I went to bush parties when I was a kid.
I drank before I was 19.
I tried things.
It’s what we do when we’re teenagers. We try things. We push limits.
We’re exploring our world and learning about boundaries.
We’re hungry for information.
Then we grow up and have teenagers of our own. And we panic when it’s time for them to start exploring.
The time has come
As teens, we think we’re invincible.
We survived our fantasy of invincibility … some vodka here, a little weed there. The trouble is, the risk factors are so very high in 2016. In Kamloops, B.C., we had three fentanyl-related overdose deaths in January.
Fentanyl is scary stuff. In the B.C. Interior, it was found in 14 per cent of overdose deaths in 2005 and that rate grew to 22 per cent in 2009 and 2010.
Sometimes, our teens don’t even know what they’re taking. They go to raves and someone says “try this.”
“This” is just a harmless-looking tablet.
And it’s dangerous.
They think “it can’t happen to me,” even when it’s happening to their friends.
We need to be talking to them. We need to be asking them about their worlds, what they’re up to, what they need to navigate their crazy quagmire called “life.”
When I was the City of Kamloops Asset Building Coordinator, I talked to kids all the time. I asked them if they talked to their parents about sex, drugs and … uh, sometimes, yes, we did talk about rock ‘n’ roll.
They usually responded with “are you (bleeping) kidding me” and “yeah, right.”
Now as a group facilitator for FASD/CDBC (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder & Complex Developmental Brain Conditions), I talk to parents and caregivers every week.
They are scared.
Add into the mix, my own friends and family and their kids and it’s not a problem unique to any one group, demographic, geographic or age. It’s real and relevant to us all.
But many parents think “can’t my kid go online and Google it?” Saves them the trouble, yeah?
If we leave their learning up to the internet, we have to be concerned about the credibility, quality and accuracy of the sources they’re finding.
It’s up to us as the adults in their world to guide them.
Back to asset-building
A few months ago, I wrote about asset-building and how we all have an investment in raising strong, confident young adults.
The 40 Development Assets for teens were determined by Minnesota’s Search Institute to be a set of skills, experiences, relationships that enable young people to develop into successful, contributing adults.
One of them is key to this discussion.
Positive Family Communication
The young person communicates positively with parents and is willing to seek advice and counsel from parents.
Part of asset-building and ensuring our kids have the best chance to take on the world is having difficult conversations and giving them good information.
You are the safest choice for your teen.
Fill up your toolbox
Every teen is going to try stuff.
As parents, we want to protect them but, in our heads, that means stopping their exploration of the world.
We need exploring to be a good thing and we need to allow our kids to do that in a safe environment.
In Conversations on the Go: Clever Questions to Keep Teens and Grownups Talking, Mary Ackerman recommends keeping the dialogue open at all times.
She says you can:
- Use mealtimes to learn about each other’s musical tastes
- Open conversation during times that are comfortable for your kids, like a drive home from work or a walk with the dog
- Stay connected with emails, phone calls and texts … not to interrogate, but to remind them you love them
We should be ensuring they are “making intentional decisions about what they do with their time” and that “their choices are respectful of your family’s schedule,” she says.
Sometimes, more difficult subject matter arises and we must have conversations about:
- Safe sex
- Drug use
- Drinking and driving
- Peer pressure
Starting the conversation and giving them the floor opens you up to what’s going on in their heads and how you can help.
But first, you need the right tools to make sure you’re making the most of the discussion:
- Honesty: Be real and be vulnerable. Acknowledge the stuff you don’t know about or what scares you. Tell them “I’m going to learn this with you.” It gives you far more credibility and the grounds for an open conversation.
- Forthrightness: Get to the point and ask open-ended questions. If you ask yes-no questions, you will get yes-no answers. Keep them specific, like “has there ever been a time when you used drugs or you felt pressure to use.” Ask the question you want to ask and don’t beat around the bush.
- Listen: Too often, we want to talk and tell, instead of listen and help. What teen wants to spend all day in school and then come home to a lecture?
- Cool attitude: Listen without judgment and reaction. If your teen boy says, “I met a girl,” and you say “you’re too young to date,” you’ve closed off the discussion and resentment may start to build. Give them a safe space to figure out what they’re feeling.
- Acceptance: Parents are often looking for answers they want to hear. You might hear answers you don’t want to hear. You need to be prepared for this and to further explore your teen’s thoughts on the subject.
- Trust: If you set consequences (not punishments) for their actions, you need to follow through on your word. For example, if you tell them to call when they need help, like a drive home, and you won’t get mad, you can’t get mad. If you do get mad, the next time they might not call. When you trust them, they learn to trust you in return and a more open dialogue can occur in the future.
- Consequences: Engage them in the results of their actions. Let them know the rules beforehand and then involve them in the decision of what to do if they break the rules. Oftentimes, kids come up with consequences that are more severe in their world. Take away their iPod? They don’t care. They’ll just borrow one from a friend. Ask them “what does it take for you to change your behaviour.”
Let’s keep the conversation going
Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.
I read that somewhere.
We all want to reduce the harm potential in our children’s lives and the first step is encouraging the conversation. Those talks are tough and helping parents become more comfortable with talking to their teens is the topic of our discussion at April’s Conversations In Health.
Patrick McDonald, Osprey House supervisor for Phoenix Centre, is our guest speaker for Tough Talk: Tools You Need for Talking to Your Teen. He works with youth in the criminal justice system, especially those with substance-use issues. He can provide us with great insight into the language kids use and how to approach these tough topics.
Head over to the Facebook event page and secure your spot. The event is scheduled for April 5, 6:30 p.m., at Caffe Motivo in downtown Kamloops, B.C.