Thursday, July 16, 2015

Teens and Dating: What They Need To Know

It's a right of passage, going on their first date.  Are they ready? Are you?

One day, your little one is skipping down the sidewalk with her hair in pigtails and a firm grip on a teddy bear. The next, it seems like, she’s bouncing down the stairs on her way to greet her first date. Watching kids grow and mature, especially during the teenage years, can be a bittersweet experience. It can also be the harbinger of the most difficult period of your parenting career. Preparing your child for the world of adult interactions, romantic entanglements and independence isn’t always easy, especially when you’d much rather they stayed small forever. Just as you can’t keep a child from growing into an adult, neither can you stem the tide of romantic attraction and the desire to date. All you can do is hope that you’ve instilled the values that you set out to, and that you’ve adequately prepared your teenager for the complicated and sometimes painful world of dating.

The Friendship Code
There are certain rules that come along with both dating and mature friendships, and they largely go unspoken until one of them is broken. One of the most pervasive and important rules for your teen to know before he starts dating is that the “friendship code” shouldn’t be broken. This code entails everything from dating a friend’s ex to trying to date a friend’s current girlfriend, and everything in between. While you’re trying to instill an inherent respect for the opposite gender, be sure that you also discuss the ways that dating and friendship can become messy, and how certain decisions can have far-reaching implications when it comes to both friendships and romantic relationships.

The Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship
No parent wants to think about their child being the victim of dating violence, but the sobering statistics show that this is one conversation that parents simply must have with their teens before dating becomes an issue. A study published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundations shows that as many as one in three seventh grade students have experienced “psychological dating violence,” and that up to one in six have been the victim of physical dating violence. A different study, headed up by the Liz Claiborne corporation, also shows that less than 25% of teenagers have discussed the subject with their parents. Both teen boys and teen girls need to know that dating violence or emotional abuse is never acceptable and should be aware of the warning signs of an abusive relationship. Once a pattern of accepting abuse is established, it can be a difficult and painful cycle to break. Make sure that your teen starts off on the right foot by ensuring that he’s educated and aware of the issues surrounding teen dating violence and abuse.

The Importance of Boundaries and Respect
Parenting comes with its fair share of awkward conversations and embarrassing situations, but it’s far better to weather that momentary discomfort to educate your teen about boundaries and the importance of respecting them than to send them off into the world of dating with no clear understanding of them. Teens need to know that “no” means no, and that pressuring their significant other into anything they’d rather not do is completely unacceptable behavior. They need to know that anyone who subjects them to such pressure is not a good friend or someone that truly cares about their feelings, and that there’s nothing wrong with breaking off a relationship if their boundaries aren’t being respected.

Popularity is Not a Sound Reason for Dating
At no other time in life is the prospect of popularity or gaining entrance into the “cool crowd” more valued or desperately sought than during the teenage years. Teens may date someone that they have little in common with or little regard for simply to maintain or achieve a position of power in their social circle. Conversely, teens often choose not to date people that they are compatible with and attracted to due to a perceived social stigma attached to dating outside of their circle. Before dating even becomes an issue in your child’s life, be sure that she knows just how irrelevant popularity will be to her in five years, and how much she could potentially miss out on if she’s dating someone solely because they’re popular and capable of affecting her social standing.

Your Expectations and Their Responsibilities
While you may think that your expectations and your teen’s dating responsibilities go without saying, it’s important to realize that your teen only knows what you tell him. Don’t assume that your teenager knows what you expect of him as he starts dating, or what his responsibilities are to both you and his significant other. Communicate the rules and what you expect clearly and concisely, so that there’s no confusion or pleas of ignorance later.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Teens and Drug Use: 10 Tips for Prevention and Awareness

As we are in the summer months it can lead to more time for experimentation of substances.  Maybe your teen wants to fit in with a different peer group or maybe they have been using drugs and want to try new ones.

