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Teenagers Rule #1: Stay Safe


kamurj

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Excerpted from
7 Things Your Teenager Won't Tell You : And How to Talk About Them Anyway
By Jenifer Lippincott, Robin M. Deutsch, Ph.D.

Keep in mind that since most adolescents feel pretty invulnerable and not at all risk-averse, they will not necessarily share our concerns about safety. Safety-the single biggest source of worry for a parent-occupies its own hierarchy, with each level bleeding into the next:

I. Physical Safety

Physical safety, of course, means avoiding anything that could lead to or cause physical harm. Most of us can admit to being taken hostage by an endless string of threats to our children, real or imagined. Charged with enforcing their safety, but powerless to ensure it, we obsess about what could go wrong. Memories of our own pasts magnify the nightmarish possibilities confronting our adolescents, and yet we now face the same inability to control them that our parents faced. And while our parents often opted to look the other way, we often know too much to do so. Can we really expect our adolescents to bypass the bad decisions and forbidden fruits that we could not?

Perhaps the only way to teach our adolescents how to stay safe is to assume that they will inevitably find themselves in unsafe territory. So we constantly point out the dangerous curves and warn them to beware of a slippery choice. We methodically reiterate the many possible consequences of bad decisions as a reminder to us-and them-that complacency can never replace caution. This leads us to the next level in the Stay Safe hierarchy.

II. Staying Out of Trouble

There are plenty of opportunities for trouble to enter a teenagers life, whether at school, online, with friends, or even at home. Although many successfully avoid large doses of trouble, adolescence itself seems to breed it. In fact, some would argue that the adolescent brains heightened need for stimulation acts as a kind of magnet for troubling behaviors, if not trouble itself. There to feed their already increased appetites for arousal are a complement of media-based agents offering a delectable array of models and examples specifically designed to seduce the adolescent, including but not limited to movies, the Internet, and even much of the unrated but no less provocative prime-time TV.

So how do we help our adolescents stay out of trouble? First of all, we recognize that we can no longer be their protectors. To succeed in that role requires total surrender to our control-which may make us feel better but is proven to stunt the growth of one of their most essential survival mechanisms, decision-making skills.

In fact, exceeding the recommended control limits for an adolescent often induces the opposite reaction from the one we seek: It can drive them into trouble. In adolescence at least, trouble often, but not always, begins at home and then quickly travels outward to other aspects of their lives. Just as we would never dream of offering them a cigarette, we shouldn't dream of inducing the fight-or-flight syndrome: We command; they resist; fight ensues; we overwhelm through force of threat; they retreat, often into the always welcoming clutches of trouble, or peers, or both. Each time we sever the connection, it's harder to get it back.

Alternatively, we use the Rules of Play as the starting (and ending) point for an ongoing conversation about trouble, its changing faces, its potential harms, how to avoid it, and what to do if they can't. We calmly point out how no can be their friend, and bad decisions their enemy. We set limits that our adolescents can understand and respect (thus accept), and establish that there will be consequences if or when they knowingly cross into unsafe territory.

III. Emotional and/or Psychological Safety

The intangibility of this third tier of the safety hierarchy makes it perhaps the most difficult to describe or prepare our adolescents for. It is also the trickiest because those whom our adolescents most trust can often cause the most damage. Whether through harassment or victimization by peers, subtle threats by other authority figures, or the pressures (both internal and external) to achieve and perform roles outside their normal ranges, adolescents are at heightened emotional and psychological risk. Already fearful of loneliness, adolescents often construct the very barriers that isolate them from their peers and loved ones. Then, once alone, they don't know how to make themselves heard and instead seek company in harmful thoughts that can lead to even more harmful actions. As our teenagers struggle under a tsunami of brain and body growth and development, our job is to talk them through it as best we can. We keep a careful watch for any abnormal patterns of behaviors or troubling conversations. Should we detect any, we must work quickly to restore any connections we might have severed with them. If the irregularities continue, we seek outside help.

So what do you mean by "Stay Safe"? they challenge.

Sensing a teachable moment, we reply, First of all, stay clear of things that could get you hurt. The list is short (emphasize this even if they think it's actually interminable-and don't forget the whys). And although adolescents often feel invulnerable in the face of other people s scary stories or statistics, it never hurts to reinforce a few key; albeit obvious, points:

1. Drunk Driving

Driving or ruling with a driver who is under the influence, regardless of who it is, demonstrates a careless disregard not only for yourself hut also for everyone else on the road. It is the worst hind of irresponsibility. In 2008, 12 percent of the 50,186 fatal car accidents involved drivers 15-20 years old. Every day, four teenagers die in car accidents involving alcohol.

2. Drugs Can Cause Major and Undetected (Until Later) Damage to Your Brain and Body

For example, marijuana is a form of smoking, which we know damages lungs over time. Although not technically physically addictive, marijuana can be psychologically addictive by creating a dependency on its effects. As a matter of fact, marijuana is shown to affect alertness, concentration, and reaction time, among other skills. For example, a 2006 study reported that adolescents are more likely to drink and to smoke marijuana once they can drive. The same study found similar accident rates (38 percent versus 39 percent) among those who drove after drinking and after smoking marijuana.

Solvents (such as glue) are highly toxic and addictive, and can actually lead to death by suffocation, heart failure, or choking on vomit. Solvents can also lead to headaches, nosebleeds, and loss of smell or hearing.

Since 2008, use of harder drugs such as Ecstasy among adolescents has increased 67 percent. Marijuana use by teens has increased 22 percent. Perhaps the most alarming aspect of these findings is that the more normal drug and alcohol use becomes at younger ages, the less capable parents feel to cope with this new reality.

According to a 2009 national survey, prescription drugs constitute the new kid on the adolescent-risk block, with close to 20 percent (4.7 million) able to access them for recreational purposes within an hour, one third (8.7 million) within a day.

3. Drugs and the Law

Drugs and alcohol are illegal. In most states, it is a crime for anyone under the legal drinking age of twenty-one to drink, possess, transport, buy, or even try to buy alcohol. Further, detecting liquor on an underage persons breath can lead to a charge of underage drinking. For minors in some states, police can and do use a preliminary breath test (P13T), which is different from a regular Breathalyzer test and can lead to a conviction. It's also often illegal to carry a false ID. let alone use it to try to buy alcohol. If caught, in addition to a fine, teenagers can lose their right to drive for anywhere from ninety days to two years.

Be aware that many states are also cracking down on a social host law, which allows for a host to be sued by an injured party for furnishing alcohol to anyone under age twenty-one.

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