Tips For Parents - A Common Sense Approach to Underage Drinking & Drugs
The Tenafly Police Department is committed to the safety of our community, especially "our" children. That is why we offer the following tips for parents to assist you in keeping your children safe and out of trouble. While many of these seem like very simple ideas, do not underestimate the impact they can have on your child and/or young adult. Also, do not underestimate the seriousness of underage drinking and drug use. Both ruin or take many lives each year in our country.
What Can I Really Do About Underage Drinking or Drugs When My Child Is Out With Friends?
You can do more than you think. These tips will go a long way in helping your child make good decisions in those situations:
- Dispose unused, no longer needed pain medications. Do not hold onto these medications for a future anticipated injury or a rainy day ache. If you don't need them anymore, it's time to get rid of them. Teenagers, young adults or anyone who abuses these types of drugs commonly get their hands on them from medicine cabinets. Kids are crafty, if you keep them unprotected elsewhere, they will find them, especially if they have an addiction to them. If you suspect your child is potentially using these types of drugs and you notice items missing in your home, chances are your child may be selling (pawning) the items to purchase the drugs he/she is addicted to. The Tenafly Police Department maintains a prescription drug drop box in the department's front lobby that can be accessed 24 hours 7 days a week. No questions need to asked when disposing of the medications/drugs. Any type of medication may be disposed, not just those for pain relief.
- Communicate with your children. Talk to your children and their friends about the consequences of alcohol, drug, and tobacco use. Let them know how YOU feel about those things, and that you are concerned for their welfare. Make them check in with you when they get home at night, not go straight to their rooms or bed. Some parents do this by having a brief conversation about what they did, or even a simple kiss goodnight. You can tell a lot from that small interaction, including alcohol use, the smell of smoke, or being under the influence of drugs. Is there a down side to this simple interaction? No, it is just another small bonding routine between you and your child if they are not involved in these activities and it will probably allow you to sleep a little better.
- Be strong role models for them. If you drink to excess or do drugs or smoke in their presence, you are sending them a powerful message that these behaviors are acceptable. Your children will emulate your actions, both good and bad. Telling them not to do something that is a regular activity of yours sends a mixed message to them. Our officers have responded to situations where the parent is actually providing the alcohol (and even drugs) to their child so that they can be considered the "cool" parent. Our children need and deserve better from us.
- Set clear rules and expectations and enforce them. When discussing consequences of their actions, make sure that YOU have consequences for them as well. They will face a variety of consequences for making bad choices with alcohol, drugs and tobacco, and they should be aware of them. Tell them about the negative impacts on their health and safety. Frankly discuss the legal and civil consequences, but most importantly, have some consequences of your own and enforce them. All too often, the parents side with the child when alcohol or drug use lands them in trouble with the schools or with the legal system, and there are no consequences in the home. Some student athletes and their parents, for example, sign agreements with the schools that say that they will be suspended from their sport if they violate the restrictions on alcohol or drug use. There have been cases, however, where these young people do violate the agreement, and then their parents pressure the schools to allow them to continue to participate in the sports programs in spite of the signed contract. Again, what message does this send about their actions? Unfortunately, the message they get is all too clear...that you condone those actions or that they are not really serious issues in your eyes.
Your child should have clear behavioral expectations set by you when they are out. It is often said that the true test of character is how one acts when no one is watching, and our children should understand that concept. Set limits...for example give them a time to be home by and stick to it. While they will resist "curfews" and limitations and may be mad at you, they will get over it. Deep down, children need you to set limits; it shows them that you truly care about them.
- Know where they are going and who they are with. If your child is attending a party or sleeping over at a friends home, call the other parents. I say parents because having a college-age adult in charge is common at house parties that involve alcohol or get out of control. Make sure that an appropriate adult (parent, guardian) will be home the entire time and will be supervising the event. Many times several teens will tell parents that they are staying at each others' homes and will then be out all night. Know who your children's friends are because they can be a strong influence on them.
- Give them a way out of a bad situation. Occasionally, good kids suddenly find themselves in bad situations. A small group of friends getting together at a house suddenly escalates into drinking or a similar, out of control situation. Drugs may suddenly come into play. They might be pressured for sex. There are a host of things that can make your teen suddenly uncomfortable or fearful. Make an agreement with them that they can call YOU anytime, anywhere for a ride home, without lectures or interrogations and live up to your end of it. The first time they actually use this "way out", you have already won a battle against alcohol, drugs, or worse, and your child is safer for it.
- Educate them in the real dangers they face from their actions. Underage drinking is a factor in nearly one-half of all teen motor vehicle crashes. Alcohol abuse is linked to as many as two-thirds of all sexual assaults and date rapes of teens and college students. More than 40% of individuals who begin drinking in their early teens will develop an alcohol dependency at some point in their lives. In the past year alone, almost one-half of the teens arrested for alcohol-related offenses right here in Tenafly were also in possession of drugs. These are the frightening realities of this problem.
There are other long-term ramifications of their actions. Being arrested for underage drinking or drugs can hurt their chances to get into some colleges. It can preclude them from some occupations, and will surface in many types of background checks. Simply by being with the wrong crowd can get them into trouble. For example, if they are in a car and are stopped and drugs or some other illegal substance are found in the vehicle, they can be charged with the constructive possession of it even if it was not theirs and they had no knowledge that it was in the vehicle.
- Be a real parent to your child, not a friend or a peer. Your child will have lots of friends throughout their lives, but only you are the only parent(s) they will ever have. You get one chance to be a parent to your children, make it count. If setting a limit or restriction makes them mad at you, you will both get over it and your child will be safer for it. Remember, too, that they are growing up in a very different world than we did...the pressures are much worse, they have more demands on them in all areas. They are virtually surrounded with negative, stressful messages about their physical appearance, their weight, their clothes and their activities. They are inundated with images of violence, sex, and "over the top" behaviors, and have few true role models to look up to. That's where you come in. Our society expects our children to "grow up" way too fast and only you can make sure they are prepared for dealing with this world. One thing is for certain: give them the knowledge and the "tools" they need and they will make better choices. Let them use you as the "bad guy" to get out of uncomfortable situations..."I want to but my mother (father, etc) is a real pain in the neck and won't let me". Is there really anything you wouldn't do for your child?
Tenafly is a community that has many resources for you at your disposal. There are skilled educators, trained counselors, and valuable programs available in our schools. Your Police Department is another resource you can use for questions or problems involving alcohol, drugs or tobacco and your children. Together, the parents and resources of this community can do amazing things to keep our children on the right path for a healthy, happy life. Check back from time to time as we will address other topics in this section.