It is important for parents not to be in denial.  The best of kids can make bad decisions.  Think of your own childhood - we all learn from mistakes.  Sadly today drugs are much more dangerous and deadly than they were generations earlier.

10 Tips for Prevention and Awareness of Drug Use:

1. Communication is the key to prevention. Whenever an opportunity to talk about the risks of drinking and driving or the dangers of using drugs presents itself, take it and start a conversation.
2. Have a conversation not a confrontation. If you suspect your teen is using drugs, talk to her. Don't judge her; instead, talk to her about facts behind the dangers of substance abuse. If your teen isn't opening up to you, be sure you find an adolescent therapist who can help. 
3. Addict in the family. Do you have an addict in your family? Sadly many families have been affected by someone who has allowed drugs to take over his or her life. With this, it is a reminder to your teen that you want him to have a bright future filled with happiness. The last thing you want for them is to end up like [name of addicted relative].
4. Don't be a parent in denial. There is no teenager who is immune to drug abuse. No matter how smart your teen is, or athletic she is, she’s at risk if she starts using. I firmly believe that keeping your teen constructively busy, whether through sports, music or other hobbies, will put her at less risk to want to experiment. However don't be in the dark thinking that because your teen is pulling a 4.0 GPA and is on the varsity football team that he couldn't be dragged down by peer pressure. Go back to my number one tip—talk, talk, talk. Remind your teen how proud you are of him, and let him know that you’re always available if he’s being pressured to do or try something he don't want to.
5. Do you even know what your teen is saying? Listen, or watch on text messages or emails, for code words for medicaiton being abused or specific drug activity: skittling; tussing; skittles; robo-tripping; red devils; velvet; triple C; C-C-C-; and robotard are just some of the names kids use for cough and cold medication abuse. Weed; pot; ganja; mary jane; grass; chronic; buds; blunt; hootch; jive stick; ace; spliff; skunk; smoke; dubie; flower; and zig zag are all slang for marijuana.
6. Leftovers. Are there empty medicine bottles or wrappers in your teen’s room or car (if they own one)? Does she have burn marks on her clothes or her bedroom rug, and ashes or a general stench in her room or car? Be sure to check all pockets, garbage cans, cars, closets, and under beds, etc., for empty wrappers and other evidence of drug use. Where do you keep your prescription drugs?  Have you counted them lately? Teens and tweens often ingest several pills at once or smash them so that all of the drug’s affect is released at once.
7. Body language. Tune into changes in your teen’s behavior. Are his peer groups changing? Is he altering his physical appearance or suddenly lack hygiene? Are his eating and/or sleeping patterns changing? Does he display a hostile, uncooperative, or defiant attitude, and is he sneaking out of the house? Are you missing money or other valuables from your home?
8. Access to alcohol. Look around your home—are alcoholic beverages (liquor, beer, or wine) easily accessible? Teens typically admit that getting alcohol is easy, and that the easiest place to get it is in their own homes. Be aware of what you have in the house and if you suspect your teen is drinking, lock it up! Talk to them about the risks of drinking, especially if they are driving. 
9. Seal the deal. Have your teen sign a contract stating that she promises never to drink and drive. The organization Students Against Destructive Decisions (formerly known as Students Against Drunk Driving), www.saddonline.com provides a free online contract you can download. It may help her pause just the second she needs, to not get behind that wheel.
10. Set the example, be the example. What many parents don't realize is that they are the leading role model for their teen. If your teen sees you smoking or drinking frequently, what is the message you are sending? At the same time, many adults enjoy a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage, and the teen needs to understand that they are adults and there’s a reason the legal drinking age is 21.

A very important piece of advice I share on a daily basis, which I learned the hard way, is that you have to be a parent first, even if it means your teen hates you. The hate is temporary. Your teen’s future, health, and safety depend on your parenting. Friendship will come later—and it does!


If you suspect your teen is using drugs, take immediate steps to get them help.  If they refuse local treatment, consider residential therapy.