dinner Project for an engaging webinar for parents and caregivers on the benefits of family meals! Anyone can view a recording of the webinar by registering at tinyurl.com/FamilyMealsMatter. Learn about the academic, mental health and nutritional benefits of family meals. Dr. Fishel discusses mealtime challenges and great strategies to overcome obstacles.  She motivates and empowers caring adults with games to play at the table that will spark conversation as well as tips to get kids to give you more than just a one-word answer.

Read Parent Up’s “Giving Devices a Seat…Away From the Table” Insight!

There’s incredible value in getting your family to sit down and have meaningful meals, but there’s a lot of things that get in the way. Check out our newest Parent Up Insight for tips on giving your devices a new seat away from the table!

Check out Parent Up’s free resources to help your family have more meaningful meals!

We make it easy to have more meaningful meals more often with your family on our Meaningful Meals page. Check it out!

Legal Weed is Now in Missouri – Here’s How You Can Help Ensure Kids Stay Drug-Free

With legal marijuana now being sold and marketed in our community, it’s more important than ever that we protect youth from early experimentation. The adolescent brain is unique, growing, and changing daily, and it’s these conditions that allow addiction to set in much more quickly in teens than adults. Also adding to the dangers are high potency marijuana and products like edibles and vapes. The average THC content (the substance that gets you high) in marijuana today has skyrocketed since the 60s, making it stronger and more likely to jumpstart addiction in our vulnerable teens. When the risks of increased access to THC-packed edibles, gummies, and vape cartridges are added to the mix, it’s a recipe for addiction.

The good news is that marijuana rates among youth in the Northland are currently low and we can help keep it that way:

  • Make sure kids in your life know you care about their mental health and well-being. That’s why you don’t want them to use marijuana or any other substances! Set clear expectations that they will stay marijuana-free.

  • Ensure any cannabis products are not accessible to youth.  

  • Help youth gain the confidence to say “no” to marijuana by practicing scenarios and brainstorming what they might say if they are offered marijuana. Prepare your kids for peer pressure and let them know they can come to you for help.

  • Watch for any early signs or symptoms of marijuana use. Be on alert for changes in behaviors, friend groups, or attitudes. Some warning signs include: Glassy, red eyes, slurred speech, dry mouth, a “skunky” smell, anxiety, a drop in grades, quitting activities, and difficulty thinking and problem solving.

Most addiction starts in adolescence: 90% of adults in the U.S. with a drug addiction starting using before age 18, making this the most important time to prevent experimentation with drugs. As adults, we have the power to help protect our kids and prevent addiction, and Parent Up is here to help! Check out all of our marijuana-specific resources here!

Keeping Our Kids Merry & Bright

It’s the holiday season and here at Parent Up, we are intentionally celebrating the joy, creativity and resilience of area youth. We also celebrate YOU, the parents, guardians and other caring adults who are following along, learning, listening and taking action, even though it isn’t always easy.

With the threats of deadly fentanyl, new discreet nicotine products, and the now more available than ever potent-THC packed cannabis posing risks to young brains, Parent Up is starting out the new year with some encouragement and tried-and-true tips for Keeping Our Kids Merry & Bright All Year Round:  

  1. Let’s make sure kids know we care about their health and well-being. Youth substance use harms the developing brain and puts youth at higher risk for problems with mental health and addiction throughout life. Set no-use expectations when it comes to vaping, alcohol, marijuana, and other substances.

     

  2. Be curious and keep the dialogue about substance use open. Ask youth what they think or have heard about alcohol, vaping, and other drug use. We can let them know they can come to us adults for help with peer pressure, stress, or anxiety.

     

  3. Help youth gain confidence to say “no” to alcohol and other drugs by practicing scenarios and brainstorming what they might say if they’re offered to them.
  1. Watch for early signs or symptoms of substance use which could include: changes in appearance, changes in friend groups, grades dropping, and/or secretive behavior. We know our kids best, so if something seems off, we should take action.

Kids are resilient and they are better off with your support. We wish you well this holiday season and into the new year.

