From the May 2019 issue

Keeping Teens Safe During Graduation Season

Some teens ramp up the risky behavior, including drug and alcohol use, during graduation season – and there are other risks parents should be aware of, too. Read on for insight from an expert with the Oakland County Health Division.

Graduation season is upon us, and as graduates celebrate this milestone, and the journey ahead, teens can also get caught up in some risk-taking behaviors.

“Graduation season is an exciting time, which may present more opportunities for parties and an increased presence of alcohol and drugs,” says Hanna Cassise, the public health education supervisor at the Oakland County Health Division.

“It is important for parents to remember that alcohol can lower inhibitions, which can lead to poor decision making and affect their child’s brain that is still developing until age 25.”

Alcohol and drugs interfere with brain function and can impact a teenager’s mood and behavior. Plus, graduation and embarking on a new chapter in life can be anxiety inducing for a teen. Couple that with mood changes due to substance use and it’s a recipe for disaster.

In fact, spring sees a higher rate of suicide, Cassise says.

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That’s why it’s important for parents to not only be aware, but also start conversations with their teens. Here, Cassise offers insight and advice for families.

Suicide risks

Suicide is the leading cause of death for those ages 10-24. There are several risk factors for suicide, including mental illness, bullying, breakups, substance use and more.

When it comes to substance use, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted in 2014 that 22 percent of deaths by suicide involved alcohol, 20 percent involved opiates, 10.2 percent involved marijuana, 4.6 percent involved cocaine and 3.4 percent involved amphetamines.

“It is important to remember that alcohol and substances can lower inhibitions and alter judgment,” which can affect suicide rates, she adds.

If your teen is experiencing mood changes for a prolonged period of time, has increased substance use, a change in sleep patterns or is withdrawing from friends, these could be warning signs for suicide.

If you suspect your teen is struggling, Cassise offers these tips for parents:

  • Have a discussion with your child about what to do if they need help or are concerned about a friend.
  • Teach skills in problem-solving and conflict resolution.
  • Maintain a supportive and involved relationship with your child.
  • Encourage involvement in sports, activities at school or your place of worship, or volunteering.
  • Help your teen develop strong communication skills.
  • Get medical care for depression and substance use.
  • Don’t leave a depressed or suicidal teen home alone.

“Engage in regular conversations with your child about mental health and suicide,” she says. “The Oakland County Suicide Prevention Task Force created a parent toolkit that includes conversation starters about suicide and other related topics.”

It’s not easy, but it’s important to be open and direct with your teen.

“This is a really tough topic and the most important thing to know is don’t hesitate to ask and to be direct in asking about suicide and substance use,” she adds.

Graduation party scene

Keep an open dialogue with other parents. If your teen will be at other people’s homes for graduation parties, make sure you’re on the same page about not allowing alcohol consumption.

Have a pick-up plan in place, too. “Talk to your teen about what to do if they find themselves in an unsafe situation,” she says. “Let them know that they can call you for help. If they are worried about getting in trouble if they call you, designate a trusted family friend who they can call instead.”

Sponsored by the Oakland Community Health Network. For support, or to learn more, visit oaklandchn.org.

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