Knowing what your child is up to without prying can be challenging. Dr. Nora Volkow is the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and shares her suggestions on how to read your teen without being invasive.
With the anxieties of getting into a good college, balancing studies and activities outside of the classroom, and everyday peer pressure from friends, the stress on today’s teenagers can be overwhelming. Some of them turn to drugs and alcohol to cope or to “fit in,” but many parents think: “not my child.”
Each year, 570,000 people die of drug abuse and related deaths. 570,000 people – that’s almost the entire population of Wyoming.
How do you know if your child is abusing prescription drugs or experimenting with the dangerous new synthetic drugs easily available at gas stations or online? More importantly, how do you know before it is too late?
It’s important to talk to your teenagers – as difficult as it might be – and to not only communicate via technology. Watch for changes in attitude and don’t chalk it up to typical teenager behavior or “a phase,” by then it may be too late. Pay attention to mood swings, depression, anger, irritability, or defensiveness. Look for unexplained weight loss, red eyes, and poor hygiene – most teenagers care about appearance so a change in looks is possibly an indicator s/he is using drugs. Other—more obvious—indicators can include: dropping old friends for a new crowd, trouble at school, skipping class and money/items missing in the home.
Two-way education is key – making sure your teens know the dangers of drug use is just as important as parents educating themselves. For example, what many people don’t realize is that more people die from prescription drug abuse than cocaine and heroin combined. And the majority of teens get prescription drugs from their friends and family – either for free or by taking them out of medicine cabinets. Get rid of your old prescriptions or keep current ones in a safe, secure place. Prescription drugs can be extremely harmful if not properly used by the person for whom they were prescribed.
Besides knowing what to look for, know what to listen for as well. Today’s drugs have innocent sounding names like “Vanilla Sky” or “Purple Haze” or everyday items like “Potpourri” and “Spice.” “Molly” is not necessarily the girl next door or your child’s lab partner; it’s another type of Ecstasy.
Most importantly, be realistic – realize that even the “perfect child” is at risk for drug and alcohol use. Keep your eyes and ears open – be aware of changes no matter how small and be willing to initiate the conversation with your kids. And if you do suspect or learn that your child is using drugs, make an appointment with your family’s pediatrician. Your pediatrician should know whether treatment is needed; and if so, where to refer you.
What is the line between respecting your child's privacy and knowing what he or she is really up to?