As parents, we all want to believe the best about our children. We work early and consistently to help them build diverse skills, to recognize their abilities and to be confident in their successes. We bask in the sunshine of their achievements and work hard so that they do not need to experience too many difficulties along the way—just enough to protect them against even bigger hardships down the line.
In trying to be good role models, we talk to them regularly about their extracurricular clubs or sports, have family meals and try to time our discussions about taboo topics so we educate them “just in time” to help them make the best decisions as they face the hard choices in life. We recognize there are bad kids out there, but are very sure ours are not the ones getting into trouble… until they do. And of course, we are almost always the last to know.
We tend to be so focused on their positives that we have a very difficult time recognizing that maybe the reason our son or daughter is sleeping so late is not just another growth spurt: or possibly the issue is not their teachers “don’t understand the unique capabilities” of our precious child, but that something really is amiss. This is the time—frequently too late—that we begin to think about prevention. When the issue of prevention is related to drinking or using drugs, we often dismiss the early signs or simply think that testing out chemicals is a rite of passage. After all, we went through this phase too and we managed okay. As I look at the data from our SHARE Survey and the recent research on use and addiction, one thing I am reminded of is that chemical use behaviors are starting younger and younger. This is a trend that is not only concerning, but truly alarming.
Meghan Morean, a post-doctoral fellow at Yale University’s School of Medicine, found that youth who started drinking early and had a short lag time before they were drunk are likely to be heavy drinkers and have alcohol-related problems in college0 For example, a teenager who took his first drink at age 15 and also drank to intoxication at age 15 would be at greater risk for heavy drinking and problems than an adolescent who had his first drink at age 15 and did not drink to the point of getting drunk unil age 17.
As parents and professionals we need to be honest about the emerging problem related to early onset drinking, binge drinking and social pressures to use a variety of chemicals—including prescription medications. Ignorance may be considered bliss, but in the case of young teens using alcohol and drugs it can lead to a life,me of use, abuse and even addiction.
We want to see the best in our children: and therefore tend to miss the signs of use. We are inclined to see our kids as too young to be considering drinking or using drugs when they are middle-school aged and still interested in video games, testing out makeup or getting their first Facebook page. But in many, many cases we would be wrong.
“The most fun time was doing 151 shots while playing NHL 98…if you score a goal your opponent did a shot.”
“The first time (I got drink) was after our football win, last game of the season.”
“I was like 12 getting drunk on rum on New Year’s Eve.”
But the most important quote comes from researcher Morean herself, “…our recommendation would be to delay the onset of any alcohol use as long as possible.”
According to a German study, in a high-risk group of those with early drinking onset, teaching constructive coping strategies with stressful life events is an effective preventive. Children with early [age of first drink] don’t necessarily need therapy, but stable life circumstances and coaching in active and useful coping strategies. We all know that prevention is better than cure. The first step is awareness.
Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism. –Carl Jung
Debb Sheehan, Director
(320)231-7030 ext. 2965