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 dinner 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

Marijuana: Risky Business for Young Brains

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 38% of high school youth have used marijuana at some point in their lives.  In this same report, concerning findings suggest more middle school youth and kids who historically aren’t at high risk for drug use, are now using marijuana.  Our local rates in the Kansas City Northland are lower than the national average, but still concerning.  In the Northland, 30% of middle and high school kids perceive marijuana as harmless with 5.5% of them using it regularly (2020 Missouri Student Survey).  

Using marijuana is risky business for a developing teenage brain. According to the CDC, use in teens can result in difficulty in thinking and problem solving, problems with memory and learning, impaired coordination, and difficulty maintaining attention. Teen marijuana use is also associated with lower grade point average, reduced overall school performance, impaired driving, impaired attention span, lower life satisfaction, and increased risk for mental health issues and other substance use

Although marijuana use can actually increase mental health problems, many teens use it to dampen anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.

Here at Parent Up, we believe that parents and caring adults can help prevent youth marijuana use and protect youth from turning to marijuana use to cope. This month, Parent Up got some insight from Dr. Debra Olson-Morrison, a local clinician who has decades of experience working with families.

Informed teens make more informed choices. Engage pre-adolescents and young teens in healthy conversations about the effects of using drugs such as marijuana. Refrain from using scare tactics and lecturing, and remain open and receptive to what your teen wants to share with you. Start with phrases such as “So, seems like some kids are using marijuana these days. What do you think about that? What do you know about the effects of using marijuana? How do you feel about all this?”  Asking open-ended, curiosity-based questions reflects a non-judgmental willingness to engage in truthful dialogue about drug use.

Choose relationships over ribbons. Many parents focus on their teens’ grades, performance in extracurricular activities, undesirable behaviors, or other activities, and forget to just spend quality one-on-one time with their teen. As parents and caring adults openly talk about marijuana use, they should simultaneously show confidence in their teen’s ability to make healthy decisions, and spend time connecting with them.

Trust, Love, and Acceptance: Communicate your admiration for the person your teen is, and excitement for the person they are becoming. Being a teenager is hard – being present to and validating teens’ thoughts, feelings, concerns, and dreams provides a foundation for a healthy relationship based in love and trust.

Thanks for your thoughts, Debbie, and thanks for the work you do with Northland kids to help them thrive! 

Remember, Parent Up is here to help you navigate conversations about drug use and establishing healthy boundaries with your kids. Visit our homepage to learn “how to Parent Up” or navigate to our Drug Topics page for more information about preventing youth substance use, including marijuana use.

Debra Olson-Morrison, PhD, LCSW, RPT-S has been in clinical practice with children and families since 2001 and currently serves as the Trauma-Informed Training Manager and Child Advocacy Center Therapist at Synergy Services.

An Open Letter to My Son about Drinking

When my now 22-year-old son, who will be a senior in college next year, was entering 10th grade, I started getting a lot of questions from family and friends. They wondered how I was going to handle his inevitable experimentation with alcohol. When I expressed the idea that Tom might decide not to drink until he was 21, I was accused of living under a rock. It was just assumed that my son would drink, no matter what I thought or said. When the subject came up with other parents, a frequent response I got was, “I don’t want my kid to drink, but of course they will.” Or, “Kids will be kids,” And my personal favorite, “Well we did it when we were their age.”

 

Really? Is this the criteria we are going to base our parenting on? I’ve always felt it’s my job as a parent to set the boundary and my kid’s job to test it. Because I’m a writer and blogger, I decided to write my feelings about this in a letter to my son. 

 

I wanted Tom to know where my husband and I stood on engaging in behaviors that are at best risky and at worst illegal or life-threatening. I joked that at least he could never say he didn’t know how I felt. I expected some people to disagree with me. I knew members in my own family, including my dad, did. But I never expected the letter would go viral, being shared hundreds of thousands of times. And that even seven years later, I would still on occasion be contacted about it.

