Keeping Our Youth Sober: 10 Tips for Concerned Parents

Parents are rightfully concerned about their kids staying sober and drug-free versus the influence of their peers and the media, who seem obsessed with the message that the only way to be popular or have any fun is to be drunk or stoned. Speaking from experience, my teen years and much of my adult life would have been vastly improved, i.e. not miserable, had I steered clear of drug and alcohol abuse. The millennium we’re in has presented unique problems in this regard, as well as old ones dressed up for the modern age. Here are some tips for adults and youth to weather the storm:

1. Practice Media Awareness

Youth are bombarded through television, movies, advertising, video games, the internet and social media with images and messages that glamorize and glorify alcohol consumption, drug use, sex, crime and violence. The average American teenager spends over seven and a half hours per day on some sort of entertainment media, more if you include texting and multi-tasking. It is extremely difficult for a young mind to process such a continuous stream.

In addition to limiting screen time, actively practice media awareness: Watch a television program, a movie, commercials, play a video game, etc. with your kids and turn it into a lesson. Have them tally up how many times someone:

a. Took a drink
b. Used a drug
c. Cheated on their spouse
d. Betrayed someone else
e. Committed a crime
f. Committed an act of violence
g. Committed a murder

And whatever else you feel should be on the list. It’s an eye-opening process for everyone. Ask them if the behavior was depicted as “normal” or glorified in some way. Ask if there was any consequence for the action. Children and teens should be asked to use their intellect when observing the world of entertainment and advertising versus the real world.

2. Freedom: What is it?

Some have a view of “freedom” as permission to do “whatever you want”. Kids get told what to do by parents and teachers all the time. A youth is dependent on the family for food, shelter, etc. but they are also subject to the rules and dictates of the home. They are under the responsibility of adults and they can get pretty resentful about it. They rebel and conceive of freedom as doing whatever they want no matter how foolish or self-destructive. Without getting overly philosophical, discuss with your kids what freedom really is.

Should freedom be free or does it have a cost? Does the freedom to harm others constitute freedom? How does hurting oneself with drugs and alcohol promote freedom for oneself? Perhaps freedom can be measured in one’s ABILITY. Are you free to pursue constructive and creative goals because of your ABILITIES? Can increasing ABILITY get you more freedom? How free is the drug user who cannot have a good time without drugs? How free is the drug user who is in jail, the hospital or the morgue? How free is the drunk driver who will serve time for one fatal mistake? Without being accusatory, at least bring up the subject and pose the questions. The answers may be surprising to all.

3. Drug Education

The most effective weapon is PREVENTION and the most effective tool in the arsenal is EDUCATION. If you’ve been around for a while, you take for granted what you know. Kids haven’t been around as long as you and they don’t necessarily know. They don’t know what the joint may be laced with or that it’s loaded with THC; they don’t know what the different pills are and that they’re deadly when combined; they don’t know that they are not safe to drive even if they feel more awake after a few beers.

There are some excellent materials and websites for drug education and they don’t have to be boring. Here are a few of them:


Using educational materials and sites must be combined with two-way communication. After your son or daughter has gotten some facts, follow up with a question and answer period. The discussion should be REAL and ALIVE. Kids want to learn and are surprised by what they find out – and they are far less likely to use drugs or alcohol when they have the facts.

4. Be Real About It

Ask yourself the question: “Would I rather my daughter gets drunk at a party and then calls me to pick her up or gets into a car with other drunk teens, sneaks into the house and I never find out?” The answer is probably the one where she calls you, right? But she won’t call you because she’s afraid you’ll be angry or she won’t look cool to her friends, etc., etc. This is the type of thing you really need to go over with them. You don’t want your daughter drunk at a party, but you DEFINITELY don’t want her driving drunk or riding with a drunk driver.

Establish an agreement or contract where you’ll pick them up no questions asked, even a block away from the party. You can always express yourself the next day. Also go over with your daughter the fact that she can be slipped a date rape drug like Rohyphol or GHB, be sexually assaulted, and not be able to stop it or not remember it. Rape at colleges and frat parties is extremely commonplace. Really level with your kids and be real about it.

5. Understand the Trends

Right along with drug education is an understanding of teen drug trends. This goes for you and your kids. If your teenager hears about a Pharm Party or Punchbowl Party happening on the weekend, he’d want to know that it’s a bunch of kids taking random prescription drugs like opiates and psychotropics, mixing them with alcohol and getting blasted. It’s also extremely dangerous.

If you hear about: dabs, dabbing (butane hash oil, BTO); Special K (ketamine); dexing, robotripping, robodosing (abusing over-the-counter cough medicine containing dextromethorphan, DXM); Georgia Home Boy (GHB); Roofies (Rohypnol); or anything from a long list of constantly evolving slang terms, then your should know what is being spoken about.

