Balancing Real Life and the Online Experience

Kids today are often are more computer savvy than their parents. One of the biggest parenting challenges is keeping track what our kids are viewing online and how much time they are spending in the virtual world. There’s no keeping youth off the Internet, so much of their social world is online; but parents do need to regulate their children’s exposure if only to keep them away from adult sites and potential predators.

Here are a few things to remember when managing your children’s Internet exposure:

  • Parenting remains the same as always in the real and virtual environments. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Teach kindness. Be involved. Know who their friends are.
  • Role models are critical. Limit your own online time. Attentive parenting requires time away from screens.
  • Content matters even more than time spent online. Prioritize how your child spends their time rather than just setting a timer.
  • Co-engagement helps. Play a video game with your child. Your perspective influences how kids will understand their time on-line.
  • Require time every day for traditional play with the computer off.
  • It’s OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are critical for adolescent development. Teach your teen behaviors that are appropriate for the online and everyday world.
  • Kids will be kids. When they make a mistake, make it a teachable moment.

Students will be of legal age by the time they are seniors. So a teenager should understand your family’s values, rules and expectations around technology/social media long before they reach high school.

Always stress the difference between life online and real life. We need more hugs than “likes.” We need conversations, not status updates. We need to grow up, not a software update. It’s all in striking a balance. Computers are wonderful tools, but that is all they are. We live our lives ourselves.


Learn More: Raising Resilient Kids: Parenting in the Digital Age  Watch as Pediatrician Dr. Natasha Burgert describes how children’s brains develop and the impact technology has on them. 

Teens and Prescription Drugs – A Silent Epidemic

Adolescent and teen prescription drug abuse is a silent epidemic mirroring the crisis in the general population. The lack of information targeted to younger age groups coupled with how easy it is to obtain prescription drugs from family and friends sends the message that there is no real danger.

Doctors dispense prescription drugs, so they must be safer to take than street drugs such as cocaine and marijuana, right? Unfortunately, many young people operate under this common misconception. In fact, abusing prescription drugs can be as dangerous and addictive as abusing illegal street drugs.

Young people are experiencing life-threatening side effects from using prescription drugs in the wrong way and exposing themselves to potential addictive substances. According to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, young people who start off abusing prescription medication are more likely to report subsequent abuse of illegal street drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.

More than two million kids report abusing prescription drugs in a given year, and these drugs are abused by kids at a higher rate than any illicit drug other than marijuana.  A recent study of 12-year-old adolescents found that prescription drugs were their drugs of choice.

Young people are still growing. Their bodies are constantly changing to eventually become healthy adults. Abuse of certain types of prescription drugs can have a significant effect on adolescent and teen brain development, while other drugs can damage organs, such as kidneys.

Additionally, young people with a family history of alcohol or drug abuse are particularly susceptible to developing addictions from prescription drug abuse.

Many teens that abuse prescription drugs are not trying to get high, but are using them to help them deal with an underlying problem such as anxiety. So parents need to understand physical or emotional problems their teen may be facing, which need to be addressed. It’s not enough to simply tell them not to use drugs. Parents need to understand what’s going on in their teens’ minds – what kind of stresses they feel.

FRESH Students Reach Out to Younger Ones

Morgan Neal, a junior at Liberty North High School, has been instrumental in creating the FRESH program (Finding Reasons to Exercise Safe Habits) in Liberty. Morgan has been involved a variety of activities through her prevention work. She has traveled to Jefferson City to visit with her state legislators, as well as attend the statewide Speak Hard Youth Conference.

Students participating in FRESH have made written pledges not to use alcohol or drugs, and they are focusing positive peer pressure among local youth to do the same. In addition, the older students in FRESH have begun to mentor younger pupils to demonstrate that they can “fit in” with their peers by making healthy choices.

Prevention is important to Morgan because she recognizes that it is not always a topic people want to talk about. “Parents do not always know how to talk to their teens, or the importance of doing so,” she said.

FRESH students are identified on trading cards similar to baseball cards that show their pictures and list their activities on the back.

“We’re hoping that they view the people on the cards as role models,” Morgan said. “We want to show that they can still have fun without making self-destructive decisions.”

Morgan had heard about similar trading card programs elsewhere. “I thought it might be something we could do in Liberty.” She and 10 of her fellow FRESH participants recently took the idea to kids at Warren Hills Elementary School in a pilot project.

Members of the FRESH group individually targeted the classrooms of third, fourth and fifth graders. The message to the younger pupils is not overtly related to alcohol and drug abuse. “We are trying to focus on identifying right and wrong situations,” she said, and the proper way to react. “Because once you get to high school the consequences of your actions can have a much greater effect on your life.

“We hope that they will want to have their own picture on a trading card,” Morgan said, “and know that the people already on these cards have made good decisions to get them to this point.”

Currently, about 30 students in both of Liberty’s high schools are “card carrying” FRESH peers. “As we grow, we hope to have students in every school involved with FRESH,” Morgan said.

