Naperville panelists: Tell teens drug, alcohol use not OK
The best advice to help prevent teen substance abuse might sound a little obvious, but experts who spoke at a panel discussion in Naperville are sticking to it.
Tell your kids it's not OK to use alcohol or drugs. Tell them early and tell them often. Then, tell them again.
"The key thing to do -- if you don't remember anything else -- is you have to communicate to your child your disapproval of them using drugs and alcohol," said Dr. David Lott, medical director of addiction services at Linden Oaks at Edward Behavioral Health. "You've got to be talking about it."
The importance of bluntly communicating an anti-drug message was the overriding theme of a parenting event Tuesday night called "The Elephant in the Room: The talks every parent should have."
As the second installment in Linden Oaks' new parent series, the discussion educated parents on the influences that lead youths to try drugs and alcohol and ways to create an environment where drug use is not accepted.
Parents should get to know their children's friends, monitor social media use and plan family time to create a culture that opposes drug and alcohol use, said Justin Wolfe, clinical therapist in addiction services at Linden Oaks.
These steps are especially important for parents of kids who are struggling in school, feeling isolated, lacking a positive activity or hobby in which to succeed or are being bullied -- especially online. Kids in these situations are more likely to seek solace in substances, Wolfe said.
"There's no safe zone" with online bullying, he said. "There's no reprieve anymore. So that puts kids at an increased risk to use."
Parents should begin talking to their children about the dangers of drug use early -- especially because the brain is not fully developed until around age 25, so young people are at a higher risk of becoming addicted or damaging brain tissue.
"Even a kindergartner can understand that drugs and alcohol can hurt their body," Lott said.
Panelists offered some advice about how to have these anti-drug conversations, too. In a word, causally.
"Just make it a casual conversation," said Deb Lewin, co-founder of the PATH parent support group, which stands for Positive Acceptance Toward Healing. "Just be open and honest and casual and loving and supportive. Lecturing isn't going to get you anywhere."
But how to avoid sounding like Charlie Brown's teacher? Remember to make it a two-way talk, said Pam Witt, a social worker at Neuqua Valley High School.
Remain calm and take the emotion out of the conversation, she said. And remember to ask open-ended questions about pressures students feel or situations when they think they might encounter chances to use drugs or alcohol. Then listen to the answers.
"The minute you find you're doing all the talking, you know you're lecturing," Witt said.
Panelist IdaLynn Wenhold, executive director of the nonprofit KidsMatter, encouraged parents to never take lightly their role in encouraging kids to stay away from harmful substances.
"We can't control their decisions," Wenhold said. "But we can be positive influences on those decisions that they make."