By: Dr. Patricia Abboud
Annually, I do a presentation to the 5th grade class at my children’s school on the importance of good sleep and eating habits as well as the effects of drugs and alcohol on young minds and bodies. Part of my presentation includes a ‘show and tell’ of human organs from the Boonshoft School of Medicine Anatomical Gift Program. As a graduate and faculty member at the medical school, the children get this excellent opportunity to ‘concretely’ see what happens to the human body if you don’t take good care of it.
We talk about good and bad choices and turning to a trustworthy adult for support and accurate information. Clearly they ‘learn’ a bit about life from their peers who may not be as well versed as their parents, teachers, counselors or doctors.
I started to wonder about the technology age we live in and how much influence that plays in our children’s lives. We’ve heard time and time again about children and ‘cyberbullying’. Truly a horrible situation when your bully is hiding behind a keyboard and terrorizing your life. How do you counsel kids through these situations? I turn to the great work of our child psychiatrists and psychologists who are the professionals in this arena.
Recently I was reading an article that truly disturbed me. This article stated that “exposure of online risky content directly impacted adolescent risk behaviors and significantly interacted with risk behaviors of their friends. Online exposure to friends’ drinking and smoking increased the likelihood of experimenting with such behaviors.” Not only do we have to worry about peer influence in schools and social gatherings, we also need to worry about, in this tech infused world we live in, how much ‘bad influence’ our children are exposed to.
What are parents to do?
- Monitor what they are doing on the internet. Seems so logical. You’ve heard it 1000 times. Do you really do it? Block internet access on their iPods/iPads. Lock the home computer so that they can only get on with your permission. Put home computers in open places. Review the history of sites visited/viewed. Don’t let your children be more technologically savvy than you!
- Teach by example. Your kids are constantly watching and emulating what you do. Police your own behavior (and conversation) around your children.
- Maintain an open relationship with your children. Let them know that you are the most caring person in their life and you will always protect them from harm, as much as possible.
- Educate them. If you don’t talk to your kids, someone else will. Guarantee that they have the right information. This is part of the reason I present to the 5th graders; to ensure they are receiving accurate information.
- Explore the choices and understand consequences beforehand. There are pros and cons to every choice. What would happen if I choose to drink at this party and then drive myself/friends home? If they have their answers prepared before facing the dilemma, it may make them more confident in their responses.
- I show pictures/reference real life scenarios. I don’t hesitate to show images of car crashes from alcohol abuse. We watch the news together at times and I will highlight the negatives to avoid. There are many famous people in the media that have made bad choices. If you chronicle their images over the years, kids see the physical changes that can occur from abusing their bodies. The ‘concrete’ images, tend to stick with them more than ‘it’s bad for you.’
- Don’t let things be so taboo. I explain to the children that with each age there is a certain amount of responsibility and developmental changes that allow you to carry more responsibility. Example: would you let a 1 year old play outside by himself on a busy street? Why not? I trust you as a 13 year old to know better than to rush into traffic to save your ball. A 1 year old isn’t developmentally able to know better. Same with drinking alcohol; at a certain age, you will be able to take on the responsibility that comes with it.
- Taking the time to walk your children through the process of making a decision will help them learn strong problem solving and decision making skills that will help your children learn what they need to be strong decision makers in their adult life.
Huang GC et al. Peer Influences: The Impact of Online and Offline Friendship Networks on Adolescent Smoking and Alcohol Use. Journal of Adolescent Health. 54 (2014) 508-514.
By: Dr. Patricia Abboud
Dr. Abboud is a pediatric intensivist at Dayton Children’s and the mother of three kids. As part of the “Dr. Mom Sqaud,” Dr. Abboud blogs about her experiences as both as doctor and a mom and hopes to share insight to other parents on issues related to both parenting and kids health.