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MAY 2008

It’s the End of the School Year. But, Watch Out for Kids Gone Wild!
By Glenn S. Hirsch, M.D.

For most teenagers, the end of the school year is approaching. This is a time to relax, enjoy evenings free from homework, and hold celebrations. Most kids handle this time in a healthy, risk-free fashion. However, with the excitement and stimulation of graduation, proms, and other parties, many kids get themselves into trouble and face major negative consequences. So while our teens are enjoying themselves, you and I as parents need to be more vigilant. To get help, I turned to Dr. Richard Gallagher, Director of the Parenting Institute at NYU Child Study Center. He offers the following words of caution and practical advice.

Partying and driving during this time of year is a major concern. The number of drivers on the road increases in the late spring and summer. Teens spend nearly 1.5 more hours driving during a typical summer week than they do during the school year. There’s a corresponding increase in accidents and in teens driving while under the influence of alcohol and other substances. Statistics collected over two-year periods find that 180 to 260 people are killed in car accidents each weekend during peak times for proms and graduations. Over half to 60% of those deaths are associated with alcohol use.

Parents in urban areas also have to watch out. Kids may be traveling late at night and early in the morning on public transportation and in parts of town where there are clubs and action, but also slightly more danger. They can be targeted for robbery, pick-pocketing or snatching purses and jewelry.

As if car accidents and crime are not enough to worry about, other accidents happen more often during this time too; in particular, drowning increases. Pool parties, trips to the beach and other swimming spots can also be a problem if not handled carefully.

So for parents, these times of celebration are times for preparation. Give teenagers some advice, some guidelines, and help make sure that they have the appropriate supervision. Letting them loose for long periods with no check-in and no caring adult contact (even by phone) can be risky. Make your expectations clear and have a schedule for contact so you know that your teens are safe and healthy. Teenagers can have some freedom and some privacy, but remember they’re still not quite adult in their thinking and judgment.

In regard to sexual activity, discuss your expectations and how you want your teens to manage their sexual maturity. Adhering to family values and maintaining safe sex practices should be stressed, especially at times of celebration. Some kids feel pressure to keep up with the crowd, but those who choose the option of holding off should also feel comfortable. Helping teens make decisions about whether or not to be involved in sexual activity is difficult, but helps them make comfortable, informed choices that stand up to peer pressure or the pressure of strong sexual urges. If your children are considering being sexually active, the discussions should include a check on their knowledge of safe sex practices.

Have frequent, brief talks with your kids about avoiding substance use during times of celebration. Make sure they are familiar with the effect of substances on their coordination, their thinking, and their judgment. Help them understand how rapidly they can get stumbling drunk or high if they have had no previous exposure. And, make sure that they do not accept rides from people under the influence. Over 65% of teens say that they have ridden with a driver that they know had been drinking or using drugs. Motor vehicle accidents, drowning, fights, and unwanted or unsafe sex usually double in frequency when kids are under the influence.

Supply transportation to parties. Teens have a really hard time being the designated driver when everyone else is partaking of substances. A trusted and responsible adult or a professional driver or bus may be the best way to go. However, make sure that the teens know that having a hired driver does not give them license to use substances.

Do not supply the substances. Some parents may think that it is safer to make sure that they control the party and supply alcohol and, sometimes, even drugs to kids while they supervise the activities. However, teens and substances are not a good mix because substances are not handled very well by the adolescent brain. Teens get drunk and high much more quickly than adults. Many parents, who have sponsored parties in the belief that they would be in control, have lost control of the situation when their house gets flooded with kids from all around town or other towns who have heard that some “cool” parents are supplying the fun.

Consider your teen’s risk for substance use. For example, children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and other impulse control problems are especially prone to temptation and use. Anxious kids who experience some distress in social situations may be tempted to use substances to feel more comfortable. Families or teens that have had prior trouble with substances are also at risk. Make sure that you have even more careful talks and provide more supervision if you think your teens fall into these categories.

Check to see if your teen’s school supports substance-free celebrations. Many schools host Project Graduation, a controlled all-night party that requires check-in and sign-outs. Such arrangements have resulted in significant reductions in substance related injuries and death in many towns. If the school does not sponsor such an event, check to
 see what it would take to do so.

Of course, everyone should strive to have fun during this time of year. Parents need to keep informed of important risks. Taking a relatively short amount of time to talk to your teens to provide advice, listen to questions, and give guidance on what actions are expected can make certain that these celebrations are full of joy. Follow this advice and you will find your summer more enjoyable.

This monthly column provides educators, parents, and families with important information about child and adolescent mental health issues. Please submit questions for ASK THE EXPERT to Glenn S. Hirsch, M.D., Medical D

irector at NYU Child Study Center, at glenn.hirsch@nyumc.org. For more information about NYU Child Study Center, visit www.AboutOurKids.org or call (212) 263-6622.#



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