Send a clear message to your teens about drugs and alcohol

Experimenting with marijuana and alcohol is not acceptable

Parents often tell me that they are not concerned with their kids “experimentation” with marijuana and alcohol. “We all did it when we were young, right?” they say.  

Many parents are from the generation where experimentation was more commonplace and more accepted. But we have seen dramatic changes in our culture over the last 10 to 20 years – from lightning-speed technology to an increase in communication through technology and a general change in parenting.

We often now refer to a “helicopter parenting model.” We see parents who are involved in all facets of their children’s lives, including everything from prearranged play dates and systematized scheduling of extracurricular activities to the 24/7 push to do well academically and socially.

So it is ironic that these parents are often the same ones saying they are not concerned with their children experimenting with marijuana and alcohol.

  Parents fail to recognize that marijuana and alcohol can easily move into experimenting with mushrooms or ecstasy, or even prescription pain medication, which can increase the odds of heroin use.

I realize that I have a conservative view of alcohol and drug usage, but there is a crisis in our youth community with rising rates of marijuana and alcohol use. In my private practice, I have seen a dramatic increase in marijuana use among high-schoolers. They justify their use because it is safer than alcohol, does not cause as many biological issues and is not addicting.

  But these same kids, oftentimes boys, tell me that they smoke weed before school, during lunch breaks and after school, or even right before bed. Professionally or personally, I cannot be convinced that this behavior is healthy, and I cannot believe these kids are not dependent on the drug.

Marijuana has a higher level of THC than 10 or 20 years ago and it is not unheard of for marijuana to be laced with other drugs such as heroin. As I tell parents, drug dealers are looking for long-term users, as their business model relies on this. Getting kids hooked on drugs early on makes it more probable they will have customers in the future.

As a community, and as parents, we need to talk through these issues. We need to support each other as parents, and we need to begin a dialog about what we should be saying to our kids. I encourage parents to begin talking to their children as early as elementary school about drugs and what they believe is appropriate.

As a parent I recognize I cannot control every decision my children make, but I express my genuine concern to my kids about using marijuana and alcohol. I talk about what is happening in our community and that I do not believe experimentation is the right decision.

I explain that the brain is different for teenagers, given that the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed. Substance usage can have a profound effect on the growth of this part of the brain, which is the part that gives us the ability to make rational decisions. In addition, I tell kids and parents about the research that suggests that kids that use substances at an early age have a higher rate of long-term dependence as adults.

I encourage parents to think twice about condoning their children’s experimentation with drugs and alcohol.  It truly is not the same world we all grew up in. 

Tracey Tucker is Executive Director of New Heights: Adventures for Teens and a licensed mental health counselor at Tradeport Counseling Associates in Portsmouth.

More Parenting in the Moment columns by Tracey Tucker

ADHD: Not just for young kids

Children are more often being diagnosed in their tweens and teens

Is your child anxious? Depressed?

Finding support for you and your child is key to figuring out what to do next

The freshman test

Parents face new challenges when their teen becomes a high school student

How to manage the stress and emotions of senior year and applying to college

Senior year is a time of intense anxiety and loss, surrounding an inevitable next step for many youth — college.
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