The Parent Up Team

How Medicine Safety Can Save Kids’ Lives Now and in the Future

In light of the opioid epidemic and with fentanyl already in our communities, it’s more important than ever to teach our younger kids about medication safety. By being proactive now, we can reduce the number of accidental poisonings directly and lay a foundation to protect our kids well into their future.

It’s not too early to start with age-appropriate education about medicine safety. According to the Missouri Poison Center, students can begin to self-medicate around age 11. Below are five actionable tips and practices about medicine safety we can implement now while our children are still young to help them make safe choices related to medicines when they grow up:

1. Teach your child that they should only take medicine from trusted adults. Make a list of who these people are and remind them of this often.

2. Model responsible medication safety by never sharing medications or using someone else’s medications. Continually reinforce this message with your child, explaining that they should never share medication or take someone else’s medication.

3. Keep medications in their original containers to avoid confusion with other medicines or candy. This is also important because each medication has its own dosage, warnings, and directions for use. One of the most common mistakes when it comes to medication is accidental double dosing.

4. Always store medicine in a safe place, such as a place only you know about or a high shelf that children can’t reach. Don’t keep medicine in your bathroom medicine cabinet where anyone can find it.

5. Participate in regular safe medication disposal. Keeping unused, unwanted, or expired medication out of the house entirely will drastically limit the risks to kids. This month, the DEA’s Drug Take Back Day is on October 29th where people can safely dispose of their prescription pills. You can also find a list of our 13 permanent local drop boxes in the Kansas City Northland here that are open year round.

Research shows that starting preventative education with early elementary school-aged children reduces chronic substance use in high school, and communication is an essential part of keeping our children healthy and safe. Thank you for taking the time to have these conversations and reinforce these medication safety practices.

– Parent Up KC Staff

For more medicine safety tips and a checklist for your family, check out Scholastic’s Medicine Safety Newsletter.

 

Download and share our one page handout
of this Insight on medicine safety!

More Resources:

– For talking tips for older kids and teens, read our local Parent UP KC Insight about fentanyl.
– For more information about fentanyl, read the warnings, tips and pictures about fentanyl straight from the DEA.
– Learn more about the DEA’s Take Back Day, held twice a year in April and October.
– Download Parent Up’s list of local permanent drop boxes in the KC Northland.

Discreet and Sweet: Steering Kids Clear of Fruity Nicotine Gum, Tablets, & Pouches

There’s a new trend with teens, especially among those who have tried smoking or vaping: New fruity nicotine gums, tablets, pouches, and lozenges. Popular brands among teens include products from Zyn, Lucy, Rogue, Velo, Solace, On!, and Juice Head. These products may be small, but they pack an addictive nicotine punch.  When powerful nicotine is mixed with fruity flavors, flashy marketing, and bright packaging, it’s no wonder kids fall prey.

Doesn’t this all sound familiar? Youth-friendly marketing and discreet delivery of highly-concentrated nicotine is what finally landed the tobacco and vaping industry in hot water earlier this year. These fruity nicotine products are also very inexpensive when compared to vaping products – generally under $6.00 – and teens see them as “less harmful” because they’re “tobacco-free.” These claims falsely imply these products are healthier and safer than vaping or smoking, when in reality the real threat to our youth is in the highly-concentrated nicotine contained in these new products.

Advertisements found on Amazon.com (https://www.amazon.com/Nicotine-Lozenges-Cleaner-Alternative-Convenient/dp/B093JNFHSR and https://www.amazon.com/Nicotine-Count-Citrus-Berry-Alternative/dp/B09XWVKJV4)

The FDA is also fighting to keep products like nicotine gummies off the shelves and out of the hands of kids. The FDA shut down Krave gummies just this week because the company that makes them didn’t first apply for FDA authorization, making them illegal to sell. So far, they have been discontinued and there seems to be no other nicotine gummy products online. About a month ago, FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf warned that, “Nicotine gummies are a public health crisis just waiting to happen among our nation’s youth.” 

Zyn advertisement found at https://uk.zyn.com/. Velo advertisement found on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsbCQST4qRM.
Rogue ad proudly displayed on designer's website at https://fisherdesign.com/project/rogue-brand-redesign/. Velo ad found on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Zain9t0/posts/180953890401150).

