When Youth Go Out - Risk Taking - Drugs, Alcohol - Sex - What's the Worry?
How Concerned Should We Be
At 9 pm on a cold winter's night standing outside a local grocer with an attached liquor store were three young girls aged approximately 14 -15 years old. They stood huddled together watching as each adult approached the store. After a few unsuccessful attempts to elicit help a a 40 something single middle aged male came closer. One of the girls thrust money toward him and attempted to convince the unsuspecting by passer to purchase alcohol that they desperately needed. Obviously uneasy his eyes darting around the car park, he took the money into the store returning minutes later with a brown paper bag under his arm handed the excited girls their purchase and walked quickly away.
Friday and Saturday night in any city around the world young people are out with friends at dance clubs, concerts, parties movies etc...young adults want excitement and thrills and want to be any where that's vibrant and out where it's all happening. It is after all to be expected to see young people out and about enjoying life and all that it holds for them as this is the face of youth culture.
And parents all across the globe pray and cross their fingers and hope beyond hope that they have done enough to bring their child home safely while they wait the night away anxiously, sleep deprived until the door opens and their child returns.
'To parent an adolescent one must not be faint of heart' quote unknown.
Without doubt parenting adolescents is one of the most challenging forms of work that will ever be required, and yet it can, at the same time be the most satisfying and rewarding work ever done.
And I say work here because a parent must be prepared to work at it. And indeed work hard to guide and navigate your young person through what are often years of doubt, uncertainty and insurmountable emotionality working out who they are in this vast complex universe.
It is to be expected that most youth at some point and to some extent rebel against parental authority. Which is by the way and to some degree a normal process throughout the pathway of maturation; to demand their independence; to beat at the beat of their own drum; claim the right to make their own choices. And most often they do so before they have the emotional capacity and maturity to cope. It's when adolescent risk taking behaviors cross the line and become too frequent and alarmingly dangerous to themselves and others that intervention is needed.
Reasons for concern.
So what is it then that concerns parents and carers striking terror in their hearts when their children enter the adolescent stage of life. Some of the major concerns for parents are listed below;
Binge Drinking- With more than 2.3 million untimely deaths a year worldwide attributed to harmful alcohol consumption, the World Health Organization recognized a need to devise a global campaign to try to reduce youth binge drinking and other alcohol abuse."Drinking to intoxication and heavy episodic drinking are alarmingly frequent among adolescents and young adults, and the negative impact of alcohol use is greater in younger age groups of both sexes," a spokesperson for the WHO has said.
Ellicit drug use-
'Headspace' Australia's National Youth Mental Health Foundation research and information on it's website say that 'substance use is common among young people, with alcohol the most common substance used by youth. A survey of Australian secondary students aged between 12 and 17 years, found that 80 percent had tried alcohol, 14 percent had used cannabis, and 19 percent had used inhalants at some time in their lives (2).
Casual Sex -In a research paper conducted by Collins, Martin and Shaw in 2011 at Rand, a non profit government corporation that helps improve policy and decision making, 'Sexual risk behavior among US adolescents is a major public health concern. Nearly 800,000 young women aged between 15-19 become pregnant in the US every year and half of the 19 million sexually transmitted infections (STI'S diagnosed each year are among 15-24 year old's).
Alcohol fueled aggression - A spate of King hits in Sydney has resulted in severe disabilities and a fatality for one young man and has been a cause of great concern on weekend nights in the city. Police and anti violence groups are at a loss to know how to prevent and deal with such incidents.
Adolescents participating in one of these behaviors or a combination of any can cause even the strongest and bravest parent to buckle at the knees with fear like no other.
Terrifying, shocking, ugly, exhausting, nothing I do is right, I'm going crazy, this is mental, nerve wracking, insane, loosing my mind; are all words I've heard coming out of the mouths of parents with an adolescent. And believe me I've heard descriptive language that is not appropriate to write down here.
Connectedness - A parent's most powerful weapon
Many researches into adolescent mental health cite connectedness as a protective factor to strengthen a young persons sense of self worth guarding against risk taking behaviors. Connectedness is a sense of belonging, the feeling of being needed and important to the family and to those around us that we love and love us. Many experts working in the field of youth studies and youth mental health have found that youth who have a strong emotional attachment and sense of connectedness with their parents/relative, teachers or significant mentor are more likely to experience healthy mental health and are less likely to use drugs, drink alcohol and participate in sex at an early age. Protective factors such as these promote confidence and competence and protect young people from harm.
The following points can help prevent excessive risk taking in youth;
- Know your child's personality and temperament. Be realistic about this. It's not useful to tell yourself something about your young person if it's not true about them. For example if you have caught them being sneaky in the past, chances are they will be sneaky again. If it's always someone else at fault, chances are it's not.
- Know their peers. Invite their friends home and get to know who they are friends with; where they hang out; what stuff they are into ie do they do sport, are they into gaming etc; who their parents are. And remember no interrogation here, casual conversation is preferred.
- Keep the lines of communication open. This means being available for them when you don't want to be ie young people come alive late at night when we are tired. Being ready for when they are ready to communicate is imperative. Sitting beside a young person, not opposite them to talk takes the threat out of confrontation/communication. Ever wondered why at times young people open up when you are in the car driving them somewhere.
- Create ground rules. And stick to them; Keep it simple.Teens like toddlers need few rules, 2 or 3 are enough and emphasize the important ones. For example; Never get in a car with a driver whose been drinking; Realistic curfews; Know the address and names of the people throwing the party; if they are under 16 you be the designated driver to and from social events.
- Establish a bail out system with your young person before they go out. Be ready to go get them if needed. Often a young person will find themselves in a social situation that is out of their comfort zone and want to escape. Decide with them beforehand a plan of action if they find they need out.
- Encourage safe and constructive activities out of school. Sport, music, hobbies or community work are helpful. Do something together but only if it's okay with your young person.
- Plan a regular family time. An activity, outing, board game, watching a movie together at home, or one on one time with both or either parent/carer and make it a tradition. Simply making the effort, taking the time and going out for a movie, shopping, game, coffee, hot chocolate, frozen yoghurt/ice cream etc on a regular basis will let them know you care enough/are interested enough to want to be with them. And never use this time to discipline if possible.
- Let them no that you will never EVER going to give up on them. No matter how bad their behavior is and how tough your tough love needs to be. And in difficult circumstances when giving such reassurance is almost impossible but imperative such as breaking drug and alcohol addiction or for example when rehab is required; or respite when exhaustion hits for you and your partner and other family members and time away from the young person is needed. Knowing you will never give up on them can be their lifeline and the catalyst they find for change.
Look for key mental health clues. Is depression or anxiety a factor? Know the signs. If you are not sure do an internet search. Google signs of Adolescent depression from reputable websites such as the American Psychological Association; the Mayo Clinic in the US a nonprofit worldwide leader in medical care, research and education. And in Australia; Headspace Australia's National Youth Mental Health Foundation or Youth Beyond Blue an arm of Beyond Blue a successful initiative to create a community response to depression.
If you suspect that the young person of concern has a mental health problem it is vitally important that advice is sought from appropriate sources. And sooner rather than later. There are many services out their who deal specifically with youth related issues. Start with the local hospital who will have a number of services listed that can be accessed. Talk to a general practitioner, or an adolescent mental health worker. Seek out a counselor who works specifically with adolescent behavior for advice. Do an internet search and find out and ring your local area Youth Helpline, Lifeline or Kids Helpline.
Do whatever it takes to help a young person..it may just save their life.
Signs of Adolescent Anxiety
Most young people get anxious. Some anxiety is normal and even helpful such as when it motivates to study harder for an exam, play competitive sport or keeping them out of danger etc.
In Australia on average 1 in 6 young people has Anxiety.
Anxiety becomes a problem when it becomes so intense it interferes with their daily life and stops them from doing things they need to do. If these symptoms occur regularly it could mean that a young person is suffering from an anxiety disorder.
-Anxious or on edge, strung out,nervous
-Restless, annoyed, irritable
-Worried a lot
-Feeling something bad is going to happen
If your young person or a young person in your care or one that you know displays some of the above symptoms they will most likely need professional help.
Signs of Adolescent Depression
Depression - What to look for.
1 in 16 young people aged 16-24 experience and live with depression each year.
Depression is different to normal feelings of sadness and feeling blue. When feelings of sadness and unhappiness occur every day it may mean depression has taken hold.
-Withdrawing from friends and family
-Change or loss of appetite
If your young person or a young person in your care or one you know displays some of the above symptoms it is imperative that help is sought for them.
A huge help for parents.
- Youth Suicide Risk Increased in a Number of Different Disorders
For those of us who work with Adolescents, youth suicide can be despairing. Raising awareness, and encouraging young people to choose life while imperative, are simply not enough. Understanding the extent of mental health disorders and their impact i