Problem or crisis… When should you start worrying?

Family in crisis

The first days of school can be exciting, or nerve-wracking.  Either way, everyone’s on their best behavior, planning for the best year ever.  You and your kids settle back into your routines.  Hopefully, all goes smoothly and a month or two later the kids are still on track.  But what if they’re not?  Or what if you’re starting to see little behavior changes?  Some parents mentally turn a small concern into a big problem and exacerbate the situation.

If this happens to you, I’m about to help you put a new spin on it so you can stay calm, your kids will remain calm and receptive, and the crisis can go back to being just a problem.  You can feel the fear and tame it. You can do this.

Family in crisis

Do you have a tendency to see problems as crises?  You’re in good company.  It’s called ‘catastrophizing’ and you’d be surprised at how many people do it.  I’m guilty of this from time to time, and have a tip to help you settle down and figure out how to ramp down the anxiety.

When something happens that gets your heart racing or quickens your breath (which can be frequent with your kids), STOP.  Take a slow, deep breath and think.  A crisis is something dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Is it a crisis or a problem to be solved?  Are you turning a molehill into a mountain by projecting way too far into the future?  Maybe it doesn’t merit that much drama and angst.  Stay in the moment and decide what must be done today.

Each of us has a different threshold for distressing things.  From missed homework to a major illness, they can all feel critical. It depends upon how different it is from what you consider ‘normal’.  If your child is a student who excels, missing assignments can feel like a crisis.  But is it?  It’s certainly a time to discuss it and explore what may have changed.  So you take the first step to find out what is going on in his life, and, if necessary, develop a plan of action or find resources to help him through it.  This lapse is a problem to be solved.

Problem or crisis?  You decide how much drama it deserves.

Back to school with ease and calm

The mornings are cooler and stores are advertising back-to-school supplies and clothes. Argh!  The first day of school is just around the corner.  The summer weather persists for another month or two, but the ‘lazy’ days of summer must come to an end. And so the cycle of summer-to-school begins again.

Are you ready for the kids to go back to school?  Are they ready?  If you’re like my family, we had mixed reviews about the end of summer and the inevitable return to school.  We loved the fresh air and sunshine, earning money at a summer job, and taking a family vacation. After a while, though, we all longed for a little more, or different, structure and predictability.

Most kids are looking forward to being with their friends from school.  Some relish the challenge of learning and achieving in the classroom.  (I hope you have one of those kids!) Others need the structure and goal-oriented nature of school and extra-curricular activities.

How do you make the transition back to school easier on all of you?

1.    Get excited about the shopping AND establish some guidelines.  Going from store to store to store is not only exhausting, it’s a recipe for overwhelm and indecision.  Make clear before you head out:
a.  what’s on your shopping list.
b.  what your budget is.
c.  how many stores you will go to.

Your time, money and patience are in limited supply.  That’s reality.  If your maximum number of stores is three, make sure your kids understand that by the time you get to the third store, a decision is expected, or the items are not purchased. It’s a great opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of what they need and want, to examine quality and quantity, and how to spend within their means (well, your means, if you’re paying for it).

If you shop online, these guidelines can apply.  I still encourage you to build in a little shopping expedition.  There’s a different energy to getting out of the house, and to using all your senses in the shopping experience.

In the end, the biggest piece of this is about setting expectations before you go.  You can avoid a lot of aggravation with a little bit of preparation.

2.    Buy something special for the first day.  Even high-schoolers will appreciate this.  Back in the days when we had far less, that new pair of shoes was a big deal.  Most of you can provide these things all year long, so finding something special may take some thought.  It doesn’t need to be big, like a smart phone or other expensive item.  It could be an accessory that wasn’t part of the original need-to-have list, a gift certificate, a manicure, or something  inspiring to hang in their locker.

Alarm clock3.    Ease back into routines.  Of course the first one that comes to mind is sleep and the dreaded alarm clock.  Take the remaining days or weeks to gradually change bedtimes and waking-up times.  What other routines can you begin to add back

4.    Allow them to express any anxiety.  Will I make the grades?  Will I keep all my friends?  What about new teachers?  How do I fit in?  Even if they have a good track record in these areas, they are likely feeling stressed about it and should be encouraged to express it.  Above all, do not discount what they are feeling!  They’re entitled to their feelings, whether you agree with them or not.  This could be the time to talk (a conversation, not a lecture) about coping with stress.  Let them know that there’s normal stress and stress overload, and you’re going to check in with them if you see signs of them moving into overload.  They may protest, but they’ll also be relieved to know you have their back.

5.    Share your own stories about school.  It wasn’t always fun.  Your kids can appreciate the difficulties of school – both work and relationships – and be inspired by how you handled it.  Growing up is confusing, and you are proof that you can live through these baffling times.  Whether you liked learning or not, in hindsight you know it was (mostly) useful.  And to quote the late Robin Williams, “Nothing I learned was wasted.”

Do you have any special memories or tips about the back-to-school experience?   You can share them below.

Communication blunders: What you heard is not what I meant!

From a TV commercial –
Scene: Parents are in the kitchen. Daughter enters, hugs mom and screams,
“I just got into one of the best schools in the country!”

What the father heard:
“I just got into one of the most expensive schools in the country!”

This is a great example of how what you hear is not necessarily what was said, or intended. We see the world through our personal filter. The words that come into our ears can come out scrambled because of attitude, emotions, fatigue and stress levels. You’ve made it about you, even if, in that moment, it isn’t about you at all and it impacts all your communication.

Let’s go back to the commercial. The father, concerned about how to pay for this fantastic education, has already shifted into worry mode. The pressure is on, and he may not be able to express sincere joy for her accomplishment. If so, his daughter is going to be disappointed at his lack of excitement. This incredible moment is now heavy with anxiety on his part, and sadness or resentment on hers.

Conversely, remember that when you are sharing something and don’t get the response you are hoping for, it probably has little or nothing to do with you. Your listener is focused on how this impacts him or her.

So what’s a parent to do to improve communication and sharing?

1)  Put your listening ears on. Be attentive and engaged in really hearing what the other person is saying.
2)  Take yourself out of the picture. Easier said than done, but it is necessary at the time. People are trying to tell you something that is important to them. Do your best to put your reactions and needs on hold.
3)  Put the other person first. Let her have her moment. Be happy or comforting, or whatever is needed.

Now that you have refrained from reacting emotionally, it’s time for you to consider what this conversation means to you. Sit with it for while, if you need to.

1) Identify your concerns or fears. Be honest about them.
2) Share them more calmly with those who should know.
3) What is it you desire to accomplish or change?
4) What are the steps you need to take?
5) Who do you need to ask for help?

Whatever you are feeling is real; however, how you react and respond can make all the difference… for both of you. Be in the moment. Hear what is said. Hear what is meant.

6 steps to help your teen become the creator and master of his universe.


You are surrounded by people, and yet you feel alone.  Your kids are connected to others through their devices, but don’t really ‘feel’ connected.  Their relationships can change in the blink of an eye or in a keystroke.  Everyone goes their own way, busy, busy, busy.  In spite of texting, email and social networks, we’re all, parents and kids, feeling more disconnected and less supported than ever before.

It’s understandable, and it’s reversible. It’s also important that your teen take an active role in creating this connection, this village.  They need to know that they have the power to change this, and need your understanding and encouragement to be the change-makers.  It isn’t always easy, but it is definitely doable.

Let’s first take a look back to see how that network of support has changed over time.  You’ve heard the expression “It takes a village to raise a child.”  I believe that’s true.  When I was a child the network of people who were involved in my life, and my parents’ lives, was larger.  We depended more on people in our community to look out for us.   That included lots of neighbors.  Growing up in a six-story walk-up apartment building, we kids were in and out of multiple apartments every day, and had, in effect, multiple moms and families.  Parents called upon each other to fill in, when necessary.  They disciplined all the kids, as needed.  Neighborhood store owners recognized us, too.  The neighborhood was our extended family, and it nourished us and enriched our lives.

That entity of community, of neighborhood as family, has been disappearing for decades.  I, for one, miss that personal touch and connection, and know many others who yearn for it.  We all want to feel that we belong, that we’re not isolated. We have it in our power to revive at least parts of ‘the village’ and your children can be empowered creators, instead of passive bystanders.

Unknown How can teens become the creators and masters of their universe, and of a caring and supportive community? They have more influence than they know in building this network.  Here are six steps, filled with insights for your kids, written as if you’re speaking directly to them.

1.  Family Network -  We will love you no matter what.  But being part of a family means you have to do your part. Do your best to avoid sarcasm and put-downs.  We really appreciate it when you show interest and concern for us.  We have feelings, too, so be a willing listener when one of us needs to talk. Offer to help when you see something that needs to be done.  These will all go a long way in earning trust and gratitude… and our generosity, too!

2.  Parent-Teen CommunicationParents and kids will disagree.  Period. It doesn’t have to end in a battle, though.  There’s something you need to understand:  parents worry about their kids.  It can come out sounding like criticism, a lecture, advice and a battle for control.   Please be patient with us.  Let us know when you just need us to listen and when you actually want some help.  

3.  Other Adults in Your Life – While we so much want to be the person you turn to, we’re okay with you having another adult in your life that you trust.  We’re more than okay with it, we’re grateful and relieved, as long as it means you are getting what you need.  There are so many people in your world to whom you can turn for guidance, mentoring and support:  teachers, a favorite aunt or uncle, a friend’s parent, a coach, neighbor, grandparent, someone in your house of worship.  All you have to do is ask. teen and elderly neighbor

4.  Your Neighborhood – You probably know more people in the neighborhood than we do, but it can still be an impersonal kind of place.  You can build connections (and a good reputation for all kids).  Get to know your neighbors.  Smile and greet them when you see them outside.  Learn their names. Your elderly neighbors will be especially appreciative of a polite and caring young person.  They may be grateful for help with carrying groceries in and shoveling the steps.  They also love to share their lives and experience, so ask them about themselves, or to teach you how to do something.  If they are missing their own grandchildren, they will enjoy time with you.  I know, they are old and don’t understand everything about your world… but nobody loves you (and listens to you) quite the way they do.  You are an amazing force for positive attitudes and cooperation in your neighborhood, and for bringing people and generations together.

5.  School -  You may not like being there, but you can make it a place where you and others feel supported, and feel that you fit in.  When you just ‘put in your time’ you won’t feel that you belong to a community.  Join a club, try out for a team, volunteer in the media center.  Just as you do in your family, show respect and concern for others. Be the one who reaches out to those who are left out.  Don’t be a bystander:  take a stand against bullying.  Encourage others to follow your lead.  In other words, become a leader and make your school a safe and welcoming place for everyone.

6.  Parent-School ConnectionTalk to us about school.  And please remind us that you’ll share your day, only not the minute you walk in the door.  We forget that you need to shift out of ‘school mode’ after spending your whole day there.  (We’re still having trouble adjusting to the fact that you’re not seven years old any more, needing help with everything and sharing your whole world with us.)  Be sure to give us papers from school that we need to see.  Oh, and ask us for help once in a while.  We still like to feel needed.

Do you see the potential they have to shape their world?  to learn to advocate for themselves?  to be people of strength and integrity?  to build bridges with compassion and concern?  to become leaders? It’s not your job to do all this for them. 

Your job is to nudge them into the community, so they can be part of it and shape it into a place in which they will thrive.  

9 tips for guiding children into technology and social media

It’s never too late to establish guidelines around technology, but the earlier you do it, the better. Today’s tip covers multiple aspects about introducing younger kids to technology and social media. If your kids are older, the genie is already out of the bottle; however, you can revisit the rules already in place, or create/co-create rules if you have none. Depending upon how your summer is going and what activities your kids are, or aren’t doing, this can be just what you need to redirect your kids… and maybe you, too.

The virtual, digital world is your kids’ reality. It’s the only world they know. You can’t control it all; however, when you hand over this technology, you need to be clear about the ground rules. Here are some ways to set the expectations:

1) Start talking about it when they are very young, before you hand then the iPad or smart phone.

2) Model careful and limited use.

3) Remind them to limit screen usage. You can’t ban it, but you can redirect them. They were born into a digital world and needed to be reminded there is another world out there.

4) Motivate them to exercise and get more physical activity. The more time they spend watching a screen, the higher the risk of weight gain.

5) Encourage activities that invite socializing or other activities that involve other kids. Guide them to volunteering, hobbies and learning something new… live and in-person.

