Adolescence is a time to experiment and take risks. It's the time for teens to define who they are as individuals and to discover for themselves whether all the evils their parents warn against are really so dangerous. As a parent, you may not approve of the experimentation, worrying that one may lead to another and on to more serious problems. You don't want to condone or ignore their experimentation, but at the same time you shouldn't overreact. If you've had good communication and a strong family relationship with your children, you have most likely instilled your values over the years. Most teens emerge from their experimentation none the worse for wear, having learned for themselves the behaviours that are appropriate to the life they want to live.
Adolescence is, however, a time when judgment and self-control are still developing, so experimentation in risky situations can turn into real trouble for them. Here's how to tell whether your child is experimenting or heading for real trouble in two of the most common teen pitfalls, and what you might do about them.
Alcohol and other drugs
Most teen drug use involves alcohol, cigarettes, or marijuana. The most comprehensive long-term study of drug use in Canada is the Ontario Student Drug Use Survey by the Addiction Research Foundation (ARF), which merged with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in 1998. The ARF has surveyed students in grades seven, nine, eleven, and thirteen about their drug and alcohol use every two years since 1977.
Alcohol is the most commonly used drug among teens -- about 60 per cent of the students surveyed in 1997 reported that they had used alcohol in the previous year. Cigarettes were next (a little over 27 per cent), followed by cannabis (about 25 per cent). Drugs like hallucinogens (about 10 per cent), amphetamines (less than 4 per cent), and crack cocaine (a little over 2 per cent) were in relatively low use by the students surveyed. In 2003, reports from the CAMH show and increase in alcohol use (66 per cent), and cocaine (4.8 percent). Cigarette use decreased (19.2 percent).
Why do kids use drugs? In many cases, it's part of the teen social pattern -- about 80 per cent of the students in grades eleven and thirteen used alcohol. But when teens show signs of dependence on drinking and drug use, it's usually because the drugs make them feel better, or at least help them forget problems such as depression, a troubled home life, or social difficulties. The roots of dependence and addiction are not well understood, but family history (both genetics and environment) may play a role. These teens are more likely to become addicted once they start.