 

A few weeks ago Tom and I were discussing the fact that he did choose not to drink until he turned 21. I never thought my letter was a real factor in his choice. I thought it had more to do with having friends that just weren’t into drinking.  

In fact even though they are now over 21 and can legally drink, alcohol just isn’t a big part of their lives. 

 

So I was surprised when he said that the letter did play a part in his choice. Well not the letter as much as what it represented. Tom knew exactly how we felt. We had many honest discussions about the dangers of drinking, especially the dangers of binge drinking. But the letter was a tangible reminder.

 

I want to be very clear, I don’t think I’m a good parent because my kid didn’t drink before he was 21. And I don’t think someone is a bad parent if their kid does choose to drink before the legal age. I do think our kids deserve a clear answer on how we feel about underage drinking. And if it’s a behavior we don’t want them to engage in, I think we should tell them. 

  

 

Dear Tom,

 

The legal drinking age in this country is 21. Please know that dad and I will never allow you to have alcohol in our house or in our presence until you reach that age. Please also know that no good has ever come from a group of teenagers drinking. It’s a recipe for all kinds of disasters. If you should choose to drink, you’ll not only be breaking the rules of our house, you’ll be breaking the law. If you get stopped for driving under the influence, or the police get called to a party where you have been drinking, you may be in a position where we can’t protect you.

 

Always call me and your dad. ALWAYS. No matter what you have done. Don’t ever follow up a bad choice with one that’s worse just because you’re afraid of disappointing us or making us angry. Will we be happy? Of course not. But we would much rather get you and any friend who wants to come with you home safely, than get a call saying you are NEVER coming home.

 

Let me be clear that the fact that we love you and will stand by you does not in any way mean we will stand by while you do things that you know aren’t good for you. There are those who will tell you that your parents are being unreasonable and totally unrealistic. Some may tell you that you are a teenager and it’s a rite of passage to get drunk. They may even regale you with stories of their own youthful mistakes.

 

Listen to your own heart and trust your gut. Also know there is nothing cool about waking up in your own vomit, or having a DUI before you are 18. Your father and I are so proud of the man you are becoming. We love you so much that we don’t care if you hate us. That’s our gift to you — we are your parents, not your friends.

 

Always,

Mom

Kathy Radigan is a writer, blogger, mom to three, wife to one, and the one time owner of a possessed appliance. She is the creator of the blog, My Dishwasher’s Possessed! Kathy’s work has been featured in HuffPost, Scary Mommy, Yahoo, Her View From Home, TODAY Parents, Romper, and many other online publications. Her new project is sharing her experience as a parent to a daughter with special needs on The Special Needs Nest by Kathy Radigan.

Fentanyl in the Northland: What Parents Can Do

Kansas City police officers have been raising the alarm since late February, and it’s a message that parents need to hear loud and clear:  Fentanyl-laced pills are causing overdoses in teens in the Northland and around the Metro. Before you think, “not my child,” pause for a moment. Many of these deadly counterfeit pills are being sold over Snapchat and other apps popular with teens. To teens, these are seemingly harmless transactions for a “pain pill.” But they could lead, and have led, to unimaginably tragic consequences.

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. Two-thirds of teens and young adults who report misuse of prescription medicine are buying or getting it from friends, family, and acquaintances. 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. 

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

 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 wellbeing 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 is a lifelong Kansas City North resident and has been a licensed school social worker in the area for nearly 20 years. She is passionate about removing barriers to learning and is an agent of support to students and families. She enjoys a good hike in the mountains, wandering a museum, traveling, and spending time with her family.

Drawing Boundaries for Safe, Healthy Kids

Diane Pickert is a Community Prevention Specialist at Tri-County Mental Health Services in Kansas City, MO.  Her background education is in Early Childhood Development, Communication, and Religious Education.  She’s finishing her Masters at the moment from Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, England.  Diane’s focus has always been on the connection between faith, family and raising healthy children.

