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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It Happened Last Night and These Kids Could Have Died

Do you want your kids running around like maniacs, vomiting and potentially stopping their hearts? If you don't read this story.

A neighborhood teenager was telling me yesterday about an incident involving these new drinks Axis, Max and Four Loko which combine the equivalent of five cups of caffeine and 12% alcohol in a single drink. Local kids trust me because they know I won't tell their parents. And she wasn't one of the kids involved anyway - she was talking about something that happened with kids she goes to school with.

In case you are living in Siberia, these new drinks sell for $4-$5.00 which is a cheap and an easy way for kids to get wasted. The problem is it's also deadly - alcohol plus massive quantities of caffeine makes kids not feel the alcohol's effect right away. And so they keep drinking. A long time ago we did this too except we took speed and then went out drinking at a bar in college. Someone discovered that you could drink more alcohol and not get tired if you took drugs too. One of my friends had a psychotic episode that I had to get her through - so did I. We stopped doing it not long after we started. We were lucky.

On a recent high school trip to a competition, the seniors decided to get the smart kids who'd never been drunk - wasted. They were in a hotel and I guess no one was watching. They combined these energy drinks with vodka and dared the younger kids to drink them? What do you think happened?

The kids who had never been drunk before took the dare of course, and got trashed. They went running around screaming through the hotel, one fell in the pool, almost drowned and had to be revived via mouth to mouth. Almost all of them threw up and several got violently ill.

Then they all went to bed and got up the next morning sick as dogs and went to the academic competition they were traveling for and did quite well.

I heard of this second hand but I know it's true. And of course, I've been sworn to secrecy. My message is very simple - when you hand your teens over to the school or another group to go out of town you need to know who is watching, how they will be watched and what the heck happens. From what I can tell the school has no idea and no one has told their parents.

This story has all the elements of how kids get drunk for the first time and bad things happen.

  • Older kids dare younger ones to do something they ordinarily wouldn't do.
  • They want to appear cool so they do it.
  • They get sick and maybe learn a lesson but the story is passed from kid to kid as a hilarious tale.
  • Parents and the schools never hear about it.

What can you do? Talk to your kids and keep talking to them. Get as much information as you can before you let them go anywhere that you're not going to be - particularly overnight. And when they come home listen to the conversations in the back of the car. The neighborhood kid told me. But most of them don't and since my own kids weren't involved and I don't know the kids who were I can't do anything except write this blog.

I'm not saying that these things don't happen - they do. They happened to me. But these caffeine/alcohol drinks are deadly and these kids were lucky. They should be taken off the shelves and banned.
The manufacturers who make these drinks should be locked in a room and made to consume massive quantities of them and left there to deal with the consequences.

This isn't about making money, this is about our children's safety. I don't know how they get up in the morning and live with themselves. I couldn't.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Does Anyone Who Writes Advice for Parents of Teens Have One?

I was having a discussion the other day with a peer about middle and high school kids and how much more sophisticated they are than we were. I grew up in a suburb of Long Island and I didn't even know what homosexuality was until high school.

I never met a lesbian until college - and the reason I found out that this girl was one is because I was seeing a guy she was really close friends with, she was beautiful and I was jealous. He wasn't even the one who told me she was gay but when I found out, I felt like a total idiot.

This blog is about science and alcohol but more and more it's also becoming about what it's like to raise a teenager and what signs we should watch out for. I have a 15 year-old and an 11 year-old who know so much more about sexuality, alcohol and drugs than I did at their age. My son is debating legalization of marijuana in his tenth grade class. When my daughter was in 3rd grade, I asked her if she knew what sex was and she turned around and explained it to me in detail. Then I felt better when she said Eeeew. 

But my point is the discussion we had was about how so much of the material developed for young adolescents is more appropriate for first graders than a 10 or 11 year-old. I saw a presentation awhile ago developed by a PR firm for middle school kids that featured a character named King Candy Tooth. First of all, how that ever saw the light of day I don't know. But when we asked about the age range of the kids and they proudly said middle school, the parents in the room shuddered. It was the equivalent of that board game that they play in pre-school these days - Shoots and Ladders. Middle school - my goodness.

Is it that those of us who have kids today live in a parallel universe from everyone else? Is it that the people who develop material for kids (I'm not talking about the schools but the contractors and many of the advice givers) have no clue what today's kids are like? 

Or is it more - as a teacher said recently that sarcasm was offensive to her but the kids responded well to it. 

Then there's the other end of the spectrum. A parent that I like very much, who is from Scandinavia, was worried about taking a group of 11 year-olds to the new Harry Potter movie because it might scare them. These same kids have read The Hunger Game - a dark, extremely readable and well told story about a futuristic world where everyone except the leaders are starving and two kids from every "district" that is left on earth are chosen to fight to the death in an arena each year with the entire world watching. 

