One of the challenges of being the parent or guardian of a teenager is keeping lines of communication open as your child begins to become more independent and socially isolated from their family. Unfortunately, this occurs at a time in their life when they will begin to encounter and become more aware of drugs and alcohol. It's also the time of life when mental health disorders often manifest themselves.
A new study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides some insight into substance abuse programs and education has failed adolescents who are in foster homes. While just under 60 percent of individuals aged 12 to 17 have had discussions with their parents or adoptive parents about the dangers of drug addiction, only about 51 percent of adolescents living in foster homes have had the same discussions. Furthermore, the study shows that this group is much less likely to receive communication about these dangers when they are at school.
While the report focuses on the disparity between adolescents living with their parents and those in foster homes, it's worth noting that the 60 percent number is hardly worth bragging about. That means that four out of ten teenagers are not learning important lessons about drug addiction at exactly the time when they are most likely to acquire these habits.
Communication with adolescents is an immeasurably important aspect of helping them avoid and overcome addictions. If parents open up about these subjects, it can help the young person feel more comfortable discussing not just the issue of substance abuse, but that of mental illness as well. Many teenagers will begin using drugs as a way of self-medicating for other issues such as bipolar disorder and anxiety. By opening the door to talk about drug abuse, a parent can gain further insight into their child's mental health as well and decide whether they should seek drug addiction treatment.
Parents and caregivers who are looking for resources about how to approach their children about these topics can find a number of tips and guidelines from SAMHSA on their website. Recently they launched a campaign called "Talk, They Hear You," which promotes the opening of communication channels between children and their parents.
When broaching the subject of substance abuse, they recommend setting a number of goals about the messages your child should take away from the conversation:
- Let them know that you are not okay with underage drinking and using
- Let them know they can ask you any questions about alcohol and substances
- Make it clear that your priority is their happiness and good health
- Make sure they understand that you are keeping an eye on them and will notice if they start drinking or taking drugs
- Reinforce those skills and strategies that will help them avoid acquiring these habits.
Fairwinds Treatment Center was originally created because its founder, Dr. M.K. (Khal) El-Yousef, believed that there weren't enough resources available for those who were using substances to treat their own mental illnesses. In addition to the criteria we listed above, make sure that your child knows they can communicate with you about any struggles they might be having in terms of mental health. If they're dealing with depression or significant mood swings — signs of bipolar disorder — they must be sent for treatment as soon as possible to tackle the problem. As a parent, you'll be much better positioned to identify these problems if your child feels comfortable communicating with you.