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

Deadly Pills in the Northland: Take Action Today!

At a coalition meeting in 2021, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office Drug Task Force brought visuals of the very dangerous counterfeit fentanyl pills that are circulating and causing overdoses among teens and young adults in the KC Northland.  The Kansas City Police Department and the DEA came out with warnings in 2021, but nothing hit us as hard as getting an up-close up look.  These teeny-tiny pills look harmless, but they’re far from it.  It also proved that they are here–in our Northland counties, neighborhoods and schools.

The Detective shared that DEA lab tests reveal that 2 out of every 5 pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose.  Let me say that again: 2 out of every 5 of the thousands of pills they’ve collected in our community have the potential to kill. Something so small has the potential to cause so much damage, and tragically has caused so much damage in our communities.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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 teen deaths 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.

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

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