The winner gets to live a better life. I read it and wouldn't let my daughter read it for awhile - even her brother recommended that she not read it because there is a scene where wild dogs rip apart a child. She wasn't old enough to understand the satire and political implications - she would just read it as is. This past summer I relented because it's so hard to get her to read anything. And she really liked it - but she chose not to read the sequel.

Kids today are so sophisticated - cartoony and silly is meaningless. They watched the World Trade Center fall. The news is violent and frightening. You can turn off the television in your own house - but you can't turn it off in someone else's. And your average 8 year-old knows how to get around every parental control on a computer.

Today I came across this material for parents that is so sanitized and unusable I had to share some of it. Maybe that's where this unawareness of what kids are really like is coming from - the Advice People. Here's a little bit about how to talk to your children about their sexuality. It's supposed to be for 8-18 year-olds. If I ever tried this stuff on my kids they would laugh me out of the house. 

This is from the 10 Essentials Your Teen Needs to Know about their Sexuality by a fairly popular advice columnist. 

Essential #2: He/She will need to become aware of how his/her sexuality is tied to his/her body image. Your teen will need to understand that how he/she feels about his/her self and his/her appearance is a big key to whether he/she will be happy with in his/her sex life. 

Essential #4: He/she needs to discover the normalcy of sexual feelings. As your teen learns to recognize them and accept them as normal feelings he/she will learn to deal with these feelings maturely. 

Essential #5:  He/she needs be taught about physical act of sex. Not only do teens need to know what intercourse is, he/she should also be made aware that intercourse is pleasurable and why it’s pleasurable for both sexes. What's more, teens need to learn that there is more than one way of having sex.

All I can say is WOW.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hypertexting Teens More Likely to Drink and Have Sex

The Associated Press reports that teens who text 120 times a day or more — and there seems to be a lot of them — are more likely to have had sex or used alcohol and drugs than kids who don't send as many messages, according to a new research study to be released today at a meeting of the American Public Health Association in Denver.
The new study is based on confidential surveys with more than 4,200 students in Cleveland high schools. The  authors told AP they aren't suggesting that "hyper-texting" leads to sex, drinking or drugs, but say it's startling to see an apparent link between excessive messaging and that kind of risky behavior.
The study concludes that a significant number of teens are very susceptible to peer pressure and also have permissive or absent parents, said Dr. Scott Frank, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
The study was done at 20 public high schools in the Cleveland area last year, and is based on confidential paper surveys of more than 4,200 students.
It found that about one in five students were hyper-texters and about one in nine are hyper-networkers — those who spend three or more hours a day on Facebook and other social networking websites. About one in 25 fall into both categories.
Hyper-texting and hyper-networking were more common among girls, minorities, kids whose parents have less education and students from a single-mother household, the study found.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Insidious Result of Bullying - Will Kids Drink to Escape?

I was talking to my son in the car this morning about bullying and all the media coverage it's been getting, and in all of his 15 year-old wisdom he said, "I don't think bullying in school really exists, I've never seen it." Wow.

I researched bullying and what affect it has on early alcohol use.While there is some research on this topic, I couldn't find anything that linked the two decisively. But it makes sense that bullying may well cause kids to try and escape through alcohol and drugs. It's documented that kids going through a divorce, death of a parent and other major family trauma, may try to escape into alcohol Anything that makes them feel better is a possibility.

I was bullied in elementary school and what was then called junior high. As the new kid in a new school and a new town, there was one girl in particular who tormented me. In those days you could fight back, and I did. I won a fight with her in front of a crowd of 4th graders behind the school. She never bothered me again, but even today the thought of that experience makes me shudder.

I've also had work issues with adult bullying as I'm sure many of us have. In my experience, male bosses are the worst offenders, and the research data bears this out. While sexual harassment is a prosecutable offense, there are no laws in this nation that allow those who are bullied much recourse unless you can link it to discrimination.

One of the common responses to office bullying - although certainly not the answer - is to have drinks with co-workers. The alcohol can have a calming affect and in a restaurant or bar enables you to talk about how upset you are with less reservation than at the office. But venting is a short term fix. All of the published information suggests going to your supervisor, reporting it to HR, etc. But in my experience, it doesn't really do much and confronting them only makes it worse. The only thing you really can do is get another job. The bully won't stop his behavior, but at least it won't be you he's tormenting.

What's my point? Adults know what bullying and harassment are and even though it can make them feel small and inadequate, cause physical illness, sleeplessness, depression and more, at least they get that what's happening is wrong. But a 12 year-old who is shoved in a locker, screamed or yelled at, or the much more insidious tactics of snide remarks, public humiliation, underhanded comments, notes, emails, Facebook posts, etc. doesn't  understand what's happening. All she knows is she feels terrible and wants more than anything to just make it stop. That's when alcohol use can start.

Those of us parents who are talking to our kids about alcohol and drug use, should also be talking to and monitoring our children and their friends for potential bullying. Think about it. While suicide is rare, even though much publicized, misery is not.

