Commentary: What are your kids doing this summer?

Megan Albanese, STEPS Coalition outreach manager

Teenagers are constantly looking for adventure and wanting to explore, learn and have fun. So when they are pressured to explore drug use and underage drinking, they might have found a new form of entertainment for the summer when left with nothing better to do.

Many researchers have discovered that a main predictor to whether teenagers will begin drinking or using drugs at an early age is if their best friends drink and have access to it. Although a family history of alcohol or drug abuse can play a role in this decision, gaining acceptance from friends and access to drugs and alcohol is the most important factor.  Adolescents who get their first drink or drug from friends are more likely to begin using earlier in life compared to those who get it from other sources.

Through looking at pictures of the brain in action, images are able to show that adolescent brains are not fully developed in the pre-frontal cortex area: the most important area for decision making and impulse control.

The report, “Seasonality of Youth’s First-Time Use of Marijuana, Cigarettes or Alcohol,” from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) showed a 40 percent increase in first-time youth marijuana use during the months of June and July, compared to the rest of the year. More than 1,500 youths per day, used hallucinogens for the first time compared with averages of about 1,100 to 1,400 per day in other months. This isn’t what we typically think about when preparing our family activities for summer months.

STEPS (Southington’s Town-wide Effort to Promote Success)
200 North Main St., Southington, CT 06489
Tel: (860) 276-6285

Now that we are aware of this information about adolescents (less developed decision making skills and the high risk of early drug and alcohol use due to idle summer time and a brain that is not fully developed), what do we do? You can:

  1. Keep them busy with productive activities to cut down on boredom and give them something to do.
  2. Ensure adequate supervision as much as possible. Perhaps your teenager is at an age where they no longer require a 24-hour babysitter, but they can be made to check in regularly and to not be left somewhere for hours at a time. The longer a teenager is left alone, the longer they have to engage in a risk-taking behavior without worrying about being caught. It’s also important to take note of who is doing the supervision. For example, if they are being watched over by the parent of one of their friends, have you met the parent(s)? Not all adults are equal in their level of responsibility and care for their children. Ensure you take the additional step of meeting the parents that may be watching your teen.
  3. Educate your child on the dangers of alcohol and drug use. Be open and honest. Take 15 minutes to sit down with your child and really talk.  You will be glad you did!

Follow the STEPS Coalition on Facebook and visit www.southingtonsteps.org for more prevention education!

Megan Albanese is the Southington STEPS Coalition outreach coordinator. She can be reached at (860) 276-6281 or albanesem@southington.org.

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