OP-ED: Steps to Stop Your Kids from Drinking, Using Drugs

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The following piece was signed by: Michael Lawn, Chief of Police, Laura Kurman, Senior Program Director, Wayside Multi-Service Center, Dede Galdston, Superintendent of Schools, and Larry Ramdin, Director of Public Health:

With the holiday season underway and the opening of retail marijuana shops in Massachusetts, adults are urged to pay special attention to teenagers’ behavior around alcohol and other drugs. The Watertown Youth Coalition’s (WYC) partner agencies, Wayside Multi-Service Center, and the Watertown Police, Schools and Health Departments remind adults that teen alcohol and marijuana use can lead to unsafe behaviors that put their health and safety at risk. After all, it is all our responsibility, as a community, to help teens make healthy decisions and stay safe.

Underage substance use affects everyone in the community and delaying use has shown to be protective as every year a teen does not use alcohol, the odds of lifelong dependence decrease by 15 percent. In the most recent Watertown Youth Risk Behavior Survey, administered to middle and high school students last year, of those who reported drinking, most reported
getting alcohol from older siblings /friends or from home without their parents’ knowledge.

Retail recreational marijuana shops are opening around the state, and in Watertown, although there are no licenses or special permit applications at this time, the Town could approve up to three retail marijuana establishments within certain zoned areas. While shops are not allowed to sell marijuana to people under the age of 21, teens may find ways to purchase or obtain products, and for some teen users, marijuana can have an adverse effect on brain development.

Often, due to their developing brains and lack of impulse control, when teens drink alcohol or smoke, vape or eat marijuana, they consume too much, increasing their risks of alcohol poisoning, car accidents, injuries, violence, changes in brain development, or having unprotected/unwanted sex. Other negative consequences of underage drinking and other drug
use may also include losing their parents’ trust, being arrested, and forfeiting the privilege to participate in sports.

Studies of marijuana’s impact on brain development in humans have shown conflicting results. Some studies suggest that regular marijuana use in adolescence is associated with altered brain functioning related to memory, learning, and impulse control compared to people who do not use. Other studies have not found significant structural differences between the
brains of people who do and do not use the drug. Because of these conflicting findings, we suggest that young people are safer delaying or abstaining from the use of alcohol and marijuana, as doing so will reduce the potential for dependence in the future.

As a parent or guardian, you can and do make a difference!

Here are some tips to reduce teen drinking and use of marijuana:

  1. At home, keep alcohol in a secure location, preferably in a locked cabinet. Even if you trust your teen, their friends may be tempted by what’s available in your home.
  2. If you are hosting a party, do not leave unsupervised alcohol or marijuana where it is accessible to underage guests, and tell other relatives not to serve alcohol or give marijuana products to your child under the age of 21.
  3. Let your child know what you expect. Tell your teen that adults may be drinking or using marijuana products during the holidays but under no circumstances is he/she allowed to do the same.
  4. Check on the details, if your child is attending a party. Call the family who is hosting the party to ascertain if they will be home and not allowing alcohol.
  5. Never serve alcohol or give marijuana products to anyone under 21, and don’t allow children to serve alcohol to others. It is illegal to serve or provide alcohol to underage youth or allow them to drink alcohol in your home or on other property you control. If you do, you may be prosecuted criminally.
  6. Do not leave your teenagers home alone if you go out of town. Word gets out quickly and a party can develop spontaneously without your child’s consent. You could then be civilly liable if partygoers are injured.
  7. Do not relax your family rules with your own teens during the holidays – it will be hard to return to previous expectations.

Parents, youth, law enforcement, businesses, schools, health department, town government, churches, and others who make up the Watertown Youth Coalition are working together to promote healthy alternatives to youth partying and to reduce underage use of alcohol and other drugs. Please help be part of the solution and do what you can to reduce youth access to alcohol as well as marijuana products. Please join the efforts of the Youth
Coalition. For more information please visit our Watertown Youth Coalition Facebook page: facebook.com/watertownyouthcoalition or contact us at 617-926-3600. On behalf of the Watertown Youth Coalition, the Watertown Police, Schools and Health Departments, and Wayside Multi-Service Center, we wish you a peaceful, safe and happy holiday season.

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