Teen girls-more than boys-get high to cope with home stress. Nine research-based tips to curb a troubling trend
By Michele Borba
Think drinking is only a “boy” problem? Just-released data from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America may make you think again. The survey results on 3287 teens in grades nine through twelve reveal a troubling trend—especially for girls. And why kids are getting high is particularly disturbing. Study highlights include:
- More than two-thirds of teen girls admit using drugs to help them cope with stress at home
- Half of the girls said that drugs help them forget their troubles
- Teens state a key reason for drug and alcohol use is as a way to “escape for a short period of time”
- Research found alcohol and marijuana use increasing in boys and girls alike
Key Findings from the 2009 Partnership Attitude Tracking Survey (Get Smart About Drugs)
Teen Alcohol Use
53% of girls: in 2008
59% of girls: in 2009
50% of boys: in 2008
52% of boys: in 2009
Teen Marijuana Use
28% of girls: in 2008
39% of girls: in 2009
34% of boys: in 2008
39% of boys: in 2009
Make no mistake: Teen substance abuse is a serious health problem with devastating consequences. If there is a ray of hope it’s this: Research also shows that the reason most frequently quoted by kids for not drinking is their desire not to harm the relationship they have with their parents. Hint: A parent’s caring, involved relationship with their child is the best solution to underage drinking.
Here are research-based tips from the chapter on Drinking in my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. Please use them so you can use your influence and turn this troubling trend around.
9 Parenting Solutions to Turn A Troubling Youth Trend Around
1. Get savvy. Please don’t use a “Not my kid” kind of attitude. Forget the “He’s too young” or “Not my daughter!” attitude as well. Teen drinking and substance abuse is a growing problem that we simply can’t ignore. Kids are taking their first drink at younger ages. Drinking amongst the girl scene is also increasing. We all need to take a reality check.
2. Be a good model of restraint. Teens get their views about alcohol from watching your behavior and listening to your comments. This research also is a warning that we not glamorize alcohol or say we’re using pills or alcohol as a way to unwind, “I sure could use a drink!” The research shows that teen girls in particular are getting high as a way to cope. Beware!
3. Set clear rules against drinking and drugs. Feel free to be puritanical and strict. Consistently enforcing those rules and monitor your kid’s behavior all help reduce the likelihood of underage drinking. A study of over 1000 teens found that kids with “hands on” parents who establish clear behavior expectations, monitor their comings and goings, and aren’t afraid to says no are four times less likely to engage in risky behaviors like drinking. Be a parent, not a pal.
4. Start those talks earlier and talk often. You must talk to your child about drinking and the earlier the better. Before age nine, kids usually perceive alcohol negatively and see drinking as “bad” with negative consequences. By around the age of thirteen kids views of alcohol, change and become more positive and harder to change. Some kids are experimenting with drinking as young as ten or eleven. It’s never too early to start this talk, so don’t put it off.
5. Watch out for TV advertising. Long-term studies show that kids who see, hear and read more alcohol ads are more likely to drink and drink heavier than their peers. A study with third, sixth and ninth graders found those who alcohol ads desirable are also more likely to view drinking more positively. Use those frequently-aired beer and vodka commercials during those ballgames you’re watching together as opportunities to discuss your values, concerns, and rules about drinking and pill popping.
6. Dispel the “quick fix” myth. The increase use of prescription drugs as well as cold medications amongst teens is also a growing and serious problem. Those TV commercials can give kids a very wrong impression: “The quick fix to any problem is a pill.” Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation points out, “We’ve become a society that basically says, “If things aren’t perfect in your life, take a pill. This cause our young people to see drugs as an answer.” Instead, we must help our kids grow strong from the inside-out. Boost authentic self-esteem. Get her involved in healthy activities. Turn him on to positive peers. Keep a strong relationship.
7. Reduce stress and teach coping strategies. The 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) found that stress is the main reason teen girls are using drugs. Girls also related that they are using drugs as a way to cope with problems at home. (This confirms research from varying sources showing teen stress is mounting as well as teen depression). Keep a lid on the stress at home. Find ways to cope as a family (walking, exercising, eating healthier, sticking to a sleep routine). Teach coping strategies and stress reducers to your teen (yoga, deep breathing, stress management techniques).
8. Get on board with other parents. Forty-one percent of boys in the report responded: “parties are more fun with drugs” (an increase from 34% in 2008). More than half also reported that drugs help them relax in social settings. Know your kid’s friends and their parents. Call any parent hosting a party to ensure they are really supervising those sleepovers or parties.
A word to the wise: 99 percent of parents say they would not be willing to serve alcohol at their kid’s party, though 28 percent of teens say they have been at supervised parties where alcohol is available. Ninety-eight percent of parents say they are present at teen parties at their home, but 33 percent of teens say parents are rarely or never at teen parties. Though the teen party scene maybe several years away, get to know those parents now. They will be hosting those parties your child may be attending in just a few short years.
9. Watch the home scene. More kids take their first drink at your home or at the home of their friends. In fact, 60 percent of eighth graders say it is fairly or very easy to obtain alcohol-and the easiest place is in their own home. Count those bottles in your liquor cabinets. Lock up your liquor supply (and don’t tell your kids where the key is). Check your credit card: the hottest new place kids buy alcohol is on the Internet. Watch your medicine cabinet (abuse of prescription drugs, cold and cough syrup medication is on the rise). Stay alert!
Get educated. Stay involved! And know you do make a difference!
Now go talk to your kids.
Michele Borba is the author of over 25 books, her latest and one of her best is The Big Book of Parenting Solutions! There isn’t a parenting topic she doesn’t discuss.