Working with teens in private practice, and volunteering with teens outside of the office, I witness first hand how much stress they endure week to week.  They experience the pressures of doing well in school, fitting in with their peers, getting into college, be good at sports, and being beautiful.  Due to the increased exposure, our teens are more vulnerable to drug abuse. Not to mention, if there is past trauma or presenting issues such as parents’ divorce, a move, grief and loss, or a mental health diagnosis.

This week, I’m writing about some of the common trends and experiences that teens encounter, so that you (as parents) may be better equipped to predict risky situations and communicate with your teens about them.

Situation: “To Fit In”
Developmentally, teens want to connect with those around them.  Teens will use drugs or alcohol to ease their anxiety and allow themselves to feel more relaxed when reaching out whether that’s hanging out with friends or interacting with the opposite sex.   Additionally, if a teen’s fried is doing it, teens might agree to that joint, or that beer as to not be the only one in the room not doing it.

What parents can do: Parents can normalize how intimidating and anxiety provoking new situations are, possibly sharing stories of how they reached out to the opposite sex or how they embarrassed themselves with their friends with out the aide of alcohol or drugs.  Parents should also talk to their teens, discussing, “what if…” they are the only ones in the room not getting high, or what if someone offers them a beer, how to turn down the temptation to use.

Situation: Rationalizing “partying” behavior as a reward for working so hard.
Teens that are at competitive high schools,  often have the mentality of “work hard, play hard.”  They believe as long as they are responsible, there’s no effect on their sports or school work.

What parents can do: It’s vital that parents acknowledge their teens’ hard work and achievements. Continue with letting them know you want them to relax and enjoy their free time, offering their favorite meal, have friends over or plan a fun activity of their choice. By giving them healthy alternatives, they will be less likely to reach out in the opposite direction.

Situation: “Pre-party” or “pre-gaming”
Taking large amounts of drugs or alcohol before school events or family functions.

What parents can do: Communicate with your teen that it is not allowed.  Know their plans before they go to the event, some parents even escort their tweens and teens to the events. If your adolescent and their friends are getting “ready” at your house, be present & involved. Check items they are bringing to event, i.e., water bottles or other containers.

Situation: “Pharm parties”  “Pill Roulette”
For teens who are drug tested in athletics or those who cannot afford illegal drugs, they turn to using prescriptions in their own medicine cabinet. These drugs are easy for teens to access, and are viewed as harmless.What parents can do:  Closely monitor your child’s (and family’s) medications.  Talk to your teens about how prescription drugs are just as dangerous as street drugs they may be exposed to.
Resource for parents: Adolescent Substance Abuse‘s website has alot of great articles including articles focusing on how to talk to your teens, the effect of drugs or nicotine on a teen’s brain or just other helpful information.

I polled some parents that I work closely with, their best practices:
  • Will never say no to people coming over to the house (so that they can always know their friends)
  • Random Drug Testing their teen
  • Volunteering at school events, being actively involved in the teens’ lives
  • Locking up all medicine in the house
  • Will come pick tween/teen (and/or friends) from a party, no questions asked.
  • Purchased breathalyzer ($20), and does random checks
  • Addressing “small” issues before they escalate into bigger issues.

Hope this helps you become more connected to what your teen is being exposed to.

Best Wishes,
– Jennie


Jennie Wilson is a child and adolescent therapist. She holds the credentials of a Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor and a Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor