Partner Spotlight: Staying Connected During Break

Photo of Margaret Polovchak of OMNI Youth Services
As a working parent of a 14-year-old son, ensuring his summer safety seems a daunting task.  His summer schedule, typical among his peers who are all too young to legally work, includes 4 hours of summer school for 3 weeks plus driver’s education training one night a week for 10 weeks — leaving an incredible amount of unsupervised, unstructured time.
At OMNI Youth Services we see first hand how summer can be a high-risk time. Teens often report their initiation into and/or an increase in high-risk behaviors, such as sexual activity, substance use, violence, and delinquency.  These overall poor, risky choices are due in large part to the underdeveloped prefrontal lobes responsible for executive decision making.
Graph of substance use among high school seniors 1975-2015However, there is good news to report on declining drug use and increasing abstinence among teens.  A 40-year study (1975-2015) of high school seniors compiled by Dr. DuPont, the first Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, shows alcohol and cigarette use trending downward while marijuana use has plateaued.
Open communication between parents and their teens has been an effective factor in reducing the use and abuse of these substances. To help your teen avoid the pressures and impulses to choose risky behaviors, my OMNI colleagues suggest the following:
  • Start with a conversation about family values. Then set clear, specific expectations.  Have your teen make a commitment to you before summer vacation starts.
  • Have regular check in times, in person or by phone.  Insist on a call versus a text.
  • Plan an unexpected stop at home for lunch or during the day, possibly before or after an appointment.
  • Have a list of small projects for your teen to do during the day, tied to built in rewards of value (e.g. a bonfire with friends, a desired activity, or a special family outing).
  • Host a supervised gathering of teens and observe them closely.
  • Connect with your child’s friends’ parents and talk to them openly about how they address the issue of unsupervised time and make a plan together.
As parents, we all want our children to be healthy, happy and to achieve the unique and individual best they each can be.

Margaret Polovchak

Manager Prevention Services, OMNI Youth Services

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