When it comes to teens, addiction experts and prevention researchers agree: “Exposure to nicotine can interfere with healthy brain development among teens, worsen mood disorders and mental health problems, and affect their ability to learn and pay attention…It also puts them at increased risk of addiction to other substances, as well as other products containing nicotine.”

Even though traditional gums and lozenges already exist to help adults quit smoking, these new oral products seem to be targeting youth to get them hooked early. The marketing is everywhere, as Truth Initiative has pointed out: “Researchers estimated that 38 million pieces of oral nicotine direct mail were sent to U.S. consumers between March 2018 and August 2020 for Velo (RJ Reynolds) and On! (Altria) nicotine pouches and Revel lozenges (RJ Reynolds).”

Comparison image made by KCadmin from images found online (Rogue website, Solace Facebook page, Lucy at Nicokick.com, Walmart website, Walgreens website).

We know that most kids choose not to vape or smoke, and most will refuse products like these if they’re offered. We also know that adult support and conversations really help when the pressure mounts and the offer for teens to “try it,” is there.

As adults, we can help youth by:

  • Having conversations about our nicotine-free expectations early and often, including cigarettes, vaping, and these products. 
  • Warning kids and teens of the risks of using nicotine while they’re brain is still developing, including harm to their brains and lifelong addiction (learn more on our Vaping page).
  • Helping them gain confidence by practicing saying “no” to their peers when offered a nicotine product. 
  • Reminding our kids they can come to us for help with peer pressure, stress, or anxiety.

By Parent Up KC Staff

Deadly Pills in the Northland: Time to Take Action

Law enforcement in our area are seeing deaths among Northland teens and young adults linked to pills that appear to be prescription pills or legitimate medicines. These illegal pills are laced with the deadly drug fentanyl and it’s impossible to tell which ones are counterfeit. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Just traces of the drug fentanyl can be fatal. These pills are being sold on the black market and there is no regulation of any kind. These teeny-tiny pills look harmless, but they’re far from it. They are here — in our Northland counties, neighborhoods and schools.

DEA lab tests reveal that 2 out of every 5 pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose.  

Image Source: Kansas City Police Department

Before you think, “but not my child,” pause for a moment. The reasons teens might come across or seek out these pills are very real. Some teens seek help for sleep. Some think they will perform better in athletics or school. Some just want to take the edge off. Other teens seek out pills because they think it will help them with stress and pain. The anxiety and depression teens are feeling is tough. Some seek thrill and are willing to take the risk. They may think: “It’s medicine so it can’t be harmful, right?”  If our kids are not warned, they may think pills are the solution. Many of these deadly counterfeit pills are being sold over Snapchat and other apps popular with teens. Two-thirds of teens and young adults who report misuse of prescription medicine are buying or getting them from friends, family, and acquaintances.
To teens these are seemingly harmless transactions for a “pain pill” or something they believe to be Oxycodone, Percocet, Xanax or Adderall. But they could lead and have led to unimaginably tragic consequences.

From the DEA, two milligrams of fentanyl, a lethal amount for most adults. DEA.gov, Photo date: 7/2/2018

Local law enforcement has pulled together a drug task force to address supply and track down those that sell these incredibly dangerous pills. The DEA is working these cases too and urging the media to get the word out. Treatment agencies are overwhelmed with the severity and doing everything they can to provide the support to those who are struggling with addiction.

Here at Parent Up, our goal is to support parents and guardians in their efforts to keep their kids from taking a fake or non-prescribed prescription pill or using other drugs. Here are the tips we put out last spring, written by Kim Downs, a local parent and social worker. We love her take:

“As a parent, I urge you to take this growing issue seriously, and have specific conversations about it in your house. As a school social worker, I am hearing about this over and over. It is happening here and it is real.

Not sure what to say? Emphasize to your kids to never, ever take a pill from anyone or anywhere that isn’t prescribed to them by a doctor or out of its original container. Too many teens have the false perception that “medicine is safe, medicine can’t hurt me.” As caring adults, parents, and guardians, it falls to us to let our teens know the very real dangers of misusing prescription pills. Let your kids know where you stand. 