Adolescents are loathe to go to their parents with anything that may get them in trouble with another kid at school. Part of talking to our kids about bullying, similar to conversations about alcohol and drugs, is to let them know they can tell you anything without fear of repercussions. It's a hard place to be with your child, when you know that someone is hurting them, and you don't immediately take action if they ask you not too. But gaining your adolescents' confidence is worth it.

Whatever works for you to protect your kids is the right approach. We need to stop the bullying now. Remember the playground and school bullies of today, are tomorrow's parents who will be bullying their kids and spouses. They're also the next generation of workplace monsters.

Many states have introduced anti-bullying legislation and it's stalled because corporations are afraid of getting sued as are schools. Well it looks like the schools are finally going to do something. Let's make sure companies to do too.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Alcohol More Dangerous than Crack and Heroin - Tell Me Something I Don't Know

The Economist reports on a new study suggesting alcohol is more harmful than heroin or crack.

Researchers led by Professor David Nutt, a former chief drugs adviser to the British government, asked drug-harm experts to rank 20 drugs (legal and illegal) on 16 measures of harm to the user and to wider society, such as damage to health, drug dependency, economic costs and crime.

They found that Alcohol is the most harmful drug in Britain, scoring 72 out of a possible 100, far more damaging than heroin (55) or crack cocaine (54).

Duh! Let's start with the fact that alcohol is legal. Of course that makes it more dangerous - just about can get it. Alcohol is addictive - yes so are heroin and crack cocaine but many people are functional alcoholics while we don't really hear much about functional heroin addicts or coke heads.

The British media and to some degree the American media, jumped all over this study with headlines screaming that alcohol is the worst drug.

One thing they missed - is alcohol is the commonly used drug among teens and has been for decades. If a teen has a family history of alcohol use or is going through death of a friend/parent/relative/etc. or divorce or fragmented family, alcohol is often the drug of choice. It's open and in our homes and many people will buy alcohol for underage kids.

We're advocating that parents and caregivers forbid their kids alcohol - to a teenager that's a license to go out and get drunk. But talk to them - the science of how alcohol hurts teen brains and bodies is very persuasive. Here's a great guide written by yours truly with lots of help.

A new e-book from AAAS  entitled Understanding the Effects of Alcohol from the Science Inside Alcohol project, explains in language aimed at adolescents how alcohol affects their bodies. When used with a companion book for parents, Delaying that First Drink: A Parents’ Guide, by Aimee Stern, the entire family can learn the science behind why drinking young is a bad idea.  

Monday, November 1, 2010

How Much Should You Trust Your Child?

A recent survey of 1,000 kids and 300 parents by CASA Columbia found that 50% of kids who come home after 10:00 PM say they were out with people who were drinking and taking drugs.

Staying out late - particularly on the streets or at house where no parents are present - means trouble. I remember that from my youth too.

Should you let your kid stay out later than 10:00 - how much can you trust them? Here's my dilemma.

I know I've raised my son well. We've had our rough spots, a divorce, a meltdown that resulted in family therapy, some screaming fights that I probably had as much guilt in starting as he did.

Still he's basically a good kid. He does his homework now. He participates in It's Academic and his team is a winner. He has a network of friends whose parents I admire and trust.

So what am I doing wrong? I have this nagging thought in the back of my mind that the other shoe will drop soon. He's 15. I know because of the book I just finished that he is going to parties where there are alcohol and drugs. I found out the other night that he and a friend walked to another friend's house to go to bed at 2:00 AM. I'm not comfortable with that, and I told him. And he said, "Yeah well I don't do that at our house."

There it was - slapping me in the face. The nagging doubt. My son sleeps over at friends' houses on the weekends. On Friday night he often doesn't come home after school. Despite constant reminders that it is required of him, he rarely remembers to call me to tell me where he is. Oh when I call he picks up the phone and there is a night's plan. Sometimes I get the plan ahead of time. With teenagers the plan changes constantly anyway.

But it's the others parents' rules that worry me. Our kids have reached the age where they are allowed to go out by themselves at night. I always insist that Ian come home by 11:00 PM. But what happens when he goes to someone elses' house and their rule is 1:00 PM. I've never really questioned that before and if I do it now it will start a war with him and the other parents.

So we've kind of reached a compromise. He must give me a plan before he goes out. If that plan changes he must call me by a certain time - usually 9:00 PM or so. If he doesn't call - I call him and remind him he was supposed to call. But I don't make a terrible fuss because so far he's always been where he said he would be - and never come home later than I've asked him too.

We have a similar deal with the Internet. I cannot control his Internet viewing. A 15 year-old kid in a communications and arts magnet knows how to get around just about every firewall they can build. He was able to do it at 10. So I have to trust.

So what do you think? How much should we trust our children? And what happens when they betray that trust or better yet if they don't?