Why Parent Up?
As parents, we do all sorts of things to protect our kids and make sure they are safe and healthy: Vaccinations, baby gates, seat belts, helmets, car seats, sunscreen, and more. However, when it comes to drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana, why is it that some parents write it off as “a rite of passage” or as “normal experimentation?” After spending so many years protecting our kids from all sorts of dangers, why is teen substance use given a pass?
“We no longer can justify writing off adolescent substance use as bad behavior, as a rite of passage or as kids just being kids. The science is too clear, the facts are too compelling, the health and social consequences are too devastating and the costs are simply too high.”
–Jim Ramstad, a board member for the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse
There are so many reasons, and so many ways, to take action to help protect our kids from the obvious (and not so obvious) harms of underage alcohol and drug use:
Protect Young Minds
Adolescence is an amazing time of tremendous growth and learning. During this time, youth are learning all about the world and what their interests and passions are, so this rapid development is just right for this stage of life. This is why, for example, teens can pick up a second language more easily than adults.
Unfortunately, these same mechanisms of the growing brain that make teens awesome can also be altered by substance use to accelerate addiction and cause permanent damage to its structure and function. Introducing alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, or other drugs to the brain during this critical time can turn a very good situation into a very bad situation. Aside from the very real threat of addiction, the effects of adolescent drug use can last a lifetime and can include trouble with memory, learning, attention, and management of emotions.
During adolescence, young brains are developing from back to front as well. This means that while in childhood they’ve mastered the basics that are held at the back of the brain (like walking, talking, etc.), they are still working on the development of the front of the brain, where things like decision-making, considering consequences, and future planning are being developed. A teen’s pleasure center of the brain is already developed, but the reasoning part of the brain is still developing. This, among other reasons, is why teens might act in impulsive ways that we, as adults, don’t understand.
Prevent the Disease of Addiction
Because young people’s brains are still developing into their mid-20s, they build connections (synapses) faster than adult brains. Addiction is a form of learning, so adolescents become addicted more easily and more quickly than adults. This means young people may unsuccessfully try to quit using the substance, may want to continue to use a substance despite negative consequences, or will voluntarily pass up events with family and friends to use substances. In this three minute video, Frances Jensen explains the double-edged sword of our teens’ brains.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse “alcohol, and nicotine…prime the brain for a heightened response to other drugs and are, like marijuana, also typically used before a person progresses to other, more harmful substances.” If teens do not use any one substance (alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana), they are much less likely to use the other two or to use other illegal drugs. If teens do use any one substance, they are much more likely to use the other two and other illegal drugs.
Reduce Risky Activities
Underage substance use has been shown to directly influence a number of other high risk activities. Because substance use impacts the decision-making and risk-taking portion of the brain, underage substance use is strongly associated with risky sexual behaviors, violence, academic problems, and dangers on the road.
Avoid Legal Trouble
Providing alcohol or other drugs to minors is against the law and adults can be held personally responsible or sued for anything that happens as a result of giving a minor alcohol or other drugs. In the state of Missouri, it’s illegal to purchase, provide, or knowingly allow alcohol for minors and can result in fees up to $1,000 or jail time. Allowing youth substance use on your property or under your supervision puts you and your property at great risk. If you know of adults who provide alcohol to minors, consider taking action with our Parent Up Warning Letter to get it to stop.