By SARAH DOOLITTLE, Four Points News
Over 40 parents attended the Keeping Your Child Safe: Substance Abuse Prevention Conference at Vandegrift High School a couple of weeks ago. Led by Mary Ann Kluga, RN LCDC, Leander ISD’s Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator, the two hour event on Nov. 19 offered information for parents about substance and addiction issues facing students.
LISD Superintendent Bret Champion was also in attendance and introduced Klulga by saying, “We want to provide as much information as we can to parents to make sure that there’s a wealth of good information for our students because we’re all in this together.”
While most parents at the talk seemed aware of the common use and risks of alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs, newer drugs and methods of administration came as a shock to many. Parents learned of current trends including: the use of electronic cigarettes to smoke hashish oil, prescription parties where students take unknown prescription and over-the-counter medications, and alcohol administered anally or vaginally.
The point of the conference, however, was not to shock parents but to educate them. By lifting the veil on these risky and secretive behaviors, Kluga and LISD hope to better equip parents to speak frankly with their children about the dangers of substance use and abuse.
The teenage brain differs from the adult brain in its malleability. Because neural pathways and the brain’s judgement centers are still developing, a teenage brain “learns” addiction much faster than an adult. Moreover, a teen will not have the ability to predict or understand the consequences of his or her actions.
So what might be “just a few” beers or cigarettes to an adult can become a cascade of neural messages in a teen brain, creating cognitive deficits that last considerably longer than in adults.
For Kluga, it’s important for kids and parents to understand these processes–which are the very foundation of addiction–because they define the difference between choice and compulsion. And the earlier a child tries an addictive substance, the higher the likelihood of an addiction developing.
To that end, Kluga offered parents simple yet highly useful tools to combat the use of addictive substances. Some suggestions, based on research not only in substance abuse but also on what kids want from their parents, include:
Know the facts and talk to your kids openly about alcohol, tobacco and drugs (illicit and prescription). Make sure they understand your attitudes and expectations.
Listen, listen, listen. Learn what is important to your child and your child’s friends.
Be the example. What is your child learning about drug and alcohol use from you and other adults? Show your kids how to have fun without stimulants.
Reward honesty. If you do learn of substance use or abuse, provide consequences instead of punishment.
Be a positive and encouraging presence in your child’s life. Focus on strengths more than deficits.
As Kluga explained, “(Your kids) want you, even if you are having a rocky time. Research has shown that kids want to know that they’re safe and secure and you’re going to be there for them, that you’re going to take care of them and you’re going to have consequences. You’re going to stick by your word. And they can believe what you say. That’s what they want.”
Parents and students can view Kluga’s entire presentation in three parts as well as accompanying slides on the Leanderisd.org website. To contact Kluga directly for more information about LISD’s Substance Abuse Prevention Program, call (512) 570-0315 or email email@example.com.
One Mom’s Story
One mom at the conference shared the story of her son’s struggles and how consequences and positive feedback are helping to get him back on track and to restore their relationship.
Okay, so I have a son who’s 14. He started Vandegrift this year and things went dramatically downhill. He completely stopped working. He became a teenager overnight. I got to the point last week where I lay on my bed and I sobbed and I sobbed like I have never sobbed before. And I was like, I think I need to take every single electronic thing he has off him. X-box, iPod, phone–everything. But I was like, I think that’s going to make our relationship irreparable if I do this. So I had a quick call to Mary Ann and she said ‘Do it.’ But she also reminded me that I needed to give him the affirmation and praise him, which I had completely stopped doing because he had gotten me to the point of insanity and no return! I said, I don’t think I can actually do it. So she said a gesture would be good. When I say he had failed in the last six weeks, I mean completely failed. I mean 30 percent in every subject, which I understand is really hard to do [at Vandegrift]. So he came home and I took everything away. And I made him sit downstairs to do his homework or not, that was his choice. And I ruffled his hair and I made him a cup of hot chocolate and I said nothing. And that child this week has turned his life around. He has got 100 percent in every single thing he’s done at school. He’s happy, he’s engaged. I took him out for a walk last night for the first time, just around the block. And he started, funnily enough, to talk about who’s smoking or doing pot and he knew some of their names and should he maybe tell on them? I don’t know the answer to that, but the fact that he was actually talking to me about it… He came home [from school] with an absolute sparkle in his eye because his math teacher took him to one side and said she was really proud of him. And somehow now everything’s all about math, it’s all about human geography. And that was all from a ruffle of the hair and a hot chocolate.