Influencers are an important part of our lives but perhaps not more than during the teenage years. Adolescent experiences differ greatly today, compared to what was generations before but what does remain is the state of the human brain between the ages of 12 and 18. In addition to physiological development still in the works of young adults, a sense of emotional, physical and ideological awkwardness often overshadows a sense of confidence. Add the typical household dynamic where parents work, often for long hours, leaving teenagers to fend for themselves from the moment the end-of-day school bell rings until they go to sleep. In combination, it serves as a recipe for vulnerability and, in part, why teenage drug addiction falls on our teachers.
Middle School Is the Great Abyss for Behavioral Health Warnings
Hormonal changes run rampant during adolescence and with them come emotional highs, lows and overall unpredictability. As such, young adults say they want independence and to figure life out on their own yet, in many respects, need more guidance than ever. The mood swings and subsequent questionable decision-making are usually just signs of their age.
Different parts of the brain develop at varying rates. The area responsible for decision-making acuity is still a work in progress while the limbic system (controls impulsivity and emotional response) is farther along in development. You guessed it. This natural course of human development is why teenage behavior is viewed as reactive and irrational. Because it is.
As a parent or teacher, how can you distinguish between expected yet slightly crazed personalities that equate to typical teenager compared to something of concern such as mental health disorders or substance addiction? What is more concerning is that drug or alcohol use in those under the age of 21 has been linked to higher instances of drug addiction, depression, anxiety and other adverse health conditions.
Scared Straight Doesn’t Come that Easy Anymore
In earlier years, traditional schools of thought in how best to approach drug or alcohol prevention in young people was based on the premise of instilling fear. Whether programs were focused on the life consequences or stigmas attached to addiction, being “scared straight” was an ideology founded on the past. Teenagers are much more intelligent with street smarts due to the progression of electronic devices in both scholastic and societal cultures and a heightened sense of global awareness. All of this increases our teenagers’ self-perception of knowing more, needing less and discounting what authority figures offer.
From Thankless to Thankful Job Identity
Public opinion about teachers and school administrators appears to be edging in favor of our educators. Many people in Arizona, for example, support the push for better pay in the state as its Red for Ed teacher walk out receives national attention. And on May 2, 2018, President Trump presented this year’s National Teacher of the Year award to Mandy Manning from Washington State for her service to her students and the community.
“A teacher affects eternity.”
Henry Adams, author
Although recognition for the selfless work our educators provide has been a long time coming, what we expect of them may be an overzealous. While the weight of parenting should fall on a teenager’s legal guardian(s), life circumstances dictate a different reality.
Why Teachers See What Parents Cannot
The day-to-day in a family is wrought with what needs to happen (pay the bills, get from point A to point B) rather than setting time aside to focus on desired goals and map out a plan to reach them. Mothers, fathers and teenagers are overwhelmed with unhealthy distractions that can set up unhealthier outlets. At home, emotional intelligence is often bypassed leaving young adults submerged in a sea of uncertainty. It isn’t that parents don’t care, necessarily. That void can be filled with sports or other scholastic-based programs or activities, part-time jobs (if of age) or peer influence – the space that drug abuse thrives.
It is our teachers and school administrators that have more consistent access and interaction with teenagers. Think about it. Eight hours, five days a week, young adults are obligated to show up to an ongoing schedule of activities with performance benchmarks to be met. Each student, over time, will show teachers and other school staff what their personal norm is, thereby setting a level of expectations. This is the environment where changes are more readily evident, providing an early warning system for parents.
Emotions Can Get in the Way of Reality and Getting Help
It’s easy to get defensive. It’s hopeful to think that educators don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to your son or daughter. But if a teacher or school counselor calls, asks for a meeting, a type of intervention or just to say “Hey, I’m concerned there’s something going on with your child,” put emotions aside and be open to the conversation.
Some of what teachers witness before parents do can include:
- Drug or alcohol use
- Depression or anxiety
- Bullying (victim or aggressor)
As parents, we have a choice in how we consider teacher/child relationships. It is to our benefit to perceive educators as our partners in facilitating positive growth in our teenagers. Resistance only feeds negativity.
Recommended School Best Practices to Identify Substance Abuse
Public schools are funded by federal, state and local dollars. In addition, school staffers have resources to help better educate themselves on drug and alcohol use disorders and the behaviors in teenagers that may exhibit evidence for concern.
Here’s a document to download that lists recommended approaches for parents and teachers in how to address substance abuse in young adults.
Talking about drugs and alcohol before they become problematic is best. Try to take a scientific approach in discussions as it takes the focus off moral aspects of addiction and keeps it on a less emotional, judgmental playing field. Besides, teenagers are fascinated with how stuff works. What better stuff is there to discuss than the human brain and how our choices affect our physical and behavioral outcomes?
Concerned About Teenage Drug or Alcohol Use? Ask About Our Young Adult Programs
Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Arizona Addiction Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2007. Call 888-512-1705.
Authored by Melanie Stern, Content Director for Scottsdale Recovery Center, Arizona Addiction Recovery Centers and Cohn Media, LLC. Writer and broadcaster covering the following industries: addiction rehab, health care, entertainment, technology and advocate of clear communication, positivity and humanity at its best.