6) Ask them about the sites they visit, and you visit them, too. Learn what’s on them, and who’s on them.

7) Establish rules about privacy and not sharing passwords.

8) Set time and place limits for cell phones.

9) Create screen rules together.

It’s not your job to make sure your kids are happy.

I love Pharrell Williams’ song “Because I’m Happy”. It’s an upbeat, catchy tune, and you have to love the videos of all those people dancing.

But… in real life, there’s way too much emphasis on our kids striving to be happy. It just breaks your heart when they’re sad or disappointed, doesn’t it? And yet, it’s inevitable. As much as you’d like to, you can’t prevent it. We all know there is unpleasantness in life.  In fact, you’d probably admit that those difficult times made you stronger.  But back to your kids.  if you can’t control it, what is your role? You have the power to guide them through it when the inevitable happens. This is the greatest gift of all. Let’s take a closer look.Happy and sad faces
There’s a crazy belief, and it spread like wildfire, that kids must be happy all the time, that it’s not okay to be feeling whatever is… well, the opposite. Trophies for the winning and losing teams, intervening with teachers, offering food and ‘things’ to compensate for loss, saying ‘yes’ when you ought to say ‘no’, encouraging them to be upbeat when they’re sad… they don’t bring true happiness (whatever that word means).

I, too, have been guilty of saying to my kids, “I just want you to be happy.” Of course I want them to be happy. But if there’s one thing I know I can’t guarantee for them, it’s that.

Then what is your job in the drama of their lives?

Your job is… to hold their hand when they’re miserable.
Your job is… to walk with them through sadness and disappointment.
Your job is… to express confidence that they can get through it.
Your job is… to help them figure out how to bounce back.
Your job is… to guide them in finding healthy ways to cope.
Your job is… to be their parent.

No, wait. It really is all about you.

We hear a lot about our children being part of the ‘me’ generation.  And to an extent that’s true.  “Give me, buy me, get me, you know nothing, the world revolves around me and my needs and feelings.”  In their eyes, it’s all about them.  We expect it, and know that it’s part of adolescence.  But… how you deal with it is all about YOU.  Getting your message across and making a lasting, positive impact on them is about you.  What you feel and how you respond is up to you.  (See the end of the article for linked articles to support and motivate you in taking your first steps.)

You know how your kid always knows what to say or do to aggravate you? How she has an unproductive (read ‘negative’) attitude, pushes all kinds of boundaries, and drives you crazy?  You may yell or bite your tongue, punish or ignore, but every action elicits a reaction from you.  It’s actually a law of physics.

Guess what?  It starts out being about her, but ends up being about you.  Yes, you are always the center of the universe, even when it feels like it’s about someone else.  Whatever your reaction, it’s about you.
I know, you’d like it to be all about your child, or your spouse, or your co-worker.   Then you can say that ‘they’ need to change, nudge them to do so, and be annoyed when they don’t.  It takes the focus off you.  The fact is that the only one you can change is you.  The only actions and reactions you can control are yours…. and remember, if you let your emotions rule your reactions, you’re definitely not in control of anything.

Your deep desire is to be a positive influence on your children, showing them how to be productive, respond to stress in healthy ways, and be in loving, respectful relationships.  That doesn’t happen when you are sidetracked and lose your cool.  It doesn’t happen with nagging, lecturing and punishing.

When you work on you, you can have a positive impact on them.  How do we describe the parent who is doing this work?  This parent:

* is aware of strong emotions as they arise (instead of reacting emotionally).
* waits to respond in stressful situations (instead of saying something  she’ll regret or not enforce.
* stays focused and on topic (instead of letting a child distract her from the issue at hand).
* keeps the bigger picture in mind (because often the issue is more fundamental than whatever the child just said or did)
* understands that her child is watching and learning from what she does (even when her child protests that she couldn’t care less).
* holds herself to a high standard (at least as high as the one she sets for her child, in all things).
* examines her own attitudes and actions (instead of placing blame elsewhere).

This list places high expectations for parenting.  In your hectic life, filled with non-stop demands and responsibilities, it feels daunting, undoable.  It is doable, though, and doable by you.  As with all big projects (and this is a big one!), you have to start small.  Read through these points again and find one that you’re willing to try.  Below you will find links to previous articles that give strategies and insights to help you begin.