Let them know you will help them if they are seeking relief from anxiety or depression. Discuss the steps to legally and safely obtain appropriate medications from a doctor, if needed. Be firm that self-prescribing can be deadly, and that your child should never take any pills not prescribed to them by a doctor.  Assure your child that their mental well-being is a priority and then make a plan to get help together. They need to hear from caring adults that they have options for relief other than taking matters into their own hands.

Practice what to say if they are offered something. These roleplays let your child know you support them and help give them confidence if a situation arises where they need to say “no.” You can also work with your teen to come up with a code word to text you if they feel like they need your help to get out of an unsafe situation.

They might groan at you. Have these conversations anyway.”

Kim Downs, local parent and social worker​

Song for Charlie is a family-run nonprofit charity dedicated to raising awareness about ‘fentapills’ — fake pills made of fentanyl that are poisoning our teens.

SongforCharlie.org recommends you say this to your teen:
“You have to assume that any “prescription” pill you buy outside of normal channels is fake, and very possibly deadly.  NO RANDOM PILLS!” (They made this short video that you can use in your discussion with your teen.)

Download and share Parent Up’s one page handout about fentanyl and keeping our teens safe!

Here’s some other resources we think are really helpful too: 

Thank you for taking action today.  Give this article a share and help protect area kids.

– The Parent Up Team

Note: This post was originally published on November 18, 2021, but has been updated to reflect more recent local conditions and resources.

Underage Drinking: It’s on Us to Protect Kids

by Parent Up Staff

As adults we have the opportunity, and the obligation, to do everything we can to make sure our young people have healthy and bright futures. Adults working together can support policies, attitudes, and actions that prevent underage drinking and help youth thrive. Read on to see how you can help: 

Why should we care about preventing underage drinking?

The teen years are a sensitive time for brain development and underage drinking only adds fuel to the fire. The years between childhood and adulthood aren’t the easiest and youth need help from adults along the way. Underage drinking and teen drug use can negatively affect young people’s school performance, future job prospects, and physical and mental health, damaging their lives well into adulthood. 90% of adults with substance use disorders started using alcohol or other drugs in their teen years, so it’s important to take early and ongoing action.

What impacts a teen’s likelihood to drink alcohol?

While kids are the ones who take the drink, there are a lot of factors outside the teen that lead to this decision. When alcohol is more available, youth are more likely to drink. Also, when teens think it is “ok” or “cool,” or the adults around them allow minors to drink, they are more likely to drink alcohol. Finally, when teens think they are safe from any harm, like legal trouble, we see rates of teen drinking increase. Each of these factors can be addressed at a community level and Parent Up asks for all adults to help protect our youth.

What steps can adults take to help reduce underage drinking in our community?

Adults can help reduce the number of teens drinking by:

  1. Refusing to provide alcohol to minors—even during special occasions. When adults refuse, fewer kids use.  
  2. Letting the youth in your life know you care about their mental well-being.  If they’re feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, or bored, adults can help find healthy solutions for relief rather than them turning to alcohol or other drugs. 
  3. Setting clear, no alcohol use expectations with the kids in your life. When adults set boundaries and stand firm, kids feel safe and know what to do when peer pressure mounts.
  4. Making a game plan with the teens in your life before they go out or spend time with friends, so they know what is expected and how to refuse if alcohol is offered.  

At Parent Up, our hope is to help equip parents and other caring adults with tools and resources to help prevent substance use of any kind by youth. Thank you for caring and thanks for taking action to help! For more tips, tools, and resources on youth alcohol use or preventing any drug use with our teens, feel free to explore around ParentUpKC.com

Making the Most of Dinners with Your Teen

Dr. Anne Fishel is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at the Harvard Medical School and the Director of the Family and Couples Therapy Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. She is the executive director and co-founder of The Family Dinner Project, a non-profit initiative based at Massachusetts General Hospital, that helps families online and in communities to have better and more frequent family dinners. She has lectured to parents, teachers, and health professionals about the benefits of family meals and written numerous articles about family issues for NPR, The Washington Post, Psychology Today, The Los Angeles Times, PBS, and others.
Her book about family dinners, Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun and Conversation for Happier Families and Healthier Kids, is available through Amazon. She is a co-author with The Family Dinner Project team of Eat, Laugh, Talk: The Family Dinner Playbook.

