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What Are They Thinking? Substance Use And The Developing Brain.

One of the concerns I often hear from parents is how to differentiate between what they might consider normal teen behavior and what we call substance abuse. There are definite differences but if this is new to parents, they do not have a reference point to substantiate between the two. I have asked parents what is their gut telling them as they know their child better than anyone else. They know their nature, personality and what they are like when just hangin’ with the family. Differences can be subtle or completely out of the norm.

This is a common question I respond to from parents.

I sat recently with a set of parents that firmly believed in allowing their children to experience what it feels like to be intoxicated yet monitored by parents. I know this is common practice amid the culture of alcohol use in our state and country. Part of this thinking is to “ready” them for the college experience or post high school plans. Another part is that they are going to drink anyway, might as well allow it under a parent’s watch. This is where I beg to explore other perspectives.

Exploring our own expectations around drug/alcohol use first, is an exercise in self-awareness, no matter what the family structure is (i.e., two parent households, single parents, blended and co-parenting situations). Knowing what it is that you stand for is a building block for parenting. Next steps include sharing your personal beliefs with your partner, spouse, co-parent to find middle ground if necessary. The following step is deciding what the expectations are going to be prior to sharing with your child. This starts at an early age and can help parents avoid “making it up as they go.” This is not a simple process; not at all. It takes a lot of conversation, setting the stage of expectations and consistency.

The panel I sat on at the From Statistics to Solutions conference discussed some of the newest brain research and what is happening on a neurological level when substances are introduced to the developing teen brain. I find myself having this discussion multiple times within a week to students who may or may not choose to listen. I get it…when their perception is that all their friends are using, it can’t be that bad. The latest research is fascinating and can serve as a great platform for parents willing to be a student as well.

What I do know for sure is that Minnesota has a strong community of prevention, treatment and recovery/maintenance resources and people who “get it.

This tight knit community of parents, professionals and agencies can make all the difference in the world.

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