Kids impact kids. Often, we wish they didn’t. Sometimes, we’d like to talk them out of it. As adults who love them, we try to figure out how to make our voices louder than the voices of their peers. But, the truth is that as our children move toward adolescence, our voices become quieter and the voices of other kids become much louder. And there is not a lot we can do about it.
This can be especially concerning as we hear the statistics about drug and alcohol use among tweens today…statistics like
*10% of 9 to 10 year olds have started drinking
*nearly 1/3 of kids have their first drink by age 13
*1/4 of 14 year-olds have reported drinking in the past year (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
**40% of individuals who start drinking before the age of 13 will develop alcohol problems later in life (www.adolescent-substance-abuse.com)
***For 12 and 13 year-olds, inhalants are the most reported class of drug use. The most common inhalants are household items such as shoe polish, glue, and toluene (National Survey on Drug Use and Health)
****1 in 13 sixth graders have smoked marijuana
****1 in 5 seventh graders have smoked marijuana (National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign—About.com)
It’s enough to make you want to follow Mark Twain’s advice and find a pickle barrel to store your children in for their adolescent years. The problem, however, is that the interaction that we fear will hurt can be one of the most profound tools adolescents can use in the war against drugs and alcohol.
The Tweenage Brain
From hormones to brain growth spurts to mean girls and competitive boys, tween-aged children already have a lot stacked against them. In our counseling offices, older teens will repeatedly tell us that their middle school years were the most difficult they’ve faced thus far. Their brains are growing at a rate that literally causes them to short-circuit, affecting their confidence. They are just feeling the beginnings of disappointment—both in their friendships and in themselves. On any given day, they can be bullied, laughed at, left out, or just plain ignored. It is tough to be a tween.
Escape can be an alluring concept. Listen to the words of one teenager reflecting on these tumultuous tween years. “I was starting to find out people can let you down, so I wanted to ease the pain. I wanted to find something that wouldn’t let me down, something that would make me feel good, make me not think about the feeling of being sad or upset or let down. I started using drugs and drinking and quickly found out it made me not feel at all.”
Basically, alcohol or drugs provide an easy out. Disappointment doesn’t exist. Your friends don’t have the power to hurt your feelings. Nothing does when you are drunk or high. And, what we have discovered in our counseling offices is that it is often the lonely kids who finally find their acceptance in the company of alcohol or drugs.
Great Minds Think Alike—or Not
Kids who are hurting use all of these substances as a way to numb the pain of rejection. And it is the very kids who have been rejected that are often the most accepting. So, one hurting twelve year-old finds another and teaches him how to “huff” his school glue. A seventh grade girl shows her friends how to hide vodka in a water bottle. And peer pressure begins. It takes the impulsiveness of youth, mixes it with a little loneliness and a lot of adventure and creates a dangerous situation.