It has been tough over the past few months for teens.
With schools and many businesses closed, kids haven’t had a way to get in-person social interactions, and trying to Skype or Zoom with mom or dad in the next room is pretty inhibiting. Despite what seems like teens’ reliance on their phones for social interaction, we know that “face time” – as opposed to FaceTime – is still important.
I’ve worked with kids and their parents in the school district for over a decade, so it’s not surprising that kids are bored, anxious and just plain tired of living in a world that’s not normal – just like we all are.
As adults, we might manage all those negative feelings with some meditation or yoga, get outside for a brisk walk or a run or tackle all those projects in the yard you’ve been putting off. Or we might find other ways to cope: an extra beer or two at night, a couple of glasses of wine or a mixed drink, light on the mixer.
You’re not alone, but if you have children in your home, your actions are sending them a message on what’s an acceptable coping strategy.
Since mid-March, there’s been a shift in alcohol sales across the country. Rather than drinking in restaurants and bars, adults are drinking at home. Online alcohol sales grew over 475% between mid-March and the end of April. People who might never have much alcohol in their homes now have multi-week supplies of their favorite beverage on hand.
At the same time, teens and pre-teens are home, often unengaged or unsupervised. It should not be surprising that kids might use alcohol to cope with their boredom, anxiety or other negative feelings.
There are a few ways to counter these trends.
First, if you have alcohol in your home in any form, make sure you keep track of how much you have.
Try limiting the amount of beer you have in the fridge at any time so it’s easier to keep track of what you have. Some parents make a small mark on the label of a bottle of whiskey or other hard liquor to track both their own use and any unauthorized use. If necessary, some parents even lock up alcohol.
Also, make sure you talk with your children (or grandchildren) about your expectations about their alcohol use.
Some families believe that a small amount of alcohol is OK for kids, but only on special occasions. Other families are less strict and believe that kids who are in their teens should be allowed to drink alcohol. Whatever your rules are, make sure they are clear and that your stick to them consistently.
You might also want to consider what we’ve learned from brain research in the past 10 or so years: From the age of about 10 until about age 25, kids’ brains undergo major changes and are especially vulnerable to the influence of many substances including alcohol. Studies have shown that kids who drink regularly before the age of 14 are substantially more likely to have substance abuse disorders as adults.
If you’re not sure how to get started talking about alcohol with your kids, consider saying something the next time you’re watching TV and a beer commercial comes on. You can discuss who the target is of the ads – adults, kids, men, women – and what the ad is really selling. You can discuss whether your teen thinks drinking that product will make him or her more popular, more fun or just happier.
You might be surprised at what your kids see in the ads. Look for ads in other places, too. Ask your kids to share ads they see on YouTube or on social media, or what they notice in the community.
If your kids are hanging out at a friend’s house, make sure you know what the alcohol situation is there. Whenever kids go out, remember Who, What, When, Where: Who will be with you (and make sure you as a parent know them, too), What you will be doing, When you will be back (set a curfew if you need to) and Where you will be.
If you have serious concerns about your child’s ability to cope with anxiety or depression, talk to your family doctor or get a referral for counseling. The same is true if you or your partner is having problems.
Help everyone in your family find healthy outlets for the negative emotions that they’re dealing with, and make sure they know they are not alone. One of the best ways to manage stress is to take care of your body: Eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and, of course, avoid excessive alcohol, nicotine and drug use.