Being a parent can be more satisfying and rewarding when you’re the healthy center of your universe.  What are you waiting for?

Emotional Intelligence
Name it to tame it
4 steps to stand your ground and outlast your teen
Watch out, because your kids are always watching you.
You have the answers.  Just start listening.
Be teachable.

Who knew cleaning toilets could improve self-esteem?

I once asked a mom about what her 13-year old son did to help around the house.  “Oh, nothing,” she replied.  “All I ask is that he do his schoolwork and get good grades.  I take care of the rest.”  That was already a tip-off to me about some of the difficulties in her family.  In a way, this young man was allowed to call the shots and to believe that the world revolved around him.  Let’s get real.  Grades are important, but they are not the only factor in determining self-confidence, self esteem and future success.

High self esteem does comes from good grades, athletics, and performing arts, but there’s more to this picture.  Even the mundane – especially the mundane – can build a sense of self-worth and competence in children of all ages.  Children must also know that their participation in all aspects of family life is important and appreciated. Let me start the list for you:  mowing the grass, cleaning toilets, organizing a closet, clearing the table, doing laundry, putting away groceries, dusting, changing sheets.  These are not just chores. They are life skills and confidence boosters.  (Yes, I really did say that cleaning the toilet can boost your kid’s confidence… as part of the bigger picture, of course.)

There’s one thing you must do first:  let go of your need for perfection and attention to detail.  Although you can probably do it more efficiently yourself, it’s time to sit on your hands and zip your lip. If the bed’s not made perfectly, who cares?  A few dust bunnies left after sweeping?  Not important.  Practice makes progressYou get help, and know that you’re preparing your child for life after the cocoon of your home.  He develops practical skills and feels competent.

He may not enjoy the work, but it’s necessary because:

1.  He needs to know how to do these things.
2.  You can use the help.
3.  Every member of the family must contribute in some way.
4.  He’s part of something bigger than himself.
5.  Not everything is fun.  This is the real world.
6.  He’ll have a story to tell about something icky.
7.  There’s a sense of satisfaction when it’s finally done.
8.  One day he’ll want this from his own kids!

I know you have a to-do list for the house.  Who will be on your work crew today?

Are you your kid’s supplier? What you must know about Rx drug abuse (part 2)

Last year I worked with a dad who shared a variety of concerns about his son.  One was the possibility that his son was ‘experimenting’ with drugs.  By our sixth session, he confirmed that it was much more than dabbling, and began the process of learning about an inpatient drug treatment program.  Prevention and intervention are critical, and parents are the first line of defense.

Where teens get their Rx drugs was in last week’s article; however, it bears repeating.

In a 2012 Monitoring the Future survey, 50% of high school seniors said that it is very easy to get opioid drugs other than heroin (e.g. Oxycontin).  Most get them from their own home, friends and relatives.  Every medicine cabinet or night table is a potential source of free drugs’, making prescription drug abuse a real and serious problem.

Your babysitter may be going through your meds.  Your kids may be looking in Grandma’s bathroom.  (Who would have thought that Grandma has a ‘stash’?)  Older teens and young adults are showing up at open houses and taking meds from the bathroom.

Kids will empty out medicine cabinets in preparation for a “pharming party.” When they get together at someone’s house, they dump all the pills into a bowl and choose them like brightly-colored M&Ms.

What are the side-effects and consequences of abusing prescription drugs?

* stimulants -  paranoia, dangerously high body temps, irregular heartbeat

* opioids – drowsiness,  nausea, slowed breathing.  They damage the brain in the areas of memory and learning, similar to Alzheimer’s Disease.

* depressants – slurred speach, shallow breathing, disorientation, lack of coordination, seizures.

* Because the teen brain is still developing, they are especially vulnerable and susceptible to these drugs and addiction.

* Brain circuitry has reward pathways.  Addictive drugs provide the reward.  Tolerance to these drugs is enormous and progressive.

* Accidental death from overdose

What about heroin?

As tolerance to prescription drugs grows, the pleasure center of the brain demands more and stronger rewards. When the free supply of Rx drugs runs out, and the cost of buying them on the street becomes prohibitive, the next step is heroin.  For $5-10, the cost of a pack of cigarettes, our kids can buy a dose of high-potency heroin.  There are also dangerous substitutes, such as the recently publicized “krokodil”, the poor man’s heroin.  This substance rots the flesh.  It is made from a combination of codeine, gasoline, iodine, phosphorous and other chemicals.  Revolting, and deadly.

