By James French
There has been some scary evidence surfacing lately about the knowledge disconnect that has appeared between parents and children. Whether it is because of a desire not to know, a concern over privacy, or an unwillingness to be intrusive, there has been startling research emerging that parents just don’t know what’s going on with their children as much as they did in the past.
The Pride Surveys, published by International Survey Associates, studied the extent that children and teens have used various substances–cigarettes, alcohol, prescription drugs as well as “hard” substances like marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, and so on–and the extent to which parents were aware of this usage. Two parallel studies combine to paint an alarming picture: Over 30% of teens in grade 12 reported having used marijuana–that’s nearly a third of all high school seniors! But even worse, only 10% of parents said they were aware their children were using marijuana. Put another way, while nearly 1 out of 3 high school seniors used marijuana, only 1 out of 10 parents knew about it! The same goes for cigarette use: A little over one-third (34%) of seniors reported smoking cigarettes while only 12% of parents (about 1 out of 9) reported knowing about it. And with alcohol, the result is truly shocking: Almost two-thirds (64%) of teens in grade 12 reported drinking alcohol but only 1 out of 6 (16%) parents said they knew their teen was drinking!
What does this show? A crucial gap in teen use of drugs and parents’ awareness of it. We can only speculate about the causes of this but it is clear that parents must work harder to uncover teens’ use of various addictive substances. This doesn’t mean taking on a “dictator” approach, monitoring and curbing all of a teen’s activities, but keeping track of what teens are doing, who their friends are, and what they do when parents are not around.
Here are some things parents can do to stay informed about their teens:
(1) Make yourself available as a resource. Tell your teen that they can talk to you and that you will be there for them without prejudging them (but that you will of course give them your honest opinion). Good, open communication is the key to prevention!
(2) Monitor where your teen goes and what she or he is doing. Don’t be afraid to ask your teen where she or he is going, how long they will be there, what they will be doing, and how you will be able to get in touch with them. Set reasonable curfews and restrictions and stay informed!
(3) Watch for signs of substance (ab)use: Changes in mood/attitude, unexplained weight gain or loss, lack of interest in activities s/he used to enjoy, and physical symptoms like bloodshot eyes, unexplained bruises, sweating, shaking, listlessnes or lack of concentration, hyperactiveness or apathy–any unexplained or out of the ordinary, sudden changes with your teen.
James French is an Outreach/Prevention Worker at Project HELP, one of our addiction prevention programs that works with teenagers.