There is a constant flood of new psychoactive chemicals emerging majorly out of Asia right now. They get into schools and onto the streets before the DEA can even catalog them or ban them. They’re also sold online and at gas stations and convenience stores. And they have a slew of slang names such as:

  • Synthetic Cannabinoids (synthetic marijuana): Spice, K2, Spice Gold, Spice Silver, Spice Diamond, Genie, Yucatan Fire, Bliss, Black Mamba, Bombay Blue, Fake Weed, Zohai, Red Magic
  • Synthetic Cathinones (stimulants similar to methamphetamine): Bath Salts, Cloud Nine, Ivory Wave, Blue Silk, Vanilla Sky, Energy 1, Plant Fertilizer, Plant Food, Insect Repellent
  • Synthetic Hallucinogens: There are also new synthetic hallucinogens, similar to LSD or mescaline, called 2C-I-NBOMe, 2C-C-NBOMe, N-Bomb, or Smiles. These drugs are extremely potent and can be deadly.

Going back to jazz musicians in the 1940’s using smack, dope, boy, junk, and horse – all words for heroin – and long before, drug culture has had its code words known only by users so they could talk about it without outsiders and the law catching on.

With the internet, new trends and slang catch on very quickly. While you can’ know every new trend and term in real time, you can keep up-to-date so you are not in the dark. Educate your kids on the same, not so they can participate but so they know what to avoid. To this end, parents and kids alike should get the facts.

6. The Power of Boredom

Young people are known to get into drugs just because they’re bored and have “nothing else to do”. Parents are living rather frantic lifestyles these days and often work two or more jobs. The kids are using their computers, playing video games, absorbed in their phones, and so on. This ends up being “advantageous” for the parents because they are so busy supporting the family. The downside, in addition to too much screen time, can be that the kids get into trouble with drugs and even criminality. It’s the Idle Hands are the Devil’s Workshop scenario and it’s very real.

Give your children stuff to do. With healthy tw0-way communication, find out what they’re interested in in life. Provide avenues for them to pursue it. Find out what after school activities are happening in your town and sign them up. Get them learning a musical instrument, painting, building things, doing sports, and so on and so forth. Overcome boredom and its pitfalls with creativity, hard work, and action!

7. Teen Angst

“Angst”: A feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general.

Growing up is tough. Kids get upset about things that may seem trivial to adults but which are very real and very important to them. They can also be subjected to bullying in school, online, and even at home. Depression, anxiety and unwanted emotions are primary reasons people young and old turn to drugs. Help your children with what’s bothering them.

Instead of putting them on mind-altering psychotropic drugs, assist them in solving their problems. The impulse can be to solve their problems for them, but a more productive approach that pays off better in the end is to empower them to rise above their problems on their own. You can and certainly should guide them, but it’s certainly more lasting when they’ve confronted their problems themselves. Regardless of your approach, ignoring or neglecting the problem will not aid in solving it. Nor will medicating or sedating it. We want our children to have the strength and ingenuity to conquer their lives, right?

8. Recognize Peer Pressure

Kids get pressure from all angles: Friends at school, on the internet, from entertainment and social media channels. It is rather destabilizing for them. Peer pressure is the “reason” many addicts started using in the first place. After being in recovery, they realize it wasn’t the peer pressure – it was their inability or unwillingness to stand up to it or simply ignore it. This is a skill many kids need to learn and practice if they wish to get or remain drug free.

Peer pressure is an insidious thing. Young people consider being accepted amongst a specific crowd or clique to be of utmost importance, or they don’t really think about it and just sort of go with the flow.

Empowering kids to be able to handle peer pressure is another point that requires education and discussion. Do they know what peer pressure is? Is it their intention to succumb to it and do whatever their friends say and do? Or do they have a different trajectory?

One thing that really helps is to put them in “What if…?” scenarios. Friend Bobby offers a joint. What do you do? A party has a lot of booze and pills being passed around. What do you do? A friend offers some pills that will “help” in schoolwork. What do you do? When truly educated on the subject, your son or daughter may very well be the smartest person in the room.

9. Get Outside!

Get your kids signed up for outdoor activities and sports. In addition to the obvious health benefit, exercise and sports help the central nervous system release the “feel good” neurotransmitters called endorphins. It’s even described as a “runner’s high” and it has similarities to the rush that kids seek through drugs and whatever else. But with sports, it’s good for you!

Get them to an after school gym, onto a soccer team, going on hikes, enrolled in a martial arts class, whatever works for them. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that sports, even high school and college, have been plagued by athlete steroid use, drugging and doping. Athletes that use drugs and chemical performance enhancers burn out quickly – mentally and physically. Keep it clean.

10. Strengthen the Family Unit

You know your family better than me or anyone else. Anything you do to strengthen the family unit is worthwhile doing. I know that you are a 21st century parent and you’re busy a lot of the time. But you have 21st century children, which is all the more reason to carve out some time for them. They have the TV, music videos, Madison Avenue, Hollywood, Facebook, Twitter, and their peers telling them what to do, what to think, and who to be.

The parent should represent stability and guide the children in being who they really are and reaching their true potential without the heavy burden of chemical abuse. Whether they admit it or not, they are looking up to us. Let’s not let them down!

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