BAD TO THE BRAIN: The Long-Lasting Impact of Teen Drug Use

In many communities across the country, it’s no secret drug problems can be prevalent among our youth. National surveys show, as young as 12 or 13, some children are already abusing drugs. Nearly half of high school seniors say they’ve smoked marijuana, while over 6 percent use it every day.

Especially at that young age, that’s a risk we simply can’t afford. More than many people realize, drug use has a profound impact on the adolescent brain, and can lead to consequences that affect teens for the rest of their lives.

The reason why? During adolescence, research indicates the brain is still going through significant changes—and that development continues all the way into a person’s 20s. One critical area is the prefrontal cortex, which shapes high-level cognitive functions like planning, decision-making, social interactions, and even self-control.

At this young age, drug use can cause noticeable changes not only in the teen brain’s structure, but in how it works. It actually disrupts the brain’s function, and can hamper key traits such as behavior control, learning, motivation, as well as memory. Worst of all, these changes can endure long-term, and result in bad behaviors typically seen in many drug users. In fact, the National Institutes of Health report, “Adolescents who abuse drugs often act out, do poorly academically, and drop out of school. They are at risk for unplanned pregnancies, violence, and infectious diseases.”

During early and later teen years, kids are especially susceptible to experimenting with or using drugs. At school, they usually have to deal with new challenges, both socially and academically. For the first time in their young lives, they may be exposed to drug availability, or witness substance use by older teens. Thanks to their still-developing brains, teenagers are also more prone to risk-taking or poor choices.

The bottom line? Particularly during the adolescent’s formative brain-development years, it’s more critical than ever to prevent drug use before it starts. It’s also essential for everyone to know the real risks behind teen drug use, and how it holds harmful consequences that could last a lifetime.

Teen Stress: Healthy Habits Vs. Harmful Behavior

Few periods in a person’s life are more stressful than the teenage years. Bodies are changing; emotions and hormones are running strong. Kids face challenges and stress factors on a daily basis from family, friends, school, and especially from social media. Today more than ever, it’s a challenging time to be a teen.

Unfortunately, during those stressful years, many adolescents turn to drugs to cope with feelings of distress. They mistakenly believe that while using drugs may be harmful, it provides an easy and available solution for relieving stress. And while most tell us marijuana is their preferred drug when feeling stressed, alcohol and tobacco are also commonly used.

Public health experts, however, warn that marijuana use can do real harm to the teen’s developing brain as well as lead to lower IQs. In addition, it can significantly hamper their capacity to drive safely. Certain drugs, for example, actually affect the brain in much the same way as stress, causing the body to release powerful neuro-chemicals. Compared to non-users, long-term drug use can even make teens more sensitive to normal stress they may experience every day.

The tangible connection between stress and drug use is also confirmed by the latest brain research conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The organization reports people undergoing stress are more likely to use drugs or alcohol for relief, or could more easily fall into addiction. That is why, during those stress-inducing teenage years, adolescents are particularly vulnerable to substance use.

The good news is, rather than turning to drugs, teenagers have a number of healthier and less harmful options for reducing stress. Here are some practical tips and techniques for stress management, direct from NIDA:

1) Take care of yourself. Healthy foods, exercise, and enough sleep really do make you feel better and better able to cope!

2) Focus. To keep from feeling overwhelmed, concentrate on challenges one at a time.

3) Keep calm. Step away from an argument or confrontation by taking a deep breath. Go for a walk or do some other physical activity.

4) Move on. If you don’t achieve something you were trying for, practice and prepare for the next time, or check out some other activity.

5) Talk about it. Talking to an understanding listener who remains calm can be very helpful.

“FRESH”: Encouraging Positive Choices and Helping Students Stay Drug-Free

As we usher in the new school year, it’s an opportune time to learn more about a commendable drug prevention program now in place at both Liberty high schools. It’s called “Finding Reasons To Exercise Safe Habits” or FRESH. From the start, FRESH was implemented with a twofold purpose:

1) to create positive peer pressure among high school youth to avoid using alcohol or other drugs, and

2) to mentor younger students and urge them to realize they can successfully “fit in” by making healthy choices and being drug-free.

Through their middle and high school years, students are encouraged to apply to the FRESH program, wherein they must sign a pledge to themselves, each other, coaches, school, and the community to remain alcohol and drug-free. Within this pledge, clear expectations and consequences are outlined that students must adhere to for the remainder of the school year. While wearing their activity uniform, all pledging students have individual photos taken, which are then printed on trading cards. To help students feel further invested in their FRESH pledge, the cards also include their personal statement explaining why they are drug-free.

Throughout the year, high school students meet with students at the elementary and middle schools to personally distribute these trading cards. In this way, the program serves to mentor younger students and share a positive message about FRESH students’ commitment to be drug and alcohol-free.

It’s important to note that accountability remains the critical component of this much-needed program. First and foremost, the FRESH pledge serves as an effective deterrent against drug use, committing youths to remain drug and alcohol- free. In addition, this pledge holds students responsible for their behavior as mentors, encouraging them to continue serving as positive role models and staying drug-free.

Now more than ever, especially given growing drug and alcohol problems among youth, LAFY applauds and supports the efforts of this vital program in the Liberty schools.