My 3 year-old grandson Ambrose drew a mural with markers, not once, but twice on walls in their family home.  First, all over the dining room wall and a year later, all over the upstairs hallway.  Needless to say, my daughter and her husband have had to set some boundaries with markers.  

It is normal in development for children in their early years to push their limits, which is why it is important to start setting boundaries young.  By setting these boundaries and establishing consequences, it helps children develop self-control, supports development, and fosters a moral compass.

Here are some reasons kids and teens need boundaries:

  • Boundaries teach self-discipline
  • Boundaries keep our children safe and healthy
  • Boundaries teach children how to socialize
  • Boundaries teach children how to cope with uncomfortable feelings
  • Boundaries encourage good behavior and good citizenship as they grow older
  • Boundaries are reassuring and actually show children you care about them

In adolescence, kids start testing limits with relationships and their bodies.  The emotional center of the adolescent brain is hyper-sensitive to risk and reward and it often overrides the underdeveloped front of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) where complex thought and decision making happens.  Adolescents are more likely to try things like drinking alcohol, vaping, or driving at dangerous speeds, leaving parents reminiscing of the days of coloring on the walls!

Setting boundaries helps the adolescent brain create pathways as your child grows up.  It shows kids you care about their health and development and makes them feel safe.  Setting firm boundaries and having regular conversations with your children will help them become responsible for their own actions, attitudes and emotions. Maintaining these boundaries will instill character in your children which will encourage them to lead a balanced, and resilient life well into their adult years.  And if your child is anything like my grandson, they will probably “color on the walls” more than once.  That’s ok and it doesn’t mean that your boundaries aren’t worth it.  Boundaries need to be defined more than once for adolescents. 

I’m sure as Ambrose continues to grow older he will need more boundaries set for different reasons.  His parents will have many conversations with him, not because they want to stifle his curiosity or creativity, but because they simply love him and want him to be safe. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries for your kids and teens.  It enhances their ability to cope with life’s disappointments (without drugs like nicotine and marijuana) and helps them gain a sense of control.  Make sure you have regular conversations with your children and, most importantly, love them even in the midst of their mistakes.

The Magic of Family Meals

How has family meal time changed for you this year? Has your family had to adapt to new school and work schedules, making it harder to fit in meal time together? Or has your family had more at-home meals than ever? Are you officially tired of cooking, or maybe you or have developed a surprising love for trying new recipes? Has it been awhile since you’ve had the opportunity to eat a restaurant meal? Or maybe you’ve been able to try some new restaurants with carry-out and delivery options this year?

We’ve almost been in a pandemic for a year now, so no doubt your family’s meal patterns have changed from what they were last year at this time. No matter what situation your family finds itself in right now, here at Parent Up we want to encourage you to keep family meals together a high priority. As parents, a lot is thrown at us about what we should or shouldn’t do to help our kids. Some of this advice seems achievable, and some of it can seem overwhelming.
The thing with family meals is this: a relatively low time commitment can lead to great long-term benefits for your children and your family.

 

Research points to family meals as helping to increase children’s academic performance, literacy, and connection to family, while decreasing the risk of depression, substance use, and obesity. Family meals have been researched for many years now and the outcome is clear:  Family meals make a positive difference. If you are already having family meals most days, great job! If not, think about how many times your family currently sits down together for a meal per week. How can you slowly improve on this? Make it simple for yourself and give yourself grace as you incorporate more family meals into your routine. Here are some things to keep in mind:

 

1. Keep it simple. Things are busy, and some nights following a recipe just isn’t happening. Planning ahead of time helps a lot, but if you haven’t planned ahead and find yourself stressing over a meal, give yourself permission to do something simple. Open a couple cans of soup, make a plate of cheese and crackers and lunchmeat, fix some boxed mac and cheese or a simple sandwich. Having good nutritious meals is great of course, but don’t miss out on the benefits of family meals just because you don’t have the ingredients or motivation to cook a big meal. We’ve all been there! Even a simple meal together can provide the benefits of family connection.

