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! Download free resources like relationship checkups, conversation starters, etc. here.
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.
What do I need to know about youth & substance use?
The human brain is still developing until age 25. Alcohol or other drugs can cause IQ loss & damage 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. But in 2018, underage drinking was higher in Norwalk compared to the state average.
Kids who are struggling with depression & anxiety are more likely to drink and use other drugs.
If someone under 21 drinks alcohol on your property, even without your knowledge, you are legally responsible. Learn about CT's Social Host Law.
Today's marijuana is engineered to be VERY strong. Kids often vape it from concentrates that are almost pure THC--which can cause psychosis.
Vaping is more dangerous than cigarettes, and many teens are addicted. Big Tobacco is using our kids as a new market, since cigarette use has dropped.
Counterfeit drugs that look like ADHD meds, Xanax, etc. are out there & people are dying! Tell your family: NEVER use any drug that was not prescribed to you personally by a doctor and purchased from a pharmacy.
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, including preventing their access to drugs. 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.
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. Put phones away during meals & just talk!
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.
Check in on their mental health. Drugs are often used to cope with depression or anxiety. Talk openly and encourage self-care and help-seeking.
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:
Keep your liquor and medicine cabinets locked up. We have Liquor Stickers!
Dispose of unused drugs with Deterra bags or drop off at the police station.
Don't save your credit card information on your computer or Amazon account.
Monitor your kids' money. Only give them store gift cards, not Visa gift cards.
Monitor their social media. Snapchat is currently a popular way to buy drugs.
At home, keep doors open and walk past regularly to check on kids' behaviors.
How do I know if my kid is using drugs?
Some middle & high schoolers are using alcohol, marijuana or vapes. (Vapes can be used for either nicotine or marijuana, with virtually no smell.) Talk to your kids & keep an eye out for possible warning signs:
red eyes, heavy eyelids, and/or use of eye drops
smells: smoke, menthol, air freshener or cologne (used as cover up)
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 a Hidden in Plain Sight training to learn how kids may hide drugs.
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.
Family Activities, Games and More!
The following links are games that explore what happens to the brain and body when drugs are used. You can also find more games here.
NIDA National Drug & Alcohol IQ Challenge Kahoot!
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.