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Top Talking Points for Parents with Teens Going Back to School

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Whether teens are entering high school for the first time or advancing grades, heading back-to-school can be both exciting and stressful. As teens face new challenges, new environments and new social influences in heading back to school, these stressors can lead teens to experiment with illegal substances. Recent studies have shown high stress teens are twice as likely as low stress teens to smoke, drink, get drunk and use illegal drugs.

“When parents and teens have open lines of communication and are able to speak authentically about the dangers of illegal substances, there is a dramatic reduction in the likelihood that teens will engage in this type of high-risk behavior,” explained Tammy Granger, student assistance program coordinator, Caron Treatment Centers, a nationally recognized non-profit provider of alcohol and drug addiction treatment. “Many parents underestimate the role they can play in preventing their teens from using drugs and alcohol, but an effective conversation can make a surprising amount of impact.”

There are several key ways for parents to facilitate successful back-to-school prep conversations and feel confident in addressing sensitive issues, like drug and alcohol use and abuse, with their teens.

  • Talk early and often: Don’t wait until the day before school begins to have a conversation about expectations. Addressing potential issues well before they occur, and having continued conversations, is an effective way to deter negative behavior.
  • Create an annual contract: A contract that puts expectations in writing, created with the teens’ input, provides an objective record of agreed-upon rules. Topics to address in the contract may include drug and alcohol abstinence, curfew, technology usage, and family rules and consequences.
  • Set expectations regarding academic performance: If a teen is consuming drugs or alcohol, parents are likely to observe a decline in his or her grades. Teens who understand that they’re expected to achieve a certain caliber of academic performance will often be more focused.
  • Reinforce that prescription drugs can also be abused: Increasingly, teens are prescribed medicine for issues such as Attention Deficit Disorder, depression and anxiety. Parents must remind teens if they take prescription drugs, they must take only the prescribed amount, and they should never take friends’ prescription drugs.
  • Address current observable areas of concern: If teens exhibit potential drug and alcohol abuse warning signs, such as rapid mood swings, anger management issues, withdrawal from family activity or physical changes like significant weight loss and changes in sleeping patterns, parent must discuss this with them immediately. Parents should also take advantage of school resources that may be available at little or no cost, including assessment and counseling services.

As teens grow throughout high school, they deal with more autonomy and independence, heightened social pressures, navigating new friend groups and increased workloads. During times of stress, teens are likely to be tempted to use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Parents can help teens deal with potentially overwhelming situations with open, honest communication about alternative coping mechanisms and reinforcing they are available to listen.