Heroin overdoses and deaths are reported every day.  “Most fatalities occur before patients get to the hospital.  Overdoses often take place over one to three hours.  People just slowly stop breathing; often they are assumed to be sleeping deeply, or they are alone.”

You may have heard about a relatively new antidote to heroin overdose, Naloxone.  It has been available for about 30 years.  “It can be administered via needle or as a nasal spray, and it works by displacing heroin from its receptors in the brain and rapidly restoring the overdose victim to consciousness and normal breathing.”  Some states are considering making this antidote available to family and friends of heroin users.  Read this article, How to Stop Heroin Deaths,  (from which the above quotes are taken).

Warning signs of drug use

(Please note that although you may see some of these signs, it does not mean your teen is using; however, you should not ignore them.  If you see six or more warning signs, it’s time for a serious talk and seeking professional help, whether the problem is drugs, depression, etc.)

At home:
* loss of interest in family activities
* disrespect for family rules
* withdrawal from normal responsibilities
* physically or verbally abusive
* sudden increase or decrease in appetite
* disappearance of money and valuables
* use of incense, air fresheners, and mouth wash to mask the odor of marijuana

At school:
* truancy or always being late
* sudden drop in grades
* sleeping in class
* showing defiance to authority
* reduced memory and attention span
* quitting extra-curricular activities
* not doing homework, and poor work performance

Physical and Emotional Signs:
* smell of marijuana or alcohol on breath or body
* unusual mood swings
* argumentative, paranoid, confused, anxious, destructive
* little to no sharing of personal problems
* overly tired or hyperactive
* drastic weight loss or gain
* always needs money, or has excessive amounts of money
* unhappy and depressed

What to do if you suspect drug use

This can be excruciating.  No matter what the evidence, most parents are reluctant to acknowledge that their child has a substance abuse problem. Anger, guilt and a sense of failure are common reactions, and it is important to avoid blaming yourself.  Doing the hard thing isn’t easy, but it is necessary. Stay focused on getting the help your child (and the rest of the family) needs.

* Lock the liquor cabinet.  Dispose of unused prescription meds and keep the rest locked up.

* Follow your intuition.  You know when something is not right.  Whether it’s drugs or something else, it needs attention.

* Have an intervention.  This can be as simple as a conversation to express your concern or voice your suspicions (without accusing or judging). Discuss it with your spouse/partner first.  Do this when your child is sober and you’re calm. (You may have to wait a day or two.)  If your child is resistant  to talking about it – which is to be expected – ask for help from a guidance counselor, family doctor or local treatment center.

* Come prepared for your intervention.  Look for signs and symptoms.  You don’t have to find drug paraphernalia to make your case.  It can be observations of behaviors and symptoms.  (You smelled like smoke. Your eyes were red. You’ve been sneaking out.)

* Take note of changes in behavior, personal habits, schoolwork, friends.

* Keep track of how often your teen breaks the rules or does something suspicious.

* Search for drugs and drug paraphernalia.  Some parents see this as an invasion of privacy.  But if you need proof, and are committed to acting on your suspicions, it’s time to collect the evidence.  If you find something, be prepared for their anger and outrage, and stay the course.

I highly recommend the comprehensive Intervention Guide from The Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Are you your kid’s supplier? What you MUST know about Rx drug abuse.

This week I attended a symposium called “Do No Harm”, a half-day event geared to doctors.  While there were moments of medical terminology that were beyond me, for the most part it was understandable, informative, and downright scary.  The article, “Are you your kid’s supplier?  What you MUST know about prescription drug abuse” is a must read!  I have divided it into two sections, with part two coming next week.  There is a lot of information (although it is just the tip of the iceberg) and some of it may surprise you, so please read carefully.  You can also listen to the article.

This is an epidemic.  The number of accidental drug overdose deaths (over 40,000) now exceeds that of automobile fatalities, with as much as 60% attributed to prescription drugs.  I’m giving you the highlights, along with links to some sites that can provide more detailed information.

