While parents, teachers, youth advocates, clergy, law enforcement and many supporting or focused youth agencies work to protect youth, in the end, teens themselves must be their own greatest protector.
The adults around youth can educate, supervise them and model healthy behaviors as well. Ultimately, it will be up to teens to regulate their behavior.
At one time, the focus of concern was around alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use. Now, prescription drug abuse has been added to this lethal risk constellation.
These risks represent a lethal threat to teens around the country. Most scientists believe that adolescent brain development is still evolving for most teens. While many teens may look mature, their brains are still developing and this developmental process affects decision making and those decisions, drinking or drugging, can and does heavily influence brain development in adolescence.
In adolescence, most brain material is in place as adolescence begins as is the size of the brain. During this crucial “hard wiring” of the brain, adolescents may seem snarly or moody at times. They can also take imprudent risks, especially around alcohol, drugs or sex. Teens may become more secretive during these periods, are much more influenced by friends and less able to consider the possible negative consequences of their actions.
Most auto accidents happen in adolescence, in fact, the first 1,000 days of driving are the most dangerous. Many of these accidents are related to drinking and driving. Many more are related to speed unreasonable for the conditions and I would add the driver’s inexperience. These events are not accidental, as the brain matures and ends it growth trajectory, more rational behavior occurs as a result in a variety of areas.
In essence, teens must learn to survive or to reduce harm to themselves from poor decisions while their brain fully develops. When incomplete brain development is coupled with inexperience, it is not surprising that teens may experience higher risk levels than other age groups in a variety of life situations.
Just as inexperienced drivers improve their decision making processes with time, it may be possible to help teens learn to make better decisions for themselves. These improvements are heavily influenced by experiencing risk and reacting in adaptive ways.
Adults can help teens to practice “safe skills” just as they would practice safe driving. Telling your teen not to drink alcohol or do drugs is of course necessary. Practice how they will say no to drinking or drugging. Tell them that their brain is not fully developed and that drugs and alcohol could have serious deleterious effects on their brain should also be shared.
Tell them to use you, their parent, as an excuse for not drinking or drugging. “If my parents found out that I was drinking, I would be in a lot of deep trouble.”
While we hope that teens will not drink or use drugs, we know that some will. Telling your teen that it is okay to call you if they are drinking may be another way to protect them from their own bad decision. If you don’t, your teen may ride with the teen at the party who has drunk the least or who is judged to be the least intoxicated. This decision can be a tragic one for all concerned. Some teen’s will make poor decisions, however, adults can have a harm reduction effect by setting a positive healthy example and at the same time setting an explicit expectation in place that expects that teens will regulate their own risk taking behaviors.
Dr. Carrera wrote in his book, “Lessons for Lifeguards,” that helping teens to create a positive vision for their future maybe one of the most powerful inoculations against risk taking among youth.
A young person who has dreams, is nurtured at home, is welcomed at school and enjoys meaningful friendships may enjoy more risk protection than teens that don’t.
Remember, all kids count.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.