What About Marijuana? (Part 1)

medical marijuanaIllinois has not yet joined other states (most recently, Nevada) in making recreational marijuana legal. but recreational use was decriminalized in 2016 so that those caught with smaller amounts will only face a fine of $100 to $200. In April, senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and representative Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) introduced bills in the Illinois legislature to legalize recreational weed.  We already have 41 uses for which medical marijuana is legal in Illinois. According to chicagomag.com, “the limited implementation of medical marijuana, Steans thinks, has warmed people up to the possibility of legalizing recreational cannabis.”  I’m thinking it’s also warming our kids up to the idea that marijuana, if it has all these great medical benefits (41 approved uses in Illinois now), must be not only safe, but HEALTHY.

So what about medical marijuana?  There are two ingredients in marijuana that are relevant here:  THC (the one that give you the “high”) and CBD. There is some medical research that shows that marijuana is “probably” effective in treating a few medical conditions, such as spasticity experienced by those with multiple sclerosis (click HERE if you want to see the medical journal article).  But with more and more other conditions (such as PTSD and terminal illness) being added in various states, including Illinois, I can’t help but think that these other treatments just ‘work’ because it feels pretty good to get high compared to physical or emotional pain. Regarding a Florida group’s claim that “medical-grade marijuana alone, will not get that patient ‘high’….,” Politifact (a fact-check site) rated that claim “mostly false.” The person making the claim was basically saying that because the POINT was not to get high, they were not getting high but treating a condition.  THC is THE key in medical marijuana treatment in most cases.  The Politifact article interviewed David Casarett, author of Stoned: A Doctor’s Case for Medical Marijuana,” who said that low-THC strains or CBD-only oils don’t produce the same “buzz” as smoking a joint. But higher-THC (as is present in much of medical-grade marijuana), Casarett was quoted to say, “will most certainly get you high…. Just calling something ‘medical grade’ won’t prevent you from getting high. It’s like alcohol. Laboratory grade ethanol will get you just as drunk as home-brewed moonshine with the same alcohol content.”

I’ll write next about recreational marijuana, and the scientific data on the side-effects of marijuana use, especially among young people.

Watching This With Your Teen is Better Than Any Lecture

Even if your teen isn’t old enough to drive yet, he or she may be in the car with other teens who drive.  And, shall we admit it, many of us have caught ourselves responding to that “ding” when we are driving as well.  Watching this short (under 4 minutes, not graphic)car crash YouTube video together with your family will have a more powerful impact than any lecture or set of statistics you can give them, although the facts are indeed frightening.  An online article by Teen Vogue relates that “Eleven teenagers die every day as a result of texting and driving…. Almost 330,000 injuries every year are due to accidents caused by texting and driving. 1.6 million crashes are a result of it, as well. And 21% of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes were — you guessed it — using their cell phones behind the wheel.”

If you have trouble with the link above, here it is to cut and paste: https://youtu.be/E9swS1Vl6Ok

Zika Virus…a New STD?

We’ve all heard by now about the damage the Zika virus can cause to babies developing in the womb. Up until a few days ago, we thought there were no mosquitos wmosquito-213805_960_720ith Zika here in the U.S. But in the last week, two possible cases of mosquito transmission in Florida have emerged. What you may not have heard is that Zika is being transmitted sexually from infected men (via semen) to their sexual partners. This causes me great concern, and adds to the number of serious consequences of STDs.

Most parents of today’s teens took health classes in which they learned about 4 known STDs: herpes, HIV, gonorrhea and syphilis.  Now, most health classes teach about 10 to 12 common STDs, all HERE in our area.  And young people from the ages of 15-24 account for HALF of all new STDs diagnosed each year! Teen Decision gives the facts to teens about STDs, and urges teens to avoid the risks by choosing to wait to have sex.  But, it’s up to parents to keep the conversation going.  To learn more about STDs and their consequences, click on this LINK.

Too Fat to Fit In?

I recently learned of a brand of clothing that achieves exclusivity not through price, but through size. Brandy Melville offers almost all of its clothing in either size “small” or “one-size-fits-most” (as long as “most people” are small). The brand is one of the hottest lines of clothing for teens, according to research firm Piper Jaffray.

