In the last decade, neuroscientists have been researching adolescent brain development in an attempt to answer the age old question: Why do they act that way? While it was previously thought that hormones played the largest part in teenage drama, the lead role has been given to the onslaught of changes in the adolescent brain. These latest studies are leading parents to a dramatic re-thinking of what it means to parent teenagers effectively. All of this is leading me to tell you why I do not allow my teenagers to engage in experimentation with alcohol and drugs, and why I will never host an underage teenage drinking party. In addition to the obvious reasons, it’s against the law and sends teenagers very confusing messages around their safety and health.
When I recently co-facilitated a Parenting Wisely for Teens class for the Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition, I suggested that one of the most important steps we can take as the parents of teenagers is to understand what is happening in their brains during these years. Because the pre-frontal cortex is not fully developed, the teenager is acting more from instinct and a primal, emotional place. Meanwhile, neurons are at work influencing teen behavior.
Teenagers experience naturally occurring dopamine surges throughout their adolescent years, a time of significant synapse reorganization in the brain. As a result, they are more prone to addiction if they seek to re-create these
The lack of ability to manage impulsivity, coupled with the increased response to rewards and excitement, make adolescents more prone to temptation. In addition, teens lack the monitoring system that helps ascertain the weight of the risks of experimenting with drugs and alcohol, as well as the executive planning function and ability to foresee consequences.
At this vulnerable time in our children’s lives, parents and adults will make a difference by providing increased parental guidance and supervision, therefore reducing possible exposure to the use of alcohol and drugs. Teens with increased adult-based guidance and monitoring allows them to safely move into more freedom and independence. While we cannot guarantee that strong parenting and more adult support will prevent teens from experimenting with alcohol and other drugs, we simply cannot stop trying. While we cannot control their behavior, let’s not forget that we are highly influential in our children’s lives, even though it does not always seem so. With a little structure, supervision and conversation, we can help our children avoid the temptation to use drugs and alcohol, and subsequently keep them substance free. It is our job, as parents, to educate our children in the risks and dangers involved in using any quantity of drugs and alcohol.
The Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition asked me to write this article as a parent of teenagers, BAPC volunteer and co-facilitator of Parenting Wisely for Teens classes, and I support the Parents Who Host Lose the Most campaign. I am delighted to provide my reasons for refusing to host underage drinking parties, and why I do not allow my children to drink alcohol and use other drugs, or attend parties or teen gatherings where alcohol is available to teenagers. Teenagers who come into my home can expect to find a safe and substance free environment, and as a result, their parents also trust this to be the case. Teenagers need to gather and be social, and allowing them to be in a place that is safe and free of risk for experimenting with alcohol and drugs is my commitment to my children and community.
Share this information with your children and their peers, to help them understand the effect that drugs alcohol have on their complex and rapidly changing brains. If you should choose to host a teenage gathering, make it substance free.
Lisa Di Bernardo is an active member of BAPC, and a board member and treasurer for Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing. She lives in Brattleboro with her high school and middle school age children.