Are your children prepared for difficult social situations?
In Summit’s tourist-driven environment, it’s especially important to equip local youth with the tools to practice healthy behaviors
For the Summit Daily
Here are some helpful responses youth can use to get out of peer pressure or other unwanted situations:
- “My job does random drug-testing and I can’t afford to lose it.
- “Thanks, but I have to wake up really early tomorrow because…”
- “I’m good. I’m my friends’ ride home tonight.”
- “I’m not 21 — I wouldn’t know where to buy marijuana.”
- “I’m trying to cut back.”
- “It’s not really my thing. I’m just not interested.”
How can local parents ensure their children’s perceptions of normal, healthy behaviors aren’t being skewed by visitors who are partying on vacation?
The resort town atmosphere is just one of many reasons parents need to be thoughtful and deliberate when talking to their children about tough subjects like alcohol and drug use. By planning ahead for difficult conversations and scenarios, parents build trusting relationships with their children while also preparing them to make informed decisions for themselves.
If you’re not sure about how, when or where to talk to your children about drug and alcohol use, here’s a helpful list to get started.
It’s never too early to talk to your children
The first step is to simply bring up the topic, said 17-year-old Summit High School senior Anna Tomlinson, a member of the Youth Empowerment Society of Summit (YESS), a group of high school students that advocates for positive, healthy social behaviors.
“Some of these topics are stigmatized and may be awkward to talk about at first, but they are important and necessary to talk about,” she said. “Speaking about these topics will help the youth enter the ‘real world’ better prepared and more confident.”
Elizabeth Edgar, Summit School District’s mental and physical health coordinator, said it’s also important to talk to children about substances before there’s an issue.
“It’s a lot more difficult to have the conversation for the first time when you’re in that parent mode of having just caught your child doing something,” she said.
Preteen years are when children begin to figure out their place in the world, according to Speak Now Colorado, the state Office of Behavioral Health’s website designed to help parents have important conversations with their children. Tips for parents of preteens (9 to 13 years old) include the following:
- Start the conversation early. Be understanding and don’t be quick to judge them if they tell you they’ve made questionable decisions.
- Listen. It’s important that kids feel they can give an honest opinion rather than what they think you want to hear.
- Establish clear rules. Encourage positive behaviors, listen to them, but also enforce consequences.
- Role play. Talk through scenarios and help them find a way to say “no.”
- Focus on positive messages. Use facts, not fear, and focus conversations on healthy alternatives and positive outcomes.
- Talk about friends. Get to know your children’s friends and promote healthy friendships.
- Separate reality from fiction. Use characters in movies, TV shows, movies and news to discuss real-life consequences and impacts of alcohol and drug use.
- Promote self confidence. Give kids the opportunity to make decisions; praise them for a job well done; say “I love you.”
- Keep your relationship strong. Take interest in your kids’ interests; spend time with them; plan activities for the family.
Keep the conversation open and ongoing
It’s important to have an open dialogue with your children so they know that it’s OK to talk about these subjects, said Sarah E. Vaine, assistant county manager for Summit County Government. Before her role with the county, Vaine spent 20 years working with adolescents and families as a therapist in private practice and as CEO of the Summit Community Care Clinic. She said it’s essential that parents put the emphasis on inquiry rather than lecture. So, instead of accusing children or telling them what they should or shouldn’t be doing, ask them questions such as:
“Have you ever been anywhere where there’s an adult who was drunk? How did that make you feel?”
By talking about these subjects regularly, Vaine said conversations happen organically and never feel like lectures. When this consistent communication occurs, youth absorb the information and understand it better than they would from a one-time lecture.
“Create a safe and welcoming environment where they feel comfortable expressing their opinions, even if they contradict with yours,” Tomlinson said. “Youth are not taught how to face these difficult situations in school. We can not be expected to know the information unless given the opportunity to think of possible solutions through an open conversation.”
Talk through specific scenarios
In Summit County, there are plenty of opportunities that parents can turn into teaching moments for their children. Because recreational marijuana and alcohol are legal for those over the age of 21, local youth see substance use frequently in the community — especially in such a tourist-driven market.
“We want to build their critical thinking skills so when parents aren’t around kids can reflect on what’s going on and make smart choices,” said Edgar said.
When a customer at the cafe where your son works asks where to buy the best weed, or a young adult on vacation invites your daughter to a party, you want your kids to be prepared (see factbox). That’s why using teaching moments in real life — like when you smell marijuana on the chairlift or see someone who’s had too much to drink out at a restaurant — to keep the dialogue going about difficult subjects and help your children understand how to respond when they’re faced with tough decisions. Use these incidents as opportunities to ask open-ended questions about their ideas, opinions and experiences:
- What do you think about marijuana?
- That person has had too much to drink. How do you think the people at his table feel? What do you think the server should do about it?
- Have you ever been at a party where people are drinking or using drugs? How did you handle it?
Consider other factors
Therese White, a social worker at Summit School District, said if and when a student is using substances, there could be something else going on.
“Often time, there’s a dual diagnosis with substance use — the student could be using because of ADHD, stressors in life, depression or something else,” she said. “There could be reasons why they’re self-medicating that should be explored further.”
Speak Now Colorado is a resource for parents who want to keep the conversations going with their children. The site has specific advice and scenarios for parents, specific to each age range, including information about the risks of underage substance use. It will prepare you to sort out the facts with your kids, and help them make decisions to lead a healthy life.
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