 

2. It doesn’t have to be “dinner.” If your family’s schedule works out better to have breakfast together some days, or an after-school snack at the table, or even a late night dessert together on a weekend, then make that your priority! Think about what works for your family, set your goals, and take some little steps to make it happen!

 

3. Work towards limited distractions at mealtimes. Put away the phones in a special bowl or make an “unplugged box” that you keep away from the table and turn off the tv. This allows for each family member to listen to one another and build a conversation without competing with electronics for attention.

 

4. Encourage kids to participate in meal preparation and conversation. When they participate in making the meal, kids build responsibility and feel more connected. To help kids with conversation, have them come up with questions that they want to ask parents or find some simple table-time questions and ideas to get started.

 

Make 2021 the year where family meals rise in your priority list. Visit ParentUpKC.com/Meaningful-Meals, where you can find more information on this topic, as well as simple recipes and table talk ideas. Parents, you’ve got this!

By Parent Up KC Staff

What We Want Every Parent to Know

There’s yard signs, news headlines, and lawsuits buzzing around us. No, we are not talking about the election. We’re talking about medical marijuana. In 2018, Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana to be grown, manufactured, dispensed, and used in Missouri. You will soon (if you haven’t yet) start to notice this new industry pop up in various ways in our communities. While there’s plenty we could talk about related to medical marijuana, our goals at Parent Up are specific:  Empower and equip parents to protect their kids from early engagement in all substance use. With this in mind, here is what we want every parent to know to help keep their kids and teens safe:

  1. Many in the local medical marijuana industry, health experts, and addiction researchers agree:  No amount of marijuana for youth is safe. Marijuana is dangerous for young, developing brains and the earlier someone starts to use marijuana, the greater their chance of becoming dependent on it. The average potency of THC in the marijuana sold today is higher than ever before and science is just starting to measure the impact. While every brain and body is impacted differently, we do know that adolescents are more vulnerable to the negative impacts of marijuana use. If teens use marijuana, their risk of addiction, mental health problems, impaired driving, and problems with thinking, memory, learning and coordination increase.

  2. Medical marijuana, is still marijuana. It is now legal for individuals and businesses who qualify to grow, manufacture, recommend, sell, market, smoke, vape, consume, and use marijuana. Medical marijuana will come in a lot of different products (edibles, candies, concentrates, buds, waxes, cartridges for vapes, and more) at various unregulated potencies. With increased availability of THC-packed marijuana, we need to do everything we can to ensure this substance is not diverted to youth.

  1. Now’s the time to take action to protect your kids and other young people from any early use of any marijuana:  Learn more about the vulnerable adolescent brain so you are energized to protect it.  Communicate a strong stance against all youth substance use, including marijuana.  Keep marijuana out of reach of youth, and watch for any early warning signs of use or risk factors.

As more marijuana comes to our communities, Parent Up is here to help. Throughout our resources, you can read more about the impact of marijuana on youth, learn what to say (or not to say) to your teen, take action if you know adults who provide marijuana, and like and share our messages on Facebook. Worried your child may be using marijuana or other drugs?  The Partnership to End Addiction can helpThanks for doing all you can to protect the health and safety of your kids!

 

From, Your Parent Up KC Staff

High-Performing Kids and Mental Wellness: The Tightrope Walk

We humans are good at finding patterns. This evolutionary benefit has kept us alive longer than the dinosaurs, but it’s not foolproof. Sometimes, these patterns can steer us wrong.  As parents, what we perceive to be good and healthy for our kids, might not be the reality. The team captain with straight-As could have an eating disorder. The class president with multiple scholarship offers might be questioning their sexuality. When it comes to identifying how well our kids are managing stress and dealing with substance use, sometimes we miss what is right in front of us.

