Two things are killing our kids today. The first is stress. Good data paint a bad picture of today’s teens as being the most stressed, depressed and anxious generation we’ve seen in five decades of measurement.
Teen suicide, that horrific barometer of suffering, has exponentially increased over fifty years. Adolescents are drowning in a perfect storm of stress factors, two of which are lousy teen brain wiring and a methamphetamine-like culture that promotes excessive achievement demands (think academics and sports) and which uses electronics to pound kids 24/7 (they’re also not sleeping) with drug, sex and impossible cyber social management demands.
These adolescent pressures have always existed, but the screens now deliver them with stunning power. Think muskets versus machine guns. That’s how weed, booze and even death can begin to look good to a 14-year-old. But the second killer is us-their parents, whether we are aware of that or not.
The mythology of parental impotence in raising teenagers might be the single greatest cause of this suffering. While many parents feel they have no influence in things such as drug use, the research paints a very different picture. We have made impressive strides in pushing back on prior adolescent plagues such as cigarette smoking and unintended pregnancy by utilizing skilled intervention techniques. Rich, poor or anywhere in between, teens do listen to adults even as they roll their eyes and storm off after hearing what they hate and yet so desperately need to hear.
The best defense against drug addiction is having parents who lovingly and firmly say things such as, “I’m older and smarter, and I know that these drugs can take your life one day if you use them now as a teenager. It is my expectation that you will not use until you are twenty-one, and I will do whatever it takes to make that happen. I will do that because I love you.” Parents who place few zero-tolerance demands upon their teens have kids who are shocked to see their laid-back parents suddenly get deadly serious. They listen.
The power of this ‘vaccine’ is not in policing, yelling, or designing consequences (although these things may be needed). The magic is in lovingly and calmly communicating a clear expectation of sobriety to our kids. That iron fist, velvet glove message creates kids who will still experiment but will have exponentially less risk of addiction.
Michael Bradley, Ph.D., is a psychologist, lecturer, and author specializing in adolescence, he chimed in on this topic:
“I asked that seminar parent if she thought her house will burn down. She said no. I asked if she carried fire insurance. “Of course!” she exclaimed, “A fire would be a catastrophe.” I complimented her wisdom in insuring for the unlikely 25% possibility of having a house fire. I then used a formula to calculate the odds of her teen becoming an addict to be about 20% if she uses "soft" drugs regularly. “Are you OK,” I asked, “with accepting a similar risk of lifelong addiction for your kid by letting her use? There is no insurance against that catastrophe.”