Of any age group, teens may have the most to gain from eating dinner with their families. Numerous studies over the last 25 years reveal that dinners can protect teens from engaging in a host of risky behaviors: smoking, drinking, getting pregnant, developing an eating disorder, and using drugs. Teens who dine with their families also report experiencing less overall stress, feeling more known by their parents, and having better relationships with them (CASA, 2012).

Why do family dinners offer such benefits? The simplest answer is that dinner is a reliable occasion for teens to feel connected to their parents. It is this connection that provides the real seat belt on the potholed road of adolescence.

Dinnertime also creates the opportunity for parents to check in and monitor their teens’ behavior without putting their kids on the hot seat. Instead, questions about their day are softened by answering while enjoying a delicious meal, and by hearing about everyone else’s funny tales of the day.

The really good news is that when teenagers are asked to list the activities they most enjoy, family dinner is consistently ranked high on that list.

That said, teens can be sulky, irritable, prickly and challenging, and may not make the easiest dinner companions. Not only that, but their schedules may seem too busy to fit in regular dinners, what with sports practices, after school jobs, hours of homework, and heavy social media upkeep.

So, how can parents make dinner compelling for adolescents, and enjoyable for everyone else in the family? Showing up at the dinner table with certain parental attitudes may help: showing interest in your kids’ new discoveries (e.g. music, friends, favorite athletes, video games, etc.) without judging them; tolerating strong expressions of feelings; and talking in a more honest and self-disclosing way about your own lives, if these disclosures are relevant to your kids’ struggles.

Adolescence is also a time when kids are figuring out who they are and how they want to be similar to and different from their parents, and they have the brainpower now to engage in philosophical and abstract thought.  It is no wonder, then, that this is a time when kids may declare that they have food preferences that differ from their parents. Consider the New Yorker cartoon of two teenage girls talking. One says to the other: “I started to be a vegetarian for health reasons, now it’s just to annoy!” But this kind of questioning of parental values can also lead to rich conversations about things that matter.

How to Keep Dinner as Lively as Your Teenagers

  • Agree that dinner will be off limits for discussing conflicts—no talk about homework, or whose turn it is to take out the trash, or a recent “D” on a math quiz, or how late the curfew should be on Friday night.

     

  • If possible, parents as well as teens should make dinner a technology-free zone. If this isn’t possible, then negotiate rules that everyone can agree to, such as: ‘We’ll only use our phones to resolve factual disagreements that come up at dinner’ or will only use it to play a game like Selfie Hot Potato.

     

  • If scheduling conflicts interfere with nightly dinners, consider having a healthy after-dinner, take-a-break-from-homework snack. This might be frozen yogurt with berries, a bowl of soup, or cheese and crackers.

     

  • Initiate conversations about subjects that matter to you and to your children. Did you read an article in the newspaper today that confused, upset, or delighted you? Talk about it and ask for your kids’ reactions. Check out our Conversation of the Week blog for more ideas.

     

  • Offer to make a new meal, based on your teen’s interests—if they are studying Chinese history or Indian literature, check out www.epicurious.com and search for recipes by country. Even better, make that new meal with your child so that they can teach you something about another culture they know more about than you do.

     

  • Invite your kid to make a course or part of the meal, particularly something fairly quick (but special and dramatic) that will elicit “oohs” and “ah”s from the rest of the family. Popovers, fruit smoothies, or a vegetable or fruit no one has ever tried before (anyone for dragon fruit?) all do the trick.
  • Speak about your own experiences of the day in a way that is honest and self-disclosing, perhaps revealing something that was embarrassing or challenging. Or, repeat a joke that you heard at work.

     

  • Ask your teen to choose music for you to listen to during dinner. On other nights, you might play your own music, or play the music that you listened to when you were your child’s age. Both will give you something to talk about that may be of great interest to your teen.

