It may surprise some parents to learn that the first time most children encounter drugs is when they make the transition from elementary to middle school. In their new academic environment, middle school students are exposed to unfamiliar social situations and a wider group of peers, all the while contending with the changes associated with adolescence. You may think that you can protect your child from drugs and alcohol, but the truth is that the number of middle school students in the middle of addiction is rising. Since 40 percent of 8th graders have tried alcohol and 20 percent report using an illegal drug, your children will have to make those critical choices probably much sooner than you realize.
There are not enough statistics specifically about middle school students and substance abuse, but there are some things we do know. Alcohol, marijuana, inhalants, and cough medicine are the most commonly abused substances. Abusing prescription medication is also becoming prevalent among middle schoolers. It is clear that cost and availability are key factors. There are also substances online that students of all ages from middle school to college are trying sometimes with fatal results. They have been deceived into thinking that because something is described as “safe” and “legal,” it is not truly dangerous. It is important to emphasize with our children that while alcohol and illicit substances are hazardous, seemingly innocuous things can become just as risky. They need to understand that if you are using any kind of substance to alter your mood or mental state, you are placing yourself in jeopardy.
It is hard to say why middle school students experiment with drugs, but peer pressure is a significant factor. Now more than ever, children want to fit in, and not just be accepted, but genuinely liked. It takes a tremendous amount of self-confidence not to drink or smoke marijuana when it seems like everyone else is doing it. Other contributing elements could be bullying and the emotional turmoil of adolescence. These are all these things you as a parent cannot control. What you can control, however, is your relationship with your children.
When children enter middle school, parents often step back a bit and grant them more independence. Parents then need to walk the line of being observant without being suffocating. It is a tricky balance to achieve. Granting your children more freedom and privacy is not a bad thing, but you still need to remain vigilant and involved in their lives. If you have strong communication, you are more likely to know what is happening in your children’s lives, and your children will be more apt to come to you when issues arise. Also, pay attention for non-verbal cues and do not be afraid to ask questions. Your child may not always tell you everything, but, hopefully, they will tell you enough.
One of the reasons middle school students progress from experimentation to addiction is because parents often wear blinders where their children are concerned and do not always see how grown up the world has become. There are two things parents must accept as their children enter adolescence: life when you were 13 is very different from your children’s lives at 13 and our children make mistakes. While there are some universal truths about being a middle schooler that transcend time, a lot also changes from one generation to the next. Do not assume you have all the answers or know exactly what it is like to be in middle school. Instead, ask questions, listen, and do your due diligence. With the internet, it is a lot easier to keep up on trends than it used to be. Sometimes providing the right answers is all about knowing what the right questions are.
There is a small window between experimentation and addiction. Hopefully, your children will never encounter either of them, but if they do, you want them to choose wisely, and if they do not, you want to be there to get them back on track.
It is important to remember that no matter how good a parent you are, or how good a person your kid is, your child will make mistakes, small and large. Realizing that anyone has the potential to become an addict and bad decisions are different than bad people will help you have open, honest, and judgment-free conversations with your children. Your child needs to know that if he or she encounters or experiments with drugs, it is okay to tell you. You also want to be confident that if you ask questions, you will receive honest (or mostly honest) answers. If you keep an open mind and truly see what is in front of you, you have an excellent chance of shepherding your children from the pitfalls of adolescence to the opportunities of adulthood.