Everything You Wanted To Know About Your Middle Schooler But Were Too Afraid To Ask – Part 3

By Philippe Rey, Psy. D.

Executive Director of Adolescent Counseling Services

Previously we looked at information that helped us recognize when a problem in our middle school children is serious enough to require professional assistance, versus a bout of normal adolescent behavior or mood change. This week we will focus on substances and how best to educate and discuss them with our middle school child.

Let’s examine the data to see what is going on with teens in our communities. In both San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, children start drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes earlier than they use other substances. Some students report use as early as the fifth grade. In the 11th grade: 41% of students reported having consumed alcohol; 21% reported having smoked marijuana; and 18% reported having smoked cigarettes; all within the last month. It is interesting to note, that in comparison these percentages are all higher than the average use rate for 11th graders throughout the state of California. This data might reflect our community’s high expectations regarding academic achievement, as well as, an increase in pressure from peers. In addition, 16% of 7th graders, 30% of 9th graders, and 36% of 11th graders, in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, reported that they had been offered an illegal drug at school in the previous year.

It is sad to think of middle school children engaging in alcohol and drug use at such a sensitive age. What we need to realize though, is that it is a reality facing our adolescents, and one they face on a daily basis when they attend our local schools. The task of a parent, in our community, is to educate our child and help them understand that the choices they make are ultimately their responsibility. The best way to begin this process is to inform them about the individual substances and encourage an open discussion about the effects of these substances. Share honestly about family-member substance abuse and dependence issues, as this raises the risk of your child possibly becoming an abuser or dependent themselves. Stress that as a parent you are not condoning their actions, nor will you be happy if they decide to experiment, and let them know that if they do decide to experiment or use regularly, they are responsible for the repercussions. Keep the conversation going with your child, and periodically ask questions, like; have they observed substance use at school, have they tried drinking or smoking, or are their friends engaging in substance use?

In conclusion, I encourage you to be honest about your own past with substance experimentation or abuse. They know when we lie! It is safe to share your experiences, but important to reinforce that you chose not to engage in those behaviors so you could become who you are today—a loving parent trying to raise their child in the safest way possible!

With knowledge and honest information from you, they will likely make the best choice, which will be to turn down substances in middle school and possibly even high school.

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