Please don’t take the attitude of “not my kid.”  You just never know, and we’re often surprised by who the victims are.  The ease with which our children can obtain these drugs, and their relatively blasé attitude about using them should be taken seriously. Even if your child doesn’t use, he or she knows others who do.  I guarantee it.  I don’t like to use scare tactics, but you must pay attention, for the sake of ALL the children.  You need to look out for all of them.


When you have surgery or are injured, the doctor readily prescribes painkillers, as many as 30 to start with.  Forget for the moment that it’s way more than most people need, and you use few, if any, of the pills.  It used to be that you put the bottle in your medicine chest and forgot about it.  Months or years later you noticed it, and found all the pills still inside the bottle.

Not so anymore. Your medicine chest is a goldmine for anyone looking for a quick, free fix, and teens and young adults are taking more than their share.

Let’s take a look at some numbers:

- The number of accidental drug overdose deaths (over 40,000) now exceeds that of automobile fatalities, with as much as 60% attributed to prescription drugs.
– There is one death every 20 minutes due to drug overdose.
– Prescription opiates are the conduit to heroin, which is cheap and highly addictive.
– One in six (1/6) teens use prescription drugs to get high.
– The United States prescribes/uses 80% of the world’s supply of medical opiates.
– Every day, about 2,000 teens use prescription drugs for the first time, without a doctor’s supervision.

But those are just numbers.  Here’s what you really need to know:

This generation suffers from boredom, entitlement, and the mistaken belief that they must always be happy.  When they are without purpose, overindulged, and feeling uncomfortable emotions, there is a general acceptance that it’s okay to use drugs and alcohol to feel something, or to numb the unpleasant feelings.  It used to be a big deal to get drunk or high.  Now, it’s just something to do. They live in a culture where it’s fun, and another activity to stave off boredom.  Using these drugs goes way beyond their original purpose of pain relief.

Too many teens (and adults) mistakenly believe that abusing prescription drugs is safer than illegal drugs. Not so.  That’s why prescription drugs are taken under a doctor’s direction.  They can have dangerous short- and long-term consequences, not to mention the dangers of mixing them with other drugs and alcohol.

The stereotype of the junkie – poor, homeless, shooting up in an alley – is over.  Today’s addict is more likely to be middle- or upper middle-class, living in the suburbs and luxury high-rise as well as the inner city. They include high-functioning executives, moms and dads. Too many of them are our children, or children we know.

What are the most common Rx drugs they are taking, or rather stealing?  What are their street names?

Oxycodone/Oxycontin, Vicodin, Hydrocodone, Morphine, Fentanyl
(Hillbilly heroin, oxy, OC, perc, happy pills, vikes)

Central Nervous System Depressants (CNS)
Barbiturates – Mebaral, Nembutal
(barbs, reds, red birds, phennies, tooies, yellows, yellow jackets)
Benzodiazepines – Valium, Xanax, Halcion, Ativan
(candy, downers, sleeping pills, tranks)
Sleep Medications – Ambien, Sonata, Lunesta
(A-minus, zombie pills)

Concerta, Adderall, Dexedrine, Ritalin
(Skippy, smart drug, Vitamin R, bennies, black beauties, roses, hearts, speed, uppers)

Where do teens get their prescription drugs?

In a 2012 Monitoring the Future survey, 50% of high school seniors said that it is very easy to get opioid drugs other than heroin (e.g. Oxycontin).  Most get them from their own home, friends and relatives.  Every medicine cabinet or night table is a potential source of free drugs.

Your babysitter may be going through your meds.  Your kids may be looking in Grandma’s bathroom.  (Who would have thought that Grandma has a ‘stash’?)  Older teens and young adults are showing up at open houses and taking meds from the bathroom.

Kids will empty out medicine cabinets in preparation for a “pharming party.” When they get together at someone’s house, they dump all the pills into a bowl and choose them like brightly-colored M&Ms.

(Next week:  Side effects and consequences of abusing prescription drugs, the escalating use of heroin, and warning signs of drug use.)


More information/resources:

Commonly abused drugs, including prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, and other sources you’ve never thought of.

Slide show to help you identify the pills.

The most addictive prescription drugs on the market.

Top 8 reasons why teens try alcohol and drugs.

Teen pitfall:  stress can lead to depression, drug use.