     

  • Since adolescence is a time of increased exploration, buy cookbooks when you travel to new places, ask for recipes at restaurants, or from the parents of your child’s friends. Some of my favorite recipes are ones I’ve requested from a Chinese mother raised in Hawaii whose cooking my son raved about whenever he visited.

Some of these suggestions may fall flat like a pancake. Others may get you only a few more minutes of conversation at the table. Still others may not work the first few times you try them. When it comes to parenting teens, persistence pays off, so don’t let a little pushback or negativity keep you from trying again.

Watch the recording of Dr. Fishel’s Why Family Meals Matter webinar!

To watch for free, just register here: tinyurl.com/FamilyMealsMatter

The Northland Coalition Prevention Network and Parent Up recently hosted The Family Dinner Project for an engaging webinar for parents and caregivers on the benefits of family meals! Anyone can view a recording of the webinar by registering at tinyurl.com/FamilyMealsMatter. Learn about the academic, mental health and nutritional benefits of family meals. Dr. Fishel discusses mealtime challenges and great strategies to overcome obstacles.  She motivates and empowers caring adults with games to play at the table that will spark conversation as well as tips to get kids to give you more than just a one-word answer.

How To Talk To Your Teen About Marijuana (And Actually Get Somewhere!)

As legislation and public attitudes about marijuana (or cannabis) shift, it can be a tricky topic to address with teens. Yet, teens who have conversations with their parents/caregivers, and know their no-use expectations, are HALF as likely to ever use drugs like cannabis compared to their peers. Parent UP is here to encourage and equip you to use your influence to prevent youth marijuana use and these tips should help!

Setting the Stage for Conversations with Your Child

  • Try to put yourself in your child’s shoes.
    Try  to talk to your teen the way you would want to be spoken to about a difficult subject. Practice refraining from judgement or anger, and instead be  curious, calm, and listen with respect and empathy. Be curious and open-minded about their experiences. It’s more important – and effective– to listen and discuss rather than to lecture. Ask them questions about what they think about marijuana. Ask them what they know or what they’ve heard about cannabis at school or from friends. Finding out what your child knows and thinks about marijuana first will help you know where to start your conversations about the drug.

  • Keep an open mind, but a firm stance.
    Make it clear to your child that you care about them so you don’t approve of them using marijuana.  Tell your child you don’t want them to risk their safety, brain development, or future and you expect them to remain marijuana-free.  Express concern and set clear boundaries so they know where you stand.  You are building a foundation for a relationship with your child that is honest, trusting, and open, which is an important protective factor to safeguard your child against cannabis and other drug use now and in the future.

  • Talk often!
    Conversations are more likely to be successful when they take place more casually. For example, while you’re driving in the car, taking a walk, or washing dishes after dinner with your teen. Sometimes there’s even something in your environment that can spur a conversation, like when you drive past a smoke shop with your teen or you’re watching a TV show that shows drug use. Taking advantage of these smaller moments and potential in-roads will help the conversation seem less threatening and more natural.

What to Say when Talking to Your Teen about Marijuana:

