The transition from school to summertime provides new opportunities for teens — and it can be challenging for some adolescents to cope with the change. Studies show that teens who haven’t tried drugs or alcohol are more likely to start during times of transition in order to deal with stress. But don’t worry — while change is a part of life, risky behavior, like substance use, doesn’t have to be.
You can’t control the changes that impact your teen, but you can pay attention to their feelings, concerns and needs. Conversations are one of the most powerful tools parents can use to connect with — and protect — their children.
1. Work up a list of what they can do without asking permission
It can be frustrating for teens when they’re not able to reach a parent at work in order to ask permission to go to a friend’s house, the movies or the beach. It can be equally frustrating for the parent whose employer frowns upon phone, text or email interruptions. To address this conflict, sit down with your teen to talk about the kinds of activities they may do without your explicit permission on the condition they leave a note or send a text that tells you where they are, what they are doing and with whom, and their estimated time of return.
2. Know what’s in the cabinet
It’s important to track the alcohol you have in the house – whether it’s in the fridge, liquor cabinet, garage, hall cupboard or wine cellar. This is not necessarily because you are concerned your teen will consume alcohol, but to help them avoid peer pressure to do so. And with one in five teenagers misusing medications, it’s important for parents to monitor and secure all prescription bottles and pill packets in the house. It is also important to dispose of all expired medications to decrease the opportunity for your teen or their friends to access them.
3. Talk periodically throughout the day
Not text, but talk. A parent can tell when there is a change in their child’s voice, which likely will not come through in a text, and that voice change can be a signal that something is amiss. Knowing that a phone call was expected helps teens give more thought think about her to their actions and the potential consequences.
4. Know who your teen’s summer friends are
Friendships can change once school is out. Some friends may go off to camp or to a summer job, while new kids are suddenly available to hang out. Knowing who your teen’s current friends are will give you the opportunity to talk to those friends’ parents in order to coordinate oversight while you’re both at work.
5. Follow up on statements that don’t ring true
“It’s not mine. I’m just keeping it for a friend.” Never believe these kinds of statements outright. Talk to that friend’s parents. A friend that asks your teen to hold substances for them is not a friend to have: obviously that teen knows it’s wrong, or they would hold the substances at their own house. Trust your instincts — chances are, if you suspect your child is using substances, then they probably are — or something else is going on.
Some of these suggestions may feel like you’re sending the message that you don’t trust your teen. In actuality, by reducing the opportunities for your teens to lie or go along with the crowd during adolescence, we strengthen trust all around.