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.

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

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.

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.

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