Plan ahead to ensure your teen has the knowledge they need
Teenagers are biologically wired to test the waters and push boundaries. It’s part of their journey to maturity. And whilst you don’t want to wrap them in cotton wool, some conversations are vital because teenagers can be vulnerable too.
According to research 13 is the age, on average, when children have their first whole alcoholic beverage. And according to results from the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Drugs, Irish students are still among those who drink the most in the EU. Whilst sipping under the watchful gaze of relations at family events is commonplace too, experts agree that delaying those first whole alcoholic drinks is important because a teen’s liver cannot break down alcohol and they are more prone to accidents and injury when inebriated.
Have open conversations about alcohol, not just how bad it is for your teen’s health and liver, but pressure they may be feeling to drink and how they can prepare to say no if offered. Have rules around alcohol, so it’s not treated casually in the home. Help your teen understand the difference between moderate and binge drinking and the dangers they can be in if they get drunk. If you talk in a lecture mode, your teen may feel less able to open up or come to you if they or a friend has an experience with alcohol where they need help.
According to the HSE, “Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Ireland with 5,500 smokers dying each year from tobacco related diseases.”
Previous research has revealed that 12-year-olds whose parents smoked were over two times as likely to take up the habit themselves from the age of 13. Irish teenagers are smoking less according to the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Drugs, but studies also suggest that smoking e-cigarettes can be a gateway to smoking conventional ones. So what can you do if your teenager is already hooked?
According to spunout.ie you have a better chance of quitting if you do so while you are young, and statistically you’re more likely to beat the habit. As for avoiding the habit in the first place, talk about cigarettes and smoking addiction before your teenager enters secondary school, which can be a catalyst for trying new things. Explain how the cost adds up financially and in health terms and how they will have peers who smoke and enjoy it – but that they can still stand up for themselves and say no if offered. Appeal to a teen’s vanity too by explaining how smoking can wreck their skin and give them bad breath.
Most teens don’t have sex for the first time until they reach 17. Today’s teenagers are largely responsible when it comes to safer sex with over 90 per cent using contraception, which has lead to a decline in the teen pregnancy rate. But it’s still invaluable to talk with teens about relationships, sexuality and sexual health because you as the parent still have a significant impact on the attitudes and values of your teenage children. In addition, real life is very often not reflected properly in the media they are exposed to. It’s also very important to have discussions with your teenager about consent and their response, so that they never feel pressured and that they understand it’s a serious offence to have sex with someone without their consent.
Between marketing, media and peer pressure, pre-teens and teens are vulnerable to damaged self-esteem as they are often propelled into a life of mini-adulthood prematurely and much of this is centred around appearance, particularly for girls. But it can be highly damaging for girls to grow up too fast as self esteem can take a hammering. It’s here that parents can make the biggest difference by protecting daughters from the damaging stereotype of what it means to be female, by encouraging girls to be themselves without conforming to pressures from the media and the world of celebrity. Building upon your child’s self-esteem is a vital component according to parenting author Tanith Carey:
“By helping our girls to view their strengths realistically and learn new skills, and by showing them that they are loved for who they are, not what they do, gradually we can help them to develop an inner core enabling them to stand firmer against the negative influences around them.”
Teenagers go through an enormous amount of change on many levels – emotionally, physically, socially and intellectually, and all at an important time when their own sense of self is just evolving. So many of the new things teenagers experience can be internalised, and the importance of looking a certain way can takeover, creating a preoccupation with appearance. is is the way it has always been, but nowadays teenagers are growing up in a media spotlight where they can be bombarded with images of perceived perfection and unreachable aesthetics. Once body image takes a knocking, self esteem can come hurtling down.
“Parents can play a huge role in how the diet and image messages that we are all susceptible to can be internalised by young people,” according to experts at Bodywhys.
“Having a good self- image, communicating in various ways that a person’s self worth is not dependent on their image are healthy ways of teaching young people that it is okay to be who they are. Parents can play an important role in building a child’s self esteem, and ultimately this self esteem is the inner strength that is needed to filter the reality from the unattainable.”