Summer is officially arrived! It’s that magical time: no homework, riding bikes, hanging out and all-nighters with friends.
With more free time on their hands, however, there is a correlated increase in risk taking and the temptation to experiment with alcohol, marijuana or sexual activity. Let’s look at the stats:
• The average age for an adolescent to take their first drink is now 12.
• During an average summer day about 3,000 more adolescents will take their first drink of alcohol compared to during the school year.
• About 1,000 more students will smoke marijuana or cigarettes for the first time than during the school year.
• As for students who have already begun drinking and smoking, many are known to indulge more often and more heavily during June and July.
A little rest and relaxation is needed and well-deserved, but too much downtime (especially when unsupervised) can be hazardous to an adolescent’s health. Safe Homes Network of the Orange Partnership wants everyone to enjoy the long summer days, so here are some tips to navigate summer with your teen:
Plan 1: Stick to advanced planning. Don’t fall victim to the “I’m bored” routine. Before you know it, they’ll be calling you on the phone while you’re at work asking to go to place A, with friend B, whom you’ve actually never met, but is a friend of friend C. Teach your teen to make plans in advance and stick with the 24-hour notice rule for activity outside of the home.
Plan 2: Remove temptation. Lock up, or better yet, throw out any left-over liquor bottles. Part of the maturation process is risk taking, which sometimes means experimentation. It will be with the stuff you’re least likely to look at or touch. This also means old prescriptions and the cigarettes or even prescription medication. Be sure your prescription meds are not accessible.
Plan 3: Talk to your teen. A summer job can be seen as means to avert summer boredom, teach responsibility and other life lessons. Summer jobs can also result in relationships between your teen and older, legal drinking-age individuals. Talk to your teen about work relationships, new friends and your expectations of them while they are working for the summer, including curfews and work hours.
Plan 4: Talk with other parents and guardians. Surveys indicate that when teens drink, they often do so at a friend’s home. Some parents believe that providing a safe environment for adolescents to drink is OK. It is time to start having conversations with parents of our kids’ friends and asking direct questions, such as, does my teen have access to alcohol in your home? Let your expectations be known.
Plan 5: Plan for fun and down time. Endless surveys of teenagers show that they are often more worried, more stressed and more over-extended than any other teen generation that has come before them. Sleeping a few days away is not going to teach your bright-eyed teenager to be lazy. Hanging aimlessly at a pool with an approved list of friends may be just what they need to decompress and refocus. Plan in advance for ways that you and your teenager can do just that – relax.
Gayane Chambless is the coordinator of the Orange Partnership for Alcohol and Drug Free Youth, a program housed at Mental Health America of the Triangle.