Debbie Perugini of The BAY Team provided the following story.
“Teaching your kids to drink" and “key baskets” at parties, will NOT keep your kids safe.”
Those were just a couple of parenting myths that were busted by psychologist Stephen Wallace at a presentation last Wednesday night at Barrington High School. About 65 parents turned out for the free event hosted by The BAY Team and all of the PTOs.
Wallace, former CEO of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), discussed the importance of opening the lines of communication with your teenagers and the role all adults have in helping keep teenagers safe. He shared his research with teens across the country and gave parents pointers on ways to stay engaged in their child’s life, even when it feels like teens are pushing you away.
Parents asked questions on a range of issues, including trust, peer influence, and medical marijuana.
Wallace also cautioned the audience about sleepovers. He asked teens the best way for adults to prevent youth risky behavior. They said that NOT allowing sleepovers is the way all parents can prevent teen drinking and other risky behavior.
Many teens say the easiest way to get away with drinking and smoking is when their parents think they are sleeping over at a friend’s house, but they are somewhere else.
He reminded parents that they are the primary influence in their child’s lives and what they say matters. He encouraged all parents to be mentors for children. In his studies, he has found that children need at least three non-parent adult mentors. He urged parents to consider becoming mentors and ensuring that one’s child has positive mentors in their lives.
Wallace spoke to several groups of high school students. He urged them to consider what type of legacy they would like to leave behind. He encouraged them to make decisions that can leave a positive imprint upon the community, rather than making poor choices, face-to-face or online, with negative consequences that can affect many and last forever.
Wallace outlined the three types of youth:
- Avoider – teens who avoid all risky behavior. They need to be praised for their choices.
- Experimenters – teens who try risky behavior. Parents need to communicate carefully early and often.
- Repeaters – youth who repeatedly use substance or engage in risky sexual behavior. Parents need to ensure these teens get professional help for this dangerous behavior.
Wallace suggested families use SADD’s "Contract for Life" and sign it with a child. You can find the contract by clicking www.sadd.org/contract.
Q - If my child tells me something about a friend in confidence and asks me not to tell, what should I say?
A – Wallace reminded the group to always consider health and safety. Tell your child you will try to respect the confidential nature of the information, but if there is something potentially dangerous you may need to tell another adult.
Q – If one of my child’s friends is engaging in risky behavior should I tell their parents?
A – YES, it may be a difficult conversation, but it could save a life! He suggested parents think if they would want to know if their own child was engaged in risky behavior. Most parents would want to know such information to be able to do something to prevent it. He noted that the mother of a 16-year- old Taylor Meyer, who died after a night of drinking, found out after her daughter’s death that other adult knew her daughter had been drinking, but did not tell her.
Q - Does teaching my kids how to drink alcohol prevent them from drinking too much later in life?
A – NO! Allowing teens to drink any amount now teaches them you think it is okay to drink alcohol. Young people are not able to differentiate between a drink with you on, perhaps, an 18th birthday, and many drinks with friends at a party.
Q –Kids in Europe drink at an early age, don’t they drink responsibly?
A- No. That is a myth. Alcoholism rates are higher in all other European countries than the rate in the US. The only country with lower rates of youth alcohol consumption is Turkey, a Muslim country.
Q- My kids are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, but think marijuana is a safer alternative, what do I tell them?
A - Marijuana is risky. Today’s marijuana is about 20 percent stronger that it was a few years ago and is a gateway drug. According to Wallace’s research, one in five teenagers report driving while high, while one in seven report driving after drinking. Unfortunately, a designated driver in a teen’s mind is often the person who is the least wasted or who can “handle” their drinks. It is not a sober teen.
Q – How do you feel about the issue of medical marijuana and legalization?
A – It sends the wrong message to teens. When he does research with teens in state’s where there are medical marijuana programs, the students tell him that it is not working. Young people are getting prescriptions for minor ailments and selling the marijuana to others.
Q- If I believe my child is currently an avoider (not engaged in risky behavior), am I naïve to think that they can continue this safe behavior?
A – You are not naïve. Plenty of students successfully do this in college and still have good peer groups and healthy social lives. You must set the expectation that your child will not engage in risky alcohol/sexual behavior with your children while they are young.
Q – At what age do children need their parents’ guidance the most?
A – Aside from infancy, ages 12 though early 20s are the most important times in a youth’s life. Their brain is still developing into the early 20s, thus need parental guidance more than ever.
Wallace is the author of the book, "Reality Gap, Alcohol, Drugs, and Sex-What Parents Don’t Know And Teens Aren’t Telling." Stephen Wallace can be reached at www.stephengraywallace.com.