Schools are closed, for many kids that means less structure and adult supervision. We know that a lot of first time alcohol and drug use happens during unstructured time like the summer months or winter break. With the added stress and anxiety of the current environment it is important parents and adults take steps to protect kids.
One of the biggest concerns with kids being at home is increasing access to alcohol and other drugs. For example, we know that the number one place teens get access to alcohol and prescription drugs that they misuse is at home. For that reason, it is important that parents and other adults take steps to prevent this.
What Can Parents Do?
First, it is important that parents limit their teen(s) access to prescription drugs by keeping them locked up. Parents should also monitor their prescriptions periodically to ensure that none have gone missing.
Be aware of the types of prescription drugs that are most commonly abused, such as pain relievers, sedatives, tranquilizers, and stimulants, so that they may inform their child of the risks associated with them.
Have MULTIPLE conversations about prescription drug misuse with their teen(s). Reiterating the dangers of prescription drug misuse is important as teens grow, develop, and face new life-situations.
Explain the differences between appropriate and inappropriate prescription use and know what drugs are in your home.
Discuss whether any of the medications in your home can be abused with your doctor.
Be familiar with the warning signs of prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse.
In addition to the physical precaution of locking medications to protect kids, it is important to understand the stress and anxiety individuals, especially kids, may be experiencing because of the outbreak of COVID-19.
The ability to deal with stress is actually a learned behavior and many of us have learned some bad habits that numb the effects of stress rather than dealing with it.
What are Numbing Behaviors?
Numbing behaviors are all those small and big things people do to escape their current list of worries. Some are harmless, some are good, and some can be detrimental to the person’s health and wellbeing. These behaviors range from surfing the internet or playing online games, to shopping or putting in extra hours at work, even drinking or taking prescription medications.
What Can Parents do?
• Think about and rehearse scripts for talking with your kids about COVID-19. Kids take cues from caregivers about how anxious they need to be about a topic. Seek out resources and media to assist in your preparation.
• Talk about the situation openly. Most kids elementary-aged and up have heard about COVID-19 or coronavirus. Avoiding the topic or providing blanket reassurances is more likely to feed anxiety. If kids bring up the topic, let them know you are glad they brought it up. This increased the likelihood that they will come to you with further anxieties or questions.
• Don’t give more information than is requested. Part of a developmentally appropriate approach is to answer the question your child asks, but not necessarily more than that. Check to make sure they understood your response by asking them to repeat back what they heard, and let them know you are open to more questions. Reassure your child that it is normal to feel scared or anxious.
• Help your school-aged child and adolescent set boundaries on their information flow in the same way you are setting your own boundaries. Help them identify factual sources of information and set appropriate intervals to check in. Encourage them to use their media literacy skills to question the messages they are getting from various information channels. Consider limiting media exposure or consuming media with your child so that you can be available to interpret and explain information.
• Keep as many routines intact as possible. For kids who may be out of school and/or have extra-curricular activities canceled, it is helpful to keep other routines, like mealtimes and bedtimes. To the extent possible, for kids who are at home for longer periods of time, set up a structure. Collaborate with your child to come up with a loose schedule, such as an outdoor activity and lunch prep in the morning, and a movie and homework time in the afternoon.
• Find fun ways to maintain contact with individuals your child is separated from, such as elderly grandparents or classmates at school. Set up opportunities to maintain and even grow connections, such as reading a book to grandparents on video call or sending postcards to friends.
• Encourage physical activity and time outside, where possible. Both staying active and having opportunities to be in nature are helpful with mitigating anxiety and building resilience.
• Use this as an opportunity to teach distress tolerance skills that will be helpful to your kids in any situation. This is a great time to learn about purposeful breathing, guided imagery, distraction, and other skills.