Teens face an ever-creeping, constant pressure that the decisions they make in high school actively determine their path in life. Their problems might look small to adults, but from where they stand, the difference between low and high performance feels as if it could set them on an entirely different trajectory. The stress and anxiety teens feel about their future takes a toll on their minds and bodies.

How do we take some of the weight off the shoulders of high-performing teens?

Teens learn resilience when faced with difficult situations. In order to build this skill, teens need positive stress in their lives. For most youth, the stress of good grades and high performance as an athlete or musician is exactly the sort of positive stress that teaches effort, focus, determination, and teamwork. Stress becomes toxic when it is ongoing and without buffering. Adults act as buffers by being supportive, responsive, and caring to teens experiencing stressful circumstances. Ask yourself, why is your child’s high performance so important? Is it so they win or are the very best? Or is the priority that they develop esteem, work ethic, and resilience?

When walking the tightrope of encouraging high performance and supporting youth and their mental wellness, remember that most lessons are learned in the losses. We can hold teens to high standards all while demonstrating we care for them when they fall short of their goals.

5 Things You Can Do:

  • Talk to your teen about what is causing them stress. Let them know they can always come to you if things are feeling unmanageable to work through problems together.

  • Demonstrate your support and care when they fall short of their goals. Acknowledge both their hard work and their ability to do better next time.

  • Let teens foster an identity outside of performance. Praise them when they make an insightful comment, do something kind for another person, or creatively solve a problem on their own. Celebrate their effort, not just the outcome.

Examples of Buffering

A high performing teen is feeling daily pressure from a parent to excel in school and sports, from a coach to lead the team every game, from a teacher to score the highest on the test, and from social media to look a certain way.

Parent: “I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself lately. This has been a really challenging month. What are some ways I can support you?”

Coach: “That was a tough loss. You showed some real grit in that game. You never gave up.”

Teacher: “I noticed you’ve been tired in class this week. Are you doing ok? I’m here to talk if you need some help.”

  • Set boundaries. Work with your teen to mutually prioritize habits that feed their physical and mental health. How much sleep is right for them? How is social media impacting their mental wellness?

  • Check out the Developmental Assets® Framework. Learn about the ways you can support, empower, set boundaries and expectations, encourage constructive use of time, while fostering your teens’ commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, and positive identity.

Kat Barrow is a Community Prevention Specialist at Tri-County Mental Health Services in Kansas City, MO. She earned her Masters of Public Health from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Kat is passionate about creative, inclusive approaches to improving community health and wellness.

7 Things to Consider As You Send Your Child Back to School

What a difficult time this is to be thinking about back to school!  Not only do you need to prepare your child for going to school, you also need to think about how to keep them safe and productive when they’re schooling from home (if they’re secondary students).  And then there’s helping them deal with the disappointment of school and extracurricular activities not being what they expect and want.

As you think through these issues, here are some things to consider: 

1. Show you care. Listen to your child’s concerns and complaints and then help your child see the positives.  Remind them that everyone is doing their best in a time when there aren’t many good options.  Try to demonstrate a positive attitude toward their learning option in front of your children.  When kids hear you be negative, it gives them permission to be critical as well and tends to lessen their ability to succeed.  Support the school’s guidelines to keep kids safe and encourage your child to follow them, even when they don’t want to.  If you have concerns about how things are being handled, speak with your child’s teacher, counselor or administrator in private.

2. Set expectations and clear guidelines for your child when they are learning from home.  Have a well-developed routine for them.  What time will they get up, have breakfast and be ready for online studies?  Set scheduled breaks, lunch and quitting times.  We all accomplish more when we work within a schedule.

3. Make sure to build in some type of exercise and/or outdoor activity into their day.  Not only does it help their physical health, it’s crucial to mental health as well.  Encourage your child to take a walk or do some other physical activity at some point during the day.  You can also join them and use the time to connect.