It is not new for teens to try to build their identity and gain acceptance and a sense of belonging through their clothing choices. It is simply the brands and the looks that change. But while previous generations of teens were barred from the most exclusive looks by price (or were forced to spend far more than they could afford on designer labels or celebrity endorsed merchandise), Brandy Melville is relatively inexpensive. Instead, the brand has set the price of entry into its club at being very, very skinny. Now, instead of a teen blowing all her savings on a purse she really can’t afford, she is pressured to go to unhealthy measures in order to fit the same size pants as everyone else.

The immature part of my brain remembers being poor and skinny as a teen and thinks “Where was this when I was 16?!” But the mature part, the wiser woman in me, has learned that in life, the target for superficial popularity is always moving. Basing one’s identity on a look or a brand will never really satisfy the human need for security and belonging. But how do parents teach that to their children?

It was one thing for parents to refuse to purchase expensive clothing when the family couldn’t afford it. At least teens could blame their parents for being too poor or frugal. My fear is that teen girls will blame themselves for not fitting into Brandy Melville — and that their disappointment or anger will turn towards their bodies (even more so than it already does for young adults). Parents, especially those of girls who are too normal-sized to fit into the skinny brand, must help their children understand the dark side of marketing and branding. Companies like Brandy Melville prey on insecurities — they need us as consumers to feel inadequate without their product. But clothing is not our identity, and it can never create acceptance. Clothing is at its most basic level a tool to keep us protected from the environment. Yes, it can be used for self-expression, but if you are dissatisfied without the clothing, you will be dissatisfied with it.

Are your teens victims of marketing who strive to purchase only the “cool” brands? Consider:

  • Banning Brandy Melville on principle, even for your children who could fit into the clothing. Refuse to buy into the unhealthy standard that all girls should be shaped a particular way.
  • Check your own attitude about clothing and identity. Do you model an attitude that clothing does not define an individual?
  • Challenge your teen to develop his or her own style. For example, challenge them to only buy clothing from resale shops for the next 6 months.
  • Purge magazines from your home. Magazines are often glorified catalogues that feed the desire for particular looks and brands.
  • Encourage your teen to develop a more global awareness of what life is like for others who cannot afford to be obsessed with their looks. The popular Hunger Games movies and books are easy conversation starters: ask questions about the parallels between the image-obsessed residents of the Capitol and our culture’s obsession with brands like Brandy Melville.

Have more ideas? Share them in the comments section!

Hookah Bars and Teens

Close up of hookah with young male in background
Evening of the Hookah by Jordan Gillespie is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Although Hookah is an ancient form of smoking, I didn’t hear of it until college, when several friends preferred it to traditional cigarettes. In recent years, popularity of the water pipe has taken off, perhaps because it is seen as a healthier alternative to cigarettes (which is not necessarily true). A recent study found that 18% of high school seniors had tried hookah in the previous year. That number is much higher than previous estimates of 4-5%.


A hookah is a water pipe, typically used for smoking tobacco products. Often, the tobacco will be flavored. The hookah’s origins can be traced to ancient Persian and Indian cultures, but in the US, its popularity has grown the most among college students. According to the report mentioned above, the typical teenage hookah user was a white male with well-educated parents. (That certainly describes the majority of the people I knew in college who smoked it!)

Users also tend to have a steady source of income, whether that is a weekly allowance or from a part time job. This is likely because a hookah is typically smoked in a bar or lounge, where regular use could become expensive. Using a hookah is traditionally a communal activity. Even when it is not shared in a lounge, it is often smoked with others, with the hose of the pipe passed from person to person.

Local Use

How popular is it locally? A quick search for hookah bars near Amplify’s office found 7 within a fairly easy drive in the Western Suburbs. The various liberal arts colleges in DuPage County likely offer plenty of target clientele for the hookah bars, which consequently become easily accessible for local high school students. Should parents be aware of what hookah is and where their child might access it? Absolutely! DuPage County offers all the right demographics for a growing hookah trend.


Why concern yourself with this trend? For many, using a hookah might not seem like a big deal. It’s very nature tends to limit its use to occasional, communal settings rather than the constant pull of cigarettes. Nevertheless, since the vast majority of hookah use involves tobacco, the same health and addictive risks apply to hookah as to other forms of tobacco. For teens, those risks are greater. Teens’ brains and bodies are still forming and are more prone to addiction.

