Dr. Angela Chanter has extensive experience treating child and adolescent addiction and other mental disorders including anxiety. She is the Co-Director of Therapeutic Solutions 360 and Co-Founder of Full Circle Treatment Center for adolescent addiction in Roseville. TS360 combines her practice with Jon Daily’s clinic, Recovery Happens, for youth substance abuse treatment in Fair Oaks and Davis, California. Chanter and Daily collaborate to help parents and children develop the relational bonding essential to overcome adversity and achieve a state of recovery, especially when chemical addiction is involved.
“Parents need to educate themselves on the drug culture today,” Chanter said. “It is not the same thing as with generations past.” According to Chanter, substance abuse is primarily about having a relationship with intoxication that takes precedent over other primary relationships including God, family, friends and co-workers. “It is not the drug that kids become addicted to per se. Rather it is whatever will get them high.” It is a way of coping with trauma, including anxiety, and many youth start with marijuana and alcohol. “Youth culture does not view rehab as a negative thing,” Chanter said. “It is considered cool. In fact for young men, there is tremendous pressure to use and abuse drugs and alcohol. You cannot be cool and sober in the youth culture.”
The advent of the mobile phone, along with the Internet makes it easier for tweens and teens to keep secrets and abuse drugs and alcohol; it creates a perfect storm for the modern drug addict to look like your child. In June 2011, the Center for Addition and Substance Abuse at Columbia University declared youth substance abuse the number one public health problem for America.
I serve as the Co-Chair for a youth substance abuse prevention organization called the Coalition For Placer Youth, founded in 2008. CPY collects data from youth via anonymous surveys regarding their attitudes and behavior regarding alcohol and drugs. One of the most significant findings with Placer County youth is that parents are not having meaningful conversations with tweens and teens to reinforce the norms for what is legal and safe, and there is a correlation between use and abuse of alcohol.
Parents are largely silent and fearful about substance abuse and addiction. And for the most part, children are making good decisions every day. But as long as parents are silent about the norms for what is legal and safe, adolescents are left with tremendous anxiety as they witness substance abuse and other youth issues not addressed, and they are at risk for other mental health issues, among them anxiety, insomnia and depression.
In this regard, children seek authenticity and so prevention and recovery measures represent an opportunity to bond with your child about recognizing their issues and their inherent value as a person, as well as their capacity to ultimately be in charge of their own life.
The cultural landscape our children navigate in a cyber-powered world
More children today are “worldlier” at earlier ages and have adult issues. The emotional backpacks our children carry are much heavier than those of pervious generations. (See related: Healing a broken child: Anxiety, mental health and restoring the brain in the network)
The beliefs to which our children are exposed tell them they are neither important, nor good enough unless they lower standards for personal security and surrender their inherent authority in the name of “freedom”. These beliefs include:
- Circumstances define me. I am nobody if I am not famous, even if it’s in my own cyber community. And if I am somebody, it’s because I put myself out there with outrageous, audacious reckless abandon. (Tiger Woods, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are examples of crash wrecked lives considered glamorous).
- Command and control of cyber lives means instant gratification is the new norm. I don’t expect to wait. Personal investment for long-term gain is wishful thinking.
- In order to be respected, I must dominate others.
- Rules don’t always apply to me.
- Prescription drugs are safe to use, doctors prescribe them. Everybody does it.
- Casual sex is required to be “intimate” or “popular”; use contraceptives and you can have safe sex.
- Drinking alcohol is not a problem for children just don’t drive while under the influence.
- Marijuana is safe to use, and the laws against it are stupid. It was the drug of choice of my parents’ generation, so if it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.
On the surface these lies seem like the same old peer pressure of previous generations. What is not understood by many parents today is the amount of intense, surreal pressure applied through network technology that shapes their reality.
There is no shortage of drama to illustrate this disconnect from truth.
Kids committing suicide in response to cyberbullying, or the bullies and bystanders being so bold as to promote and/or allow heinous and ruthless cyber-powered harassment campaigns against an individual; or the fact that the modern drug addict or alcoholic looks like your child because networked “friend communities” convince kids that taking prescription pain killers and binge drinking is the norm for youth entertainment, and for many it is a rite of passage.
Every kind of peer pressure we experienced is amplified, as if on steroids, and with the voice of parental wisdom silenced, can become all consuming.
So the cyber safety concerns of texting and social media that impact mental health include:
- Anxiety resulting from believing things that are not true – in the network a lie becomes an experience that murders the truth. (for example kids being exploited by pedophiles or bullies, and believing that they will not be loved if it is discovered – shame is a huge factor)
- 24 X 7 connectivity – getting less sleep and sleep deprivation
- “friend communities” reinforce norms that inspire insecurity (i.e., you are invisible if you are not on Instagram or Facebook, and cyberbullying making it not safe to disagree or stick up for the underdog)
- The voice of parental wisdom is silent
- Drug and alcohol abuse is presented as an acceptable way to deal with stress and/or “have fun”
- Manhood in “friend communities” predicated on using drugs and/or alcohol – being sober is not cool
- Kids do not feel safe to talk about the issues they and their peers are facing, and are left to “friend communities” as a point of reference for life
The children are very anxious. And anxiety can lead to mental health issues, including depression, panic attacks, insomnia, and addiction. (See related: Responding to youth issues in the net)
New demands on parents: Authority is a relational matter
Now more than ever children must be prepared to be self governing at earlier ages. They must be able to think for themselves in a network culture that can bully the individual into focusing on things that don’t matter and believing things that are not true.
All your children will be taught by the LORD, and they will have much peace. Isaiah 54:13
And yet our parenting culture assumes that the childhood experience of previous generations still exists today. So the risky traps of the modern parenting culture include:
- Hyper focus on purchasing goods and services to make children happy
- Confusion between trust (which is verifiable) and faith (which is for God who requires no proof)
- Minimizing the issues of modern youth as the same thing we experienced at their age
- Believing children have a right to privacy (leaving them alone on-line with their issues)
- Authoritarian, controlling, parenting styles employed to keep kids from experiencing the risks of the on-line world
- Laissez-faire cyber parenting because the children know more about the apps and technology – they appear so competent, confident and capable
What parents can do.
Empower children by creating a family culture rooted in forgiveness and individual accountability.
- Know the facts about the drug culture children are exposed to through social media and their peers
- Establish house rules anchored to core beliefs and values
- Communication of beliefs and values in ways that make it possible to get caught, experience consequences with love, and stand corrected
- Train your children to express their free will wisely; expect them to make good decisions, and inspect what you expect by monitoring texts and posts
See Chapters 6, 7 and 8 in The Authority In Me
For help building a family culture that expresses house rules as empowerment for kids, go to: Fresh Start
For more information about children’s mental health issues, addiction and the modern drug culture, visit:
- Therapeutic Solutions 360
- Recovery Happens
- Coalition for Placer Youth (community-wide prevention strategies)
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM, Tuesdays.