4. Pay careful attention to your home environment. Make sure that any alcohol and/or prescription medications are locked up.  Your child may be dealing with a lot of disappointment and may experiment with things they wouldn’t normally consider.

5. Set aside time in the evening to connect. Family meals are a great venue for this!  Now more than ever it’s important to check in with them about what they’re doing, thinking and feeling.  Watch for significant changes in sleep, eating habits, and exercise patterns.  Don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you are concerned about their well-being.  Your child’s school counselor is a great place to start!  He or she can guide you to other resources if you need them.

6. If a parent is unable to be home with your child during their at-home learning, communicate with them throughout the day when possible. Think about other people who may be able to help break up their day.  Is there a grandparent or other family member who could pop in, bring lunch, or call them?  How about a neighbor or trusted friend?  When kids know the adults in their life care about them and are empathetic to this particular time, it helps them keep a positive attitude.  Maybe some strengthened relationships will come out of this!

7. Help coach your child’s perspective. Last week I came across a great article about coaching our kids through disappointment during this time.  “We can give our kids one of two perspectives. That of victimhood: that they’ve lost things they’re entitled to, that they should remain outraged, and that they will be forever scarred by their current losses. Or that of empowerment: narratives of delayed gratification, of resiliency, of grieving and moving on, and of finding new meaning and new coping skills.”  We can’t control so many of the things going on around us, but we can control how we respond!  This can be a time of growth for all of us!  (You can find the full article here.)

Kendra Callaway is currently the Program Director for Liberty Alliance for Youth and is a retired school counselor from Liberty Public Schools. She enjoys watching and helping her 4 grandchildren learn to navigate the world.

The Results are In! New 2020 Data and Looking to the Future

Local Data on Substance Use Declines

The Missouri Student Survey is conducted on even-numbered years and tracks risky behaviors of students in grades 6-12 attending public and private schools in Missouri. The survey, conducted jointly by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Missouri Department of Mental Health, asks youth a variety of questions on health and safety issues. County summaries of the 2020 results are available to view here

From the summary view, the new data is uplifting. Youth across Clay, Platte and Ray Counties are using alcohol, tobacco, e-cigarettes, and marijuana at rates lower than the state average.  The past 30-day use rates of these substances is also lower than what was reported in 2018.  At Parent Up, we are excited to see this downward trend!  We can celebrate that our youth are using fewer substances and that our prevention programs are working to make a difference.

Substance Use Harms Young Brains and Can Lead to Addiction

On the other hand, we still have plenty of work to do to protect area youth.  A study from the National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse found that 9 out of 10 people who are addicted to nicotine, alcohol or other drugs began using these substances in their teen years.  This statistic is backed by science and research that reveals the vulnerability of the adolescent brain to substance use.  Because the human brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s, vaping, drinking alcohol, using marijuana or misusing medications during the teen years can disrupt and damage brain development.  Substance use prior to age 18 is linked to an increased likelihood of brain damage, addiction, and mental illness such as depression or suicidal ideation.

Preventing the Disease of Addiction

Prevention science points to multiple strategies that prevent the early use of alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs.  Policies that reduce availability and marketing of substances to youth are important in reducing access to youth.  Strong community and family attitudes and expectations that discourage underage use are also proven to decrease the chances that a child will begin using alcohol, nicotine, marijuana or prescription drugs in the teen years.  Establishing strong relationships and connection between teens and adults, providing opportunities for healthy risk, and monitoring and supervision are also proven to decrease the likelihood that a child will engage in risky behaviors like substance use.  These strategies,especially when coupled together, will help ensure that youth substance use rates continue to decline.  Follow along this year at Parent Up as we work to ensure that parents and our community CARE, CONNECT, COMMUNICATE and pay CAREFUL attention to our kids so that we can delay the age of first use of alcohol and other drugs, and protect future generations from the devastation that comes from addiction!

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