  • “There’s a lot of information about marijuana out there, but I want you to come to me with your questions.”
  • “If you’re concerned about your friends using marijuana, let me know and we can talk about it.” (In Missouri, more than 1 in 3 youth (34.5%) had at least one friend who smoked marijuana.)
  • “There’s a lot of information about marijuana out there, but I want you to know that it is never okay for kids to use.”
  • “Your brain is growing and marijuana isn’t good for growing brains.”
What Your Teen Might Say: How You Can Respond:
"Ugh, again?! We've already talked about this!" “Yeah, I know we have, but it’s important to me that you know where I’m coming from and why I expect you to be drug-free. I care about you and love you. I want what’s best for your growing brain and body, so I’m going to check in with you sometimes or remind you of our rules because they keep you safe. I know you’re facing a lot of choices as you grow up and I want you to know where I stand.”
"Weed is safer than alcohol." “I’m not surprised to hear you say that. Many people think that because the risk of overdose or death is so small compared to alcohol, that marijuana is “safe.” But the truth is, even IF it’s less harmful, that doesn’t mean it’s NOT harmful. Your brain and body are growing so much right now, and using drugs during this time can have long term impacts on your brain and your health. Using marijuana/cannabis as a teenager can also put you at greater risk of car accidents and making poor choices about sex or other drug use.”
“Medical marijuana is legal here now. Why would it be legal if it’s harmful?” “Many things are legal that can harm people, and especially kids and teens, like tobacco or alcohol. In fact, any drugs - including marijuana - can be more harmful to you than adults because you’re at a stage in life where your brain and body are growing so fast that it leaves you more vulnerable to addiction and the other harmful consequences of drug use.”
“I hear kids at school saying it’s from nature, so it can’t be harmful.” “I get that, but when you really think about it, it doesn’t make sense. There are many natural plants that are harmful to humans, like poison ivy, tobacco, and the fact that heroin is made from poppy flowers. Just because someone says it’s ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful.”
“Did you smoke weed when you were younger?” {Answer with the truth} “Marijuana was a much less potent substance when I was a kid and I am really not happy with the decisions that I made when I did smoke. When you’re high or stoned, the ability to make good decisions is questionable and the risk is just too high.”
“My friend only smokes weed on the weekends and he’s fine.” “I am glad your friend isn’t using it throughout the week, but I am worried because using any drug during the teen years can be really harmful to your brain. I don’t want you to do anything that can be harmful, that’s why we expect you to not use cannabis.”

Learn more about preventing teen marijuana use, including signs and symptoms of use, on our Marijuana page

For a free download of our one page handout of this information, click the button below!

Giving Devices a Seat…Away From the Table

Have you noticed that at Parent Up, we ARE OBSESSED with encouraging families to sit down and eat meals together?! Why the bias?  Well, it’s the simple “benefits outweigh the costs” argument:  Having-regular, unplugged, eat-whatever-wherever-as-long-as-you-connect-together meals is associated with lower rates of substance use and depression, better peer relationshipsmore self-esteem, and even better grades! More meaningful meals = healthier, safer and smarter kids!  

There’s a lot of things that get in the way of having meaningful meals – activities, school, work schedules – families are busier than ever!  Then there’s toddlers and teenagers who might dish out a few servings of attitude, pickiness, and exhaustion too.  BUT, if we’re honest, there’s probably another thing that gets in the way of your family sitting down, connecting and conversing over a meal:  The Digital Age. The times have been a-changin’ and family meal time looks a lot different now than it did even 20 years ago!

Common Sense Media commissioned a poll of nearly 900 families with children between the ages of 2 and 17 years old and they found that “devices aren’t welcome but often have a seat at the table anyway.” Their research found that even though 88% of adults don’t think it’s OK to use a phone at a family dinner, 47% of parents said they or a family member used a mobile device at dinner in the last week. Thirty-four percent said they had the TV on for all or most dinners.

There’s often a really good reason to have these devices out; you saw something funny today on a post from a friend or there’s details to confirm for tomorrow.  But, unless we’re careful, devices have a way of creeping in and taking up more of our meal-time attention than we desire.  The consequence of this imbalance of more tech and less-eye contact, according to researcher Sherry Turkle, paints a bleak picture, leaving all of us with less empathy, compassion and connection.

Can you make your meal-time more meaningful by giving devices a seat away from the table?!  Once the meal is ready, ask that everyone put their devices on silent or leave them in another room.  It will be more likely to happen if you make this an identified spot.  We’re encouraging families to make an Unplugged Box: a mobile home for your mobile phone during meals (and any other times you want to unplug)!  Putting devices in a place away from the table will ensure that they don’t distract from this important, meaningful time together.

Our goal here at Parent Up is to help parents have the tools, resources, and confidence to raise kids that are healthy and drug-free.  We will be around the Kansas City Northland community this fall, sharing the good news about the impact of family meals and providing you with a box and supplies to make your own unplugged box!  We are excited to partner in this project and help your family be more intentional about mealtime.  Watch out, you might like it so much, you become obsessed with it too!

 – By Parent Up KC Staff

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