Sometimes when I actually stop to think about the fact that we have a 12, 11, and 9 year old in the house, I cannot even believe it.
I absolutely cannot wrap my head around it.
I can’t believe that in two years,we’ll no longer have a child in elementary school.
I can’t believe that in four years, we’ll have a middle schooler and two high schoolers.
I can’t believe that in less than ten years, we’ll have three kids in college.
I honestly can’t believe that all of those ‘big’ conversations I thought I’d have to have with my kids–about life and death and sex and drugs and everything scary and anxiety-producing for parents–has to happen now.
Like now, now. Like right now.
Because research shows that because of the way the tween brain works, we can’t just have one ‘big’ conversation about these things. No, friends. It’s not that simple. We have to talk early and often about this stuff.
Here’s the skinny. . .
Talking to Tweens About Drugs — It’s Time to Start Now:
Technically, the teen years begin at 13, but 8-12 year olds are considered tweens. And because we all know that kids develop at different stages–some earlier and some later–I think those of us who are parents of tweens need to be in the ‘know’.
The teen brain is wired for addiction. In fact, statistics show that 47% of kids will try drugs.
The brain is under construction until you’re 25 years old. Twenty-five years old!
image courtesy of thePACT.com
The limbic system develops first. This system:
- processes emotions;
- contains the brain’s reward circuit;
- controls and regulates feelings of desire and pressure;
- is activated by activities like eating and socializing, drugs and alcohol.
The prefrontal cortex develops second. This system:
- powers the ability to reason;
- makes decisions;
- solves problems;
- controls impulses.
So because of these two distinct stages of brain development, the teen risk increases from ages 13-18 while the limbic system and prefrontal cortex are developing.
As a result, teens are:
- in a state of rapid change, experiencing crazy new feelings, emotions, and personal freedom.
- increasing risk-taking behavior.
- at risk of a greater chance of addiction. Because the brain releases dopamine when something makes us feel good, drugs cause the release of extra dopamine, hijacking the brain’s natural reward system. The brain then learns that drugs equal pleasure. This encourages addiction.
All this to say that now is the time to talk to your kids about drugs.
Helpful hints for starting this conversation:
- Keep it short and simple. Though you may want to ramble on and on, do more listening than speaking.
- Ask questions. Ask what your child knows. Ask if he or she has questions. And if you don’t know the answer, admit that you’re not sure–but that you’ll find out.
- Listen. Really. Just listen.
- Be ‘distracted’ to take the pressure off of the conversation. It makes covering tough subjects easier, so your child doesn’t feel ‘in the spotlight’. Talk while you’re taxing the kids around town. Talk while you’re making dinner. Talk while you’re emptying the dishwasher. A wise friend gave me this advice years and years ago, and it’s been really helpful.
- Go smaller. Breaking the tough subject of drug use into smaller pieces is easier than making a huge, stressful ‘event’ of a one-time conversation.
- Use articles. If you read an article in the paper about drug use or addiction, share it. Leave the article on the counter for your child to read. Ask what he or she thought. Talk about how you feel. Listen.
- Emphasize your unconditional love. Really, we all have the desire to be listened to, loved, and heard, and that’s especially true for our tweens and teens. When life around them is in chaos, when friendships are in flux and everyday is confusing, they need to know that their parents will always be there for them no matter what.
What else would you add to this list? Please let me know.
Do you want–or need–more?
Check out thePACT.com for more Teen Talk Tips, for a closer look at the Teen Brain, and for resources for schools to make starting this conversation with your teens easier.
Check out a few other posts that may help you develop strong and healthy habits for your family:
- kids & instagram
- is musical.ly for kids?
- wait time
- my day, your day
- kids who rock the kitchen
- kids who rock the laundry
- arm circles
- noticing kids
- homework routine
fyi: This post was written as part of a partnership with thePACT.com and weareteachers.com. As always, my ideas and opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator.