“It won’t happen to my child.”
That’s what most parents think about their children getting involved in illegal drugs or alcohol.
However, sources like the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse cite statistics like these: 97 percent of high school students say classmates are using drugs and/or alcohol; 9 in 10 high school students say some of their classmates are drinking or smoking during school; and 75 percent of youth older than 12 say pictures of fellow teens drinking, smoking or using drugs on social media encourage them to do the same.
“Most parents think it can’t or won’t happen to their child,” said Drew Read, the chief operating officer of Paul Anderson Youth Home in Vidalia. “But with these statistics, then why not your child?”
In fact, Read pointed out that because statistics prove it can happen to your child, parents should ask themselves, “How am I going to help my child not succumb to what’s happening around them?”
And it is happening around them, he said.
In addition to the statistics, Read knows from conversations with boys living in the Paul Anderson Youth Home, a Christian residential home for troubled youth that works with young men, ages 16 to 24, who need a second chance.
Read said that many of the boys ask: “Why am I in trouble? Everybody’s doing it. I just got caught.”
Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol are very often easily accessible and available, from the medicine cabinet at home, from a friend or acquaintance, from online sources or parties.
During his time as COO of the youth home since 2004, and the 10 years prior to that in the roles of teacher, headmaster and administrator, Read has gained much experience and offers tips and suggestions for parents of adolescents and teens.
Communication is key to parenting, Read pointed out. Talk with your children often. Be interested in their lives and know what is going on in their lives. Have an honest, sincere relationship that involves and encourages trust on both ends of the relationship.
Expect respect from your children. You are the parent.
“We’ve gotten the idea of ‘friend’ wrong,” Read said of parents trying to be their child’s best friend.
Know your kids’ friends and their parents. Know where your children are.
On a Paul Anderson Youth Home website video, Glenda Anderson, co-founder of the home with husband Paul Anderson, said to know your child’s music. Know the words and ask, “Is it filled with rebellion or anger? Mistreatment of others, of women?”
She added in the video, “Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no.’
But what happens if or when you suspect something might be going on with your child?
“First and foremost,” Read said, “never be afraid to confront. Sometimes we don’t confront because it’s easier to think it won’t happen. And to confront makes you have to do something.”
Ask questions; ask what’s going on.
A strong indicator that something might be going on in a teenager’s life is a sudden change of friends or peer group or if your child switches interests.
Read explained that it’s a red flag if your child formerly took part in band or sports, for example, but suddenly decided to stop that activity.
Though Read points out that some signs and changes are typical of puberty, he said to watch for: mood swings, violation of curfews and rules, change of eating and sleeping habits, withdrawal from parents, withdrawal from positive friends, missing money, a secretiveness of friends or a decline in attendance and performance in school.
Ask questions; confront; break your routine.
“Come home when it’s not expected,” said Read. “If you find that they are doing something you don’t want them to do, you have to do something radical or drastic. You as the parent might feel crisis, but the child is not feeling it as a crisis.
“For change to happen, it takes a crisis to be felt,” he continued. “The child has to feel crisis enough to own it to make the change. They’re going to have to own the problem to change. Sometimes parents think just words will work, but talking ‘at’ them is not going to change them. Parents can manufacture crisis. Take away the phone; change expectations; enforce consequences. It may be different for each family, but whatever is right for that home or situation.”
Read added: “It’s OK for parents to say, ‘You are going to get back into band or sports.’ ‘You are going to eat when we eat.’ ‘If you’ve changed your friends, then bring those friends here for us to meet.’ Parents have a unique insight into their children. They know them better than anyone else and want their best.”
Read encourages parents to use resources like those available at the Paul Anderson Youth Home website, www.payh.org, or to seek professional help for their children if and when questions about or problems with drugs or alcohol arise.