Another concern comes from the clustering of risk behaviors — teens who smoke a hookah are more likely to smoke other forms of tobacco, drink alcohol, or try other drugs. And then there is the concept of a “gateway” vice. Hookah tends to be most appealing to those kids who have higher incomes and more highly educated parents, and those who themselves are pursuing higher education. In other words, hookah is a vice for the “good kids” to feel okay about trying. So talk to your teen about the health and addiction risks of smoking, even smoking a hookah pipe. Let them know your thoughts.

Repost: Sending Mixed Messages to Our Kids

I hope everyone had a great long-weekend with their families! In honor of the holiday, we are reposting a favorite article from several years ago, which still has incredible relevance today. Enjoy!

We were recently in a DuPage County high school, conducting a behavioral survey with seniors. Of the students we surveyed, 53% were currently sexually active. When asked if they knew how their parents felt about their choices, 55% said they did not know, or were confused, about their parents’ expectations.

Just after learning those statistics, I came across an excellent article. While it does not talk directly about sex, (and although I did not agree with everything the author said) it does have some important points to make in regards to the mixed messages we as parents sometimes send to our teenage girls.

It’s titled, “Under Pressure: Are Teen Girls Facing Too Much?” You can read it here.

boredomThe author states that 25% of our teenage girls are suffering from some sort of serious psychological or physical clinical issues: suicide attempts, depression, violence, self mutilation, etc. His explanation for the staggering statistic – which he believes is on the rise – is that our young girls today are being presented with mixed messages, or what he calls a “Triple Bind (p.2)” Teenage girls today are hearing three conflicting expectations, and are struggling to meet all of them: 1. Excel at being a girl. 2. Excel at some guy stuff too. 3. Fit into culture’s current definition of success in regards to education, life goals, and beauty.

Be a girl, but don’t be just a girl. Their task is impossible. They know this, and although they desire to please society – their parents and teachers – they live under the threat of failure every day. It’s that tension that is leading them into dangerous behaviors.

In my opinion this argument is supported by the statistics above. Think about the messages we send our teenagers regarding abstinence. When I read parent comments after a school or parent program, over 50% of the time I read something like this: “I would love for my teen to choose abstinence, but I live in the real world. So I want her to be smart and use protection.” (Actual parent comment.)

Parents, do you see the connection? “Wait. But use protection.” We think we’re being helpful giving two expectations, but we’re not. We’re confusing our kids. It’s akin to saying, “Okay, honey. You have your driver’s license. I expect you not to drink in high school, but you will. So here, have a beer, and let’s go get behind the wheel and teach you how to drive well while under the influence.”

That may seem a ridiculous example to some, but look again at those percentages. Teenagers in our own county are unsure where their parents stand on the issue of premarital sex and abstinence. Girls who are already feeling myriad pressures to behave correctly  must add this cloudy expectation to the pot. “Wait. But use a condom.”

Organizations like CASA and The Heritage Foundation have done studies that show that negative behaviors come in clumps – students that use alcohol, smoke, or hang with teens who do are more likely to become sexually active. (And vice versa.) And those sexually active teens are also more likely to report depression, suicidal attempts, or other dangerous behaviors.

Parents, we need to choose one set of expectations. And then we need to encourage our daughters to believe they can reach them. Perhaps then that 25% will start to decrease.

Have you talked to your children about e-cigarettes?

Just recently I was at a party at a friend’s house when one of the guests pulled out an e-cigarette and started “vaping” while chatting with other guests in the kitchen. I have become so accustomed to living in a smoke-free environment that I was thrown off by this guest’s nonchalant behavior as he puffed away indoors. It was my first real encounter with e-cigs, which produce a nicotine-laced vapor rather than traditional smoke.

If you are not familiar with e-cigs, this article gives some helpful background information. Some of the important points include the fact that the health consequences of e-cigs are largely unknown. While some of the tar and other substances associated with tobacco are not produced by e-cigs, there do seem to be links between the nicotine itself and some cancers.

Another recent article reveals trends more concerning for parents: because e-cigs are classified differently than tobacco products, many of the regulations that exist for tobacco products do not apply to e-cigs, including regulations about advertising. This means that many teens who would not see advertisements for cigarettes are nevertheless exposed to advertising for e-cigs. It is very possible that your teen knows more about the new trend than you do!

