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PTA Coffee Break: Talk with your kids about alcohol, drugs

March 28, 2012|By Kate Rogers

Brenda Conlan acted as a lightning rod for community angst around "social host" drinking by our kids at last week's Coffee Break at the Aliso Creek Inn.  

Conlan, an internationally known expert on drug and alcohol use among teens, opened her talk by confessing that she had had a "passionate" relationship with drugs and alcohol from the ages of 12 to 17. 

"The true carnage of addition is what happens between people — it is guaranteed to disrupt relationships," Conlan said.

Yet most kids are highly motivated toward relational closeness.  If kids really "get" that alcohol and drugs will hamper these relationships, they begin to listen.

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Despite appearances, parents really matter. 

"We are not merely the bumbling servants on Planet Youth, in risk of being voted off the island," Conlan said.

In fact, when Conlan tells her own addiction story to a room full of kids, their first question is "What did your parents do?"  We parents are our kids' first line of defense.  When presented with an opportunity to try something, kids first ask "can I get away with this?  How out-to-lunch are my parents?"

Conlan exhorts us to "roll up our sleeves and get into the heavy lifting of parenting."  She gives us all permission to lower the boom.  When our children ask us to trust them, respond with, "I trust you, I just don't trust the environment." Learn how to handle kids being upset with you.    Use Ronald Reagan's approach: trust and verify.

Conlan was clear that for our children, postponement of the use of alcohol is the goal.  This is more a challenge today than it was for earlier generations, as kids enter adolescence earlier at age 11.  Adolescent brains are in an accelerated growth phase, are more plastic and the central nervous system is more sensitive.  Therefore, they are far more susceptible to addiction. 

"A kid brain is not an adult brain with fewer miles," Conlan said.

She emphasized that it is irrelevant how nice, intelligent or respectful your teen may be — temptation and social pressure will push trial. 

Alcohol is particularly confusing as it is legal.  It is advertised, available and used by parents broadly. 

"OK" use of alcohol is when it is part of the food world; however, kids are interested in the sensations of drinking, not its qualities as a beverage.  Parents who say, "The kids are going to drink anyway," are really saying they have given up. 

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