How we all can work to prevent substance abuse

Feb 19 2021

How we all can work to prevent substance abuse

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
– Frederick Douglass

For many years now, Keystone has partnered with the Freedom from Chemical Dependency (FCD) program to educate children on substance abuse. By using a social norms approach, which demonstrates to students that not nearly as many peers use or abuse substances as they may think, FCD helps children make healthy choices and be reaffirmed in those decisions.

Although some studies indicate that use of alcohol and drugs has increased among teens during the pandemic, the research that FCD showed us during a meeting with faculty demonstrates that a slowly decreasing trend of substance use over the past decade has levelled off. While the news may in some cases may not be as dire as originally projected, there is still cause for concern. 

The conditions of the pandemic would seem to be the perfect storm for seeing an uptick in adolescent substance abuse; so far, our Keystone students for the most part seem to be faring well. Mr. Ian Groves, the counselor from FCD, shared with us that based on what he learned from his conversations with Keystone students, our Cobras seem to be very healthy and making good choices.

Howerer, as in other areas of life, forewarned is forearmed, so we wanted to share with you some of the things we heard from Ian. There are signs that parents can watch out for to see if their children may be headed in a potentially destructive direction. These include:

  • Academic changes
  • Challenges in class or on the field
  • Changes in social groups
  • Personality shifts
  • Feelings of stress, frustration, irritation
  • Can’t sit still or falling asleep
  • Less motivation to listen, learn, participate
  • Late to practice, study hall, etc.
  • Shifts in priorities

To be fair, adolescents may experience any of these at one time or another, but when these signs cluster together, extend over a period of time, or appear to affect daily routines or functioning, it may be time to look deeper into what is going on. If you see such patterns occurring in your child, you may want to call Keystone’s counselor, Dr. Erica Shapiro.

In addition, here are some things adults can do to help children develop healthy habits:

  • Be proactive in talking about stress – Be honest and open and allow your teen space and room to share her feelings
  • Positively reframe stresses with teens – Explain that stress is a normal part of life and in some cases can even be healthy, but like all things in life, moderation is key
  • Learn from trusted adults
  • Build online “technical skills” and “soft skills” – Help them understand the power of their digital footprint and how to relate to others online
  • Engage in conversation and be open to learning – Let your child know that you’re there for her and you have an open mind and are willing to talk
  • Be flexible AND have limits – Although they may buckle, children do want boundaries, but they also want you to understand what they’re going through and you’re willing to look at a situation in its entirety
  • Provide alternatives – When saying no as we all must do sometimes, provide an option if at all possible

As I watched Ian’s presentation the other day, I was reminded yet again of how challenging parenting can be at any time, and particularly at this point in history. Children don’t arrive with instructional manuals, and we’re constantly learning what to do and what not to do, and learning as we go.

Sometimes when I experience the highs and lows of having children, I’m reminded of the scene from the movie “Parenthood” where Steve Martin analogizes parenting to a roller coaster ride. Life can feel like a series of amazing ups and incredible downs, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, something new happens that tests our patience, fortitude, and ability.

Years ago, a good friend who is a family therapist compared parenting to being a consultant. We’re constantly on call: our children may not want us to be there when we want to talk, but we must be willing to drop everything when they want to chat. If not, we lose an opportunity that may not return. Just the other day, our college age son texted before 6:00 AM to discuss how to strike a balance between doing well in his classes and working a job. Like so much else with being a parent, I did the best I could and tried to be available and helpful.

I checked with Dr. Shapiro on some book recommendations for parenting and she recommended the following titles:

Voice Lessons for Parents: What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Listen, by Wendy Mogel, Ph.D.

The Scaffold Effect: Raising Resilient, Self-Reliant, and Secure Kids in an Age of Anxiety, by Harold Koplewicz, M.D.

The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. & Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.

When the World Feels Like a Scary Place: Essential Conversations for Anxious Parents and Worried Kids, by Abigail Gewirtz, Ph.D.

In addition, if you’re interested in learning more about how to talk with your child about substance use or abuse or how you can support your child, there are some resources linked below.

Top Questions Parents Ask:

What Parents Can Do:

As parents, we’re all doing the best we can, and we need to give ourselves the grace when we make a mistake to know that our intentions are good and our hearts are in the right place.

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