If you haven’t already, initiate a conversation with your children about e-cigarettes. Find out what they already know and if any of their friends have tried vaping (using e-cigs). Ask if your child thinks e-cigarettes are as harmful as regular cigarettes and inform your children of their risks. Do you know where e-cigs are sold in your community? Have you seen advertisements for them? Stay informed and make sure your children know that you are aware of the trend. Communicate your expectations to your children about how you want them to handle e-cigs.

By Andrea Nelson Google

FDA Approves HPV Test

The FDA recently approved a test for the STD human papillomavirus (HPV) that could become an alternative for pap smears in women. HPV causes most cases of cervical cancer, as well as some types of head and neck cancers or genital warts, depending on the strain of the virus. In the past, pap smears were used to detect cell changes that could indicate cervical cancer or a risk of cancer. The new test looks for the presence of the actual virus and can detect which strain of the virus is present. More information is also available here.

HPV is one of the most common and easiest to contract STDs. It can be transmitted between partners even with perfect condom use. Two different vaccines are available to prevent the most common types of HPV. These vaccines are recommended for boys and girls ages 9 to 11.

STD Prevention that starts early — but not how you think!

STD prevention can, and should, start in elementary school — but not by distributing condoms or teaching explicit sex ed. Data from the University of Washington looked at risk factors from early in life that predicted a higher number of STDs during the later teen years. There have been many correlations drawn between early sexual debut (the definition of “early” in this study was before age 15) and higher numbers of sexual partners as well as higher numbers of STDs. According the article, “Of youth in the study who became sexually active before age 15, more – about a third – had an STD compared with about 16 percent of those who were older when they started having sex.”

Correlations were also found between youth who grew up in well-managed households with rules, discipline and rewards and later sexual debut. Students who were engaged in school and had positive feelings towards school and their teachers were also less likely to have sex early, as well as students whose friends did not get into trouble. So the secret ingredients to STD prevention (or, some of them, anyway) seem to be a positive, well-managed home environment, strong school engagement, and friends who have a positive influence. Not a huge surprise to those who work with youth, but helpful information nonetheless.

What can YOU do? If you are a parent, continue to learn about positive models of discipline, and don’t shy away from the tough battles during the early teen years. Some of the critical years looked at in the study were ages 10-14. Also, try to find support from one or two other parents who can encourage you in your disciplinary efforts. Raising teens is HARD. You’ll need friends who can act as both coach and cheerleader to make your job a *little* easier.

If you are NOT a parent, look for ways to support positive youth development in your community. Support local schools, volunteer with after school programs, or simply be a friendly, encouraging face to the teens bagging your groceries.

And if you have influence in the community or local school system, support programs that encourage early family engagement and youth development — as early as elementary school. Find ways to encourage teachers and administrators to create positive school environments and fund efforts at early intervention. The earliest STD prevention may look nothing at all like sex education, but if you can help families start off on the right foot and get students engaged in school, it makes a difference!

Learning about Chlamydia

In talking with our teens about the risks they face if they’re sexually active, it’s a good idea to be informed about STDs.  The DuPage County Health Department STD clinic offers (for $50) screening for 4 STDs:  Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV.  Chlamydia,  is the most commonly reported STD in the U.S.   From dupagehealth.org, and the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet), we learn that:

  • Men or women can get chlamydia by having anal, vaginal, or oral sex with someone who has chlamydia.
  • It is a bacterial STD, which means that it can be cured with antibiotics.
  • You can be reinfected even after cured, if you again have sex with someone with chlamydia.
  • About 75% of women and 50% of men don’t know they are infected (they have no symptoms).
  • “It can cause serious, permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system, making it difficult or impossible for her to get pregnant later on. Chlamydia can also cause a potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy that occurs outside the womb)” (CDC)
  • It can spread to a baby during birth, causing an eye infection or pneumonia in the newborn. Premature birth (and it’s risks) can also occur.
  • In men and women who have symptoms, it can produce symptoms such as an abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina and a burning sensation while urinating.
  • In DuPage County, two out of three cases of Chlamydia and Gonorrhea occur in people under 25 years of age.
  • DuPage County cases of Chlamydia have risen 81 percent since 2000.