The positive influence parents can have on their children cannot be stressed enough.
That influence faces a stiff test when Montana’s youth are forced to make tough decisions concerning drugs and alcohol.
However, in a recent survey, students reported that Montana parents are talking even more to their kids about the dangers of using alcohol and other substances.
That is great news. It’s vital that children continue to hear positive messages from people they know and who care about them. In most cases, that’s a parent. The importance of talking to youth about substance use and abuse and being involved in their lives cannot be measured.
For example, the frequency of binge drinking, illicit drug use and cigarette smoking is lower among youth aged 12-17 whose parents always or sometimes engage in monitoring behaviors, such as helping with homework, compared to youth whose parents seldom or never engage in such behaviors.
However, parental influence can work the wrong way as well. Research has found that even the slightest parental favorable attitude toward allowing underage drinking, even under parental supervision, increases the risk of the young person not only using alcohol, but using marijuana as well. As perception of harm decreases, use increases. As availability of a substance increases, so does use.
Further, Montana’s underage drinking rates are declining and heading in the right direction, which means more students are exercising good decisions. Yet, other challenges remain. The same survey shows 1 in 3 students between 8th and 12th grade continue to drink at dangerous levels and well above the national average. Parents must also combat the negative influence media campaigns meant to glorify underage drinking, marijuana use and/or using e-cigarettes and vaping.
Brain development is also a key component in youth as they mature well into their 20s. Why is this important in relation to substance abuse?
Substances and the teen brain -- the parts of the adolescent brain which develop first are those that control physical coordination, emotion and motivation. However, the part of the brain which controls reasoning and impulses -- the prefrontal cortex -- does not fully mature until the age of 25.
In childhood, a child’s development is influenced by genetics, and the interaction of their home environment into which a child grows up. When a nurturing, responsive relationship does not exist in the home, elevated levels of stress hormones can impair a child’s healthy brain development. When there is trauma, chronic stress, substance abuse and/or mental health problems in the home, a child is more likely to develop behavioral, social, emotional or cognitive problems as they grow into young adults. This includes an increased risk for addiction to alcohol and other substances.
The words and actions of one person can make a positive difference in the lives of others. Every day, parents, caregivers, educators and community leaders in our Montana communities can make a difference by having conversations with youth about substance use and by modeling healthy choices and behaviors. As individuals, as a community and as a state, we can help prevent underage drinking and illicit drug use by being involved in young people’s lives; identifying resources, support systems and alternatives for youth in the community; and raising awareness about the importance of prevention.
For more information on how to talk to young people about making smart choices and difficult subjects such as alcohol, marijuana and drug use, visit the following resources at www.parentpower.mt.gov or www.drugfree.org/MJTalkKit.
As we approach the excitement of summer, there’s no better time to continue this discussion with your kids.
What are you waiting for?
Vicki Turner is the director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Prevention Resource Center and staff to the Montana Interagency Coordinating Council for State Prevention programs.