Will Wooton, Director of Pacific Treatment Services, writes for Pomerado News and is the and co-author of “Bring Your Teen Back From The Brink.” PTS is a substance abuse company working with teens and young adults.
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Parents should watch for changes in teen’s interests
Adolescent brains are caught up in a flurry of changes. You can see this in your teen’s behavior — from a shift in friends to their overall taste in fashion or activities. It is widely accepted that this is a normal process and it is; however, the problems can blur the line between normal behavior and potentially dangerous transitions.
A teenage boy who was once a baseball player but has lost interest in team sports and now seems to isolate, plays video games and only goes to “hang out” with friends, could be going through a normal transition, but could also be telling you with his behavior that he is starting to lose his way. When parents notice these changes, they ask if this is the reason their teen began using drugs or alcohol, and if they had insisted on continuing sports (or whatever other activity their teen was doing) would this have happened? There are so many different factors to take into account for any situation that answering this is difficult but there are things to look out for and to establish that can have an impact down the line for your teen.
If your teen has an interest — baseball, programming, designing spacecraft, or cooking — you’re ahead of the curve. Having seen many teens in early recovery, I know that it takes many different activities to find one that is of interest to them. The key is to encourage them to explore. The natural curiosity that is obvious in younger children is still present in teens, though it seems to be distracted by social drama and the constraints of looking cool. Encouraging positive interests can help ignite that curiosity. When a teen has an interest that is their own, they begin to see that as a purpose, and a way to connect with others.
Take for example the baseball player I mentioned earlier. If his interest in baseball wanes and is replaced with something else, this is not a problem as long as he finds other activities that can provide interaction with motivated and positive individuals.
As parents, get to know the other kids and families your teen is in contact with. Try not to mistake this for finding a career path or the ultimate passion in life but simply as a way for them to connect with others in a healthy way. How crucial this is can be seen in the process that takes place without these connections.
Many teens who use drugs are very social, sometimes they seem more social than their non-using counterparts. The difference is in their ability to connect on a genuine level. As an example, take the baseball player who has lost interest and begins to play video games instead — not always, but generally, a very isolating activity. With his comfort level with social activity declining, he makes the easiest connection teens can make — drug kids. In this social group, which exists at every school I visit, the only requirement to be a part of it is to show interest in drugs. The bar for this group also happens to be the lowest and they don’t require high morals or standards to join.
It is an easy place to fit in and the connections remain surface level because of the pre-occupation with drug use. This is sometimes a slow process but knowing who your teen spends their time with and what their interests are can limit the damage a great deal.