Parents & relationships with trusted adults are critical for positive youth development. Scroll down for ideas and a Q&A.
The Importance of Adult Relationships
1. Parents/guardians are the most important influence on youth development...even though teens may act as though they only listen to their peers!
2. In addition to parents/guardians, all kids need a couple of trusted adults in their lives. These are people who kids can open up to; people who will notice when kids are struggling; people who will help them grow and thrive; people who will love them. Trusted adults may be family members, coaches, teachers, or other mentors.
3. If a child doesn't have a couple of trusted adults in their life, seek out clubs, scouting programs, after-school opportunities, Norwalk Mentor Program, Police Activities League (PAL), faith-based youth groups or other places where they can create those relationships.
The Positive Youth Development Framework focuses on how a youth feels about him- or herself. Youth who are disconnected or struggling are more likely to participate in risky behaviors.
Teens thrive when they are able to Contribute, feel Competent, be Connected, be Confident, demonstrate Character & show Caring. More info here.
What do I need to know about youth & substance use?
The human brain is still developing until around age 25. Alcohol or other drugs can cause IQ loss & other damage to the developing brain.
For every year that a youth delays having their first drink or drug, they reduce their chance of developing an addiction by 14%.
Most Norwalk teens do not drink alcohol or use other drugs. However, underage drinking is higher in Norwalk compared to the state average.
Kids who are struggling with depression & anxiety are more likely to drink and use other drugs. See our Mental Health page.
If someone under age 21 drinks alcohol on your property, even without your knowledge, you are legally responsible. Learn about CT's Social Host Law on our Alcohol page.
Today's marijuana is cultivated to be extremely strong. Kids often vape it from concentrates (dabs) which are virtually pure THC and very harmful to the teen brain. If your ideas about marijuana are based on the 1990s, educate yourself! See our Marijuana page.
Vaping is not less dangerous than cigarettes, and a lot of teens are addicted to it. Big Tobacco is using our kids as a new market, since people have mostly stopped smoking cigarettes. Educate yourself on our Vaping page.
Counterfeit drugs that look like ADHD meds, Oxycontin, Xanax or other prescription drugs are a growing problem in CT. In summer 2020 a CT teen died after taking a friend's Xanax which turned out to contain fentanyl. Make sure your family knows: NEVER use any drug that was not prescribed to you personally by a doctor and purchased from a pharmacy. Learn more.
When & how do I talk to my kids about drugs?
It's never too early to start talking to your kids about healthy and unhealthy behaviors and the fact that some products are dangerous for your health. The littlest children need to know they can't go into the medicine cabinet or the liquor cabinet and that they shouldn't finish an adult's drink or take someone's pills!
Most kids are exposed to alcohol or other drugs by middle school. In CT, 12% of students surveyed in 2019 had their first drink of alcohol (more than a few sips) before age 13 and 4% tried marijuana before age 13.
Remember that your kids are watching you! They see what you're drinking and using, and they hear you if you say thing like, "I really need a drink" or "time to really get this party started." Try "I need to take a walk to relax" or "let's turn the music on!"
Family dinners, car rides, and times when you're waiting in line are great opportunities for these conversations. Try putting everyone's phone in a basket during meals to encourage conversation!
How can I protect my kids at home?
Know your kids' friends--and their parents.
Know where your kids are after school! Keep them busy & social with homework, sports, clubs, and hobbies so they don't experiment with drugs out of boredom.
Prevent access to alcohol & drugs. Norwalk teens report that most drinking takes place at people's houses. If kids can't get it or buy it, they are less likely to use it! So:
Monitor your liquor cabinet. Lock it if possible, or use liquor stickers to know whether someone has opened your bottle.
Keep medications (both over-the-counter and prescription drugs) locked up.
Dispose of unused drugs using Deterra bags or the dropoff box at the Norwalk police station.
Do not save your credit card information on your computer or give your kids access to your Amazon or other accounts.
Monitor your kids' money. Only give them store gift cards, such as GameStop, H&M, Wendy's, rather than Visa cards that can be used for anything on the web.
When your kids or their friends are at your house, keep the doors open and walk through the room regularly unannounced to check on their behaviors.
How do I know if my kid is using drugs?
Your middle or high schooler could be using alcohol or drugs, particularly marijuana or vapes. Vapes can be used for either nicotine or marijuana, with virtually no smell. A Spring 2019 survey of CT high school students found that just about half had tried vaping at some point, and one-third had vaped in the past month.
Possible warning signs of drug use:
red eyes, heavy eyelids, and/or use of eye drops
smells: smoke (tobacco, weed), menthol or other flavorings (flavored vapes), air freshener or cologne (cover up attempt)
changes in eye contact and behavior
urgency in answering the door to get the mail
unexplained purchases via amazon, doordash, etc.
lack of motivation
secrecy or deceit
Consider attending one of our Hidden in Plain Sight trainings to find out how kids may be hiding drugs at home.
What should I do if my kid is using drugs?
Go through their room, backpack, clothes, and coat pockets. Confiscate and safely dispose of any drugs or paraphernalia that you find. (Do not throw drugs in the trash or toilet! Bring to the police station dropbox.)
Talk to them & listen. Why did they do it? How did it start? How do they feel about it? Express concern and disappointment rather than yelling.
Create consequences. For example, remove access to money, phone, computer or car. Do not allow your child to spend time alone with their friends who are using drugs. Ground them from attending parties. Require visits to a drug counselor &/or support group.
Set boundaries. Be clear about your family's rules about drugs and alcohol & what to expect if anything happens again.
Connect with school resources, such as the social worker, drug counselor, or School Resource Officer. Ask them to give your teen a mental health & substance use screen to determine what else is going on.
Help your kid engage in healthy social activities such as clubs or volunteer work, and have frequent quality family time at home.
Talk with them frequently about their friends, how they're feeling, how they're coping (especially during COVID).
Who can help me as a parent?
Talk to a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Counselor at your child's school or college or contact the School-Based Health Center. If your child is in college, contact the college counseling center for advice.
Check out our Resources page for treatment and support options here in Norwalk for your child.
Join a parent training & support group. If your child is struggling with their mental health, check out NAMI Southwest CT's Child & Adolescent Network and definitely take the NAMI Basics class (it's free!). If your child is dealing with substance use, check out SMART Recovery Family & Friends at Positive Directions, the New Canaan Parent Support Group or The C.A.R.E.S. Group.