Last September, we helped parents understand the importance of having “The Talk” with their children. Today, we want to expand on bullet point #5 — Build your child’s strategies and skills to avoid alcohol and drug use and talk about The Exit Plan. You and your family need to develop some strategies and skills to help your children when they encounter situations where they face a decision about alcohol and drugs with their peers. An essential part of the strategies and skills is to develop an “Exit Plan,” which will help your child know what they would do if the situation arose with their peers. Even if you don’t think your child wants to drink or try other drugs, peer pressure is a powerful thing.
I remember back in junior high my first time being offered marijuana at a friend’s house party. I said no that I didn’t want to, but then felt so embarrassed because everyone made fun of me after that. I lost many friends after that party, and as a teen, that is a horrible feeling because you want to be accepted. Looking back as an adult, I know now, they weren’t real friends.
“Peer pressure” is potent and very real. I remember wanting to call my mom, but I couldn’t call her to get me. I knew if she had come to get me, everyone at that party would have got in trouble. I didn’t want to be seen calling my mom and be embarrassed more than I already was. Instead, many teens will give in to peer pressure, because at that time, it will seem so much easier than offering themselves up for ridicule by peers, endless nagging & questions, or punishment by their parents.
Nowadays, with technology and an Exit Plan, a teen may be able to avoid much of that peer pressure. You can develop an Exit Plan with your family.
(I wish when I was a teenager, I could have done this.)
So, if this happens, your child can secretly text a family member a code word, phrase, an emoji, or number to activate the Family Exit Plan, then the family member receiving the text will call the child to start the secret rescue.
For example, say your son is hanging at the park with his friends, and they offer him to try vaping with THC. But he doesn’t want to, so your son texts you a NO symbol emoji activating the “Exit Plan.”
You then call your son,
Mom: “Odysseus, ‘Hey boy, something has come up and I need your help right now. Can I go pick you up? It’s really important.’”
Odysseus: “Well, what is it mom?”
Mom: “It’s crazy family stuff, and it will be easier and faster if I explain when I get you. Please, where are you? Or can I meet you somewhere now?”
Odysseus: “Ya, ok Ma, meet me at the Park by our house, I’ll be there in a few.”
Then you go pick him up. His friends see that his family needed his help and don’t think anything else about it. Keep in mind your child wasn’t being dishonest with his friends because something did come up and he needed to go; it just wasn’t shared what exactly came up. Once you pick up your child, it is so important to tell your child you love them, that you are proud of them, and if they want to tell you anything, you are there to listen when they are ready.
I am a parent now, so believe me, I know it is so hard that when your child’s fear kicks into gear, you want to know everything that happened to make your child uncomfortable enough to ask for help. And, you want to ensure it won’t happen again, but in your exit plan, you have agreed to no prying, no lectures, and no pressure. So, stop and think before you say anything; remember, sometimes just letting your child know you love them is all you have to do. If you do pry, lecture, or pressure for information, your child is more likely not to reach out for help in the future. Show your child you are there for them no matter what. Now I am not saying never ask or talk about what happened, but don’t do it then.
Maybe another day, share your own stories of what happened to you when you were young. And remind them how proud you are of them that they did ask for help. Remind your child that you love them unconditionally and that you will always be there for them. Explain to them that life is full of lessons that we all must learn. Some life lessons we learn through mistakes. However, an early mistake in using alcohol or drug use as a teen may put them on a path of a lifetime of poor decision-making. Anything we can do to postpone the initial first use as a teen dramatically increases their chances of success in life.
A vital life lesson is learning to have the knowledge and courage to ask for help when you need it. It does not make you weak to ask for help; it makes you smart.
Whether you are a child or an adult, one thing for sure is the world is continually changing, and it seems to be getting even scarier. Do what you can to work with your family to help make sure everyone is safe and plan to get out of difficult situations. Keep those short but meaningful conversations going with your children. We know that parents and caregivers who talk early and often and verbalize a no-use message significantly reduce the chance of underage drinking and teen drug use. And most of all, always remind them that you love and support them.
Author Alva Tovar is the Program Coordinator for the WOW Coalition. This prevention association promotes safe and healthy choices and responds to alcohol, marijuana, and Rx abuse problems by implementing strategies to prevent and reduce youth substance use. For additional information, visit http://www.wowcoalition.org/resources or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.