It may surprise some parents to learn that their children will first encounter drugs when they make the transition from elementary to middle school. In this new academic environment middle schoolers are exposed to new social situations, a wider group of peers, and the stresses associated with adolescence. You may think your child is safe from influence, but the uncertainty of his or her own identity can make him or her make poor decisions. Perhaps you think you can protect you child from drugs and alcohol, but the truth is more and more middle school students use drugs and alcohol. The best way to prevent your children from making the wrong choice is to talk to them honestly about drugs and alcohol.
Alcohol, marijuana, cough medicines, and prescription drugs are the most commonly abused substances, due to cost and availability. Designer drug use is also on the rise since these substances are readily available online and advertised as “safe” and “legal.” Alcohol, marijuana, medical drugs, and designer drugs may not be illegal, but they are not harmless, especially when the user is unfamiliar with the substance. When you talk to your children about these substances, emphasize that any substance that alters their mood or mental state puts them in jeopardy.
- Legal – Not only can they get into legal trouble as minors, they can get you and other adults in trouble.
- Health – These substances can drastically and permanently harm their still developing brains and bodies, especially when they do not know how their body will react to unknown substances.
- Risk Taking – In an altered state of mind, their decision making may lead to more poor choices, or leave them incapable of getting out of a dangerous situation. This includes committing a crime, having sex, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- Lifetime Consequences – Even using drugs or alcohol once can lead to major life-changing events, such as pregnancy, major accidents, addiction, and death.
It is hard to say why middle school students experiment with drugs, but peer pressure is a significant factor. Adolescents 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. Frequent and honest communication with your child will help you know what’s happening in his or her life, and it will make your child more likely to come to you when issues do arise. You can also pay attention to non-verbal cues, like body language, changes in mood or interests, and his or her general outlook. Most importantly, do not be afraid to ask questions. Your child may not always tell you everything, but, hopefully, they will tell you enough.
Some middle school students progress from experimentation to addiction because their parents do not want to see their baby as an adolescent, nor do they want to acknowledge how different the world is today. Parents must accept two things as their children enter adolescence: 1. Life when your child is 13 is different than when you were 13, and 2. Children make mistakes. Although some things are the same now as they were back then, that awkwardness unique to the early teens for example, a lot changes from generation to generation. Do not assume you have all the answers or know exactly what it is like to be at your child’s middle school. Instead ask questions and listen. The window between experimentation and addiction is small. Hopefully, your children will never encounter either of them. If they do, 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 children will make mistakes, small and large. Realize that anyone can become an addict, and bad decisions are different than bad people. Keep any conversations you have with your children open, honest, and judgement-free. 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.