Ensuring Summer isn’t a “Gateway Season”
Summer provides teens with a much-needed break from scholastic responsibilities and offers extra daylight for them to participate in their favorite extracurricular activities and socialize with each other. Unfortunately, some teens also use this time to experiment with and misuse substances. June and July are the two months that see the most first-time substance use among teens. Let’s dive into why this uptick happens and how to prevent it.
Firstly, and most unsurprisingly, teens’ increased levels of free, unsupervised time contribute to higher rates of usage. Summer is also a popular season for festivals, concerts, bonfires, and parties, all of which are events that frequently involve substances. In situations like this where there is no adult chaperone to keep an eye on inappropriate behavior, teens are more likely to succumb to peer pressure in an attempt to “fit in” with the “cool kids.” Both phrases are in quotation marks because, as we get older, we come to realize that pressuring teens to abuse substances has never been cool.
Many are familiar with the term “gateway drug,” meaning a substance that makes young, impressionable teens more likely to try other substances in the future. But have you heard of summer labeled as the “gateway season?” As teens test boundaries for the first time, many might think substances won’t affect their health, relationships or scholastic performance, so they continue misusing them into the school year.
In addition to being mindful about teens who are new to exploring substances, it’s important for parents to know that teens who have already misused substances often see summertime as the opportune time to increase the frequency and intensity of their usage. Without homework and extracurriculars to keep them busy, many teens slip into cycles that can lead to substance abuse disorders.
So, what can you do as a parent?
- Share this data with your teen: Don’t keep this information to yourself. Teens who learn about the risks of substance misuse from their parents are 50% less likely to use drugs. If you explain the uptick in summer substance abuse and talk with your teen about strategies for resisting and standing up to peer pressure, teens will be more likely to be better prepared for it.
- Supervise when you can: Teens naturally want to escape parental supervision, but it’s your job as a parent to stay vigilant. If your teen and their friends want to go to the beach, offer to give them a ride and ask to join the fun in the sun while promising not to hover! If you can’t be available to oversee them or that dynamic won’t fly with your teen, consider asking friends, family (particularly older siblings that your teens look up to), and neighbors to step in for you.
- Set expectations and establish consequences – both negative and positive: Teens seem to cringe whenever the word “rule” is brought up, so set “expectations” instead. Openly discuss and align with your teen on these expectations and the corresponding consequences. Collectively agree on a curfew. Discuss situations and places where your teen tends to feel the most peer pressure and come up with a plan for how they can decline invites without impacting their friendships and social lives. Setting these expectations will help your teen stay out of trouble and know the corresponding (both negative and positive!) consequences for going against established expectations.
Summer is a time for sunshine, fireflies, and sleeping in, but if parents aren’t vigilant, it can also be a time for initial or ongoing substance abuse for teens. Continue to keep an eye on your teens this summer, into the fall and beyond to ensure they stay safe, healthy, and happy.
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