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Raising Good Kids in Tough Times

By Dr. Roger McIntire

When it comes to those dangerous behaviors, drugs often produce the most tragic stories, but in number of abusers, alcohol wins. Alcohol abusers are defined as persons whose drinking habits produce poor work, excessive absenteeism from work or school, and complaints from friends and family.

One quarter of our teens are alcohol abusers by the time they reach college age. And alcohol-related accidents remain one of the biggest killers of our teens until they pass college age.

What’s a parent to do? You can’t protect your kids from every temptation, but you can make sure the right messages are sent:
1. Don’t send the message that alcohol is a problem solver: “I’ve had a tough day, I need a drink.”
2. Don’t send the message that alcohol is necessary for social situations. Using alcohol for its relaxing effect only postpones learning better social skills.
3. Don’t send the message that behavior under the influence is somehow more genuine, natural, or free because it’s more emotional and less thoughtful. Just because behavior is less filtered doesn’t make it better.

Inhibitions have been learned from experience, and thoughtfulness is the most human quality. When teens depend on alcohol to break down social inhibitions, the breakdown of sexual inhibitions is the next bad habit. Intoxication is the most common explanation given for unsafe sex in surveys of teenagers.

Now, about those drugs: Watch the money. The drug business is about money. Where can an unemployed addict get $75 a day to support the habit? Recruiting a new user – your teen – is one of the best sources of money. Pay attention to the amount of money your teen has. Drug pushers look for teen buyers with extra money, so your teen should carry only the needed amount to school or stores.

Watch your model. They are always imitating. Set an example for your teen to follow in the use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs – including medications. Teens copy. Review your habits for the sake of your teen.

Watch your teen’s habits. Paying attention can keep you up to date on any temptations. In addition to the money situation, changes in sleeping and eating habits, friends or secretiveness about friends can be a sign of trouble.

One dad recently told me he made a point of regularly calling the parents of his daughter’s friends. As a single parent he liked to compare his experiences with what others were going through.

As much as you think your teen will never abuse alcohol or take drugs, you need to know the signs. Unfortunately all teens show some of these signs from time to time, and it doesn’t indicate drug use. The difference that deserves attention is a cluster of abrupt changes in these signs:

1. Unusual, unexplained need for money, or money missing from the house.
2. Changes in friends, eating habits or sleeping that don’t make sense.
3. Lack of concentration, extreme agitation.
4. “Cold symptoms” that just don’t go away -red eyes, runny nose, increased infections.
5. Changes in appetite, cravings.
6. Changes in fatigue, hyperactivity, appearance, becoming sloppy.
7. Unusual clumsiness, shortness of breath, coughing, peculiar odor to breath or clothes.

One mother’s story began: “John started going with those older kids last summer and suddenly he didn’t care how he looked; he was sloppy, always sniffing, getting up later every day, and he lost interest in everything – even soccer!”
This mother found drug paraphernalia in her son’s room the first time she looked! The cluster of changes in social habits, attitude, and self-care was enough for her to investigate.

Send your parenting questions for Dr. McIntire by e-mail to sumcross@aol.com or visit ParentSuccess.com on the net. He is the author of Raising Good Kids in Tough Times and Teenagers and Parents: 10 Steps to a Better Relationship.

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