Be a pesky parent…it’s good for your teen!

With all the negative talk about “helicopter parents,” sometimes we are shamed into thinking we should be hands off with our teens.  Don’t you believe it!  There’s a difference between being overly controlling and properly supervising.  You child still needs you to keep an eye on things.  He or she may not like it, but your instinct…that being around and being aware will keep your son or daughter safe…is correct.  A study reported on recently in the Washington Post indicates that teens who spend more than the average amount of unsupervised time hanging out with peers are more likely to smoke cigarettes and marijuana, and drink alcohol.  The study’s authors expected to see a greater protective effect from structured activities, but they they found that “Organized time, such as arts classes at school, religious activities outside school and community volunteer work, had a very modest protective effect. Kids with the most time in these activities showed a 7 percent to 18 percent lower than average risk of drinking or smoking.”  Compare that to the effect of unsupervised activity: “They found that teens who spent the most unsupervised time with peers were 39 percent more likely to smoke cigarettes, 47 percent more likely to drink alcohol and 71 percent more likely to smoke marijuana than average.” Apparently, it’s most important to avoid regularly letting our kids simply “hang out” day after day without any adults around to keep a watchful eye on things.

Nothing Good Happens in the Woods

I found this article a great reminder not to settle for “at least” parenting. Too often, starting with young children, the temptation to do the least arises. Give a toddler an iPod because “at least they’re not whining;” give a child a phone because “at least you can get in touch with them;” drive your teen to the party so that “at least they won’t drive drunk.” Parenting is hard work, but when did it become appropriate to do the least? Pick your battles, but “at least” fight them!

It’s a new year. Where in your parenting can you make a resolution to do MORE?

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.

Sifting through the dangerous trends

We’ve shared articles in the past about some of the crazy stunts teens will try (dusting, OTC medication, cinnamon). Here’s another, but with a twist — this time the “trend” probably isn’t that common or dangerous. What Maanvi Singh adds in this article, however, is a reminder to parents of how to sift through all the new and supposedly viral trends to learn what really may pose a threat to children. And in case you were wondering about the music video mentioned in the article, here it is:[youtube=]


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

What Do We Tell Teens About Marijuana?

Colorado just legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and Illinois just passed a law allowing use of medical marijuana.  Everyone is talking about pot, it seems, so I’ve been doing a little research, and wanted to condense what I found out for you.

There are some scientifically studied uses for medical marijuana (some more clearly successful, others not so much).  Such uses, according to, include pain relief (the most common reason for a medical marijuana prescription), relief of naseau from cancer chemotherapy, help with seizure disorders, relief from muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, and a few other things.  Marijuana can be administered in pill form, vaporized, smoked, or injested in a food product.  One article reported on a study that showed that pills are more effective for pain relief than the smoked form, produce less of a high, and gives longer lasting relief. Not inhaling marijuana smoke also avoids the carcinogens you get when you smoke.  I also learned that the FDA has not approved smoked marijuana for medical use and all marijuana use is still illegal federally in the 20 states (and Washington DC) that have legalized marijuana.

What else did I find out?  There is evidence that teens are viewing marijuana more positively because of these changes in the law, and are using it more than they used to.  So what about recreational use?

A very informative article by The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains clearly what is in marijuana, and how it acts on the brain, nervous system, lungs, etc.  Here are a few things I learned from the article:

  • Marijuana is about twice as addictive for those who start using it at a young age.
  • Marijuana produced today is more than 3 times as potent as it was in the 1980s.
  • Pot smokers have higher rates of respiratory problems and illnesses.
  • It increases heart rate significantly, and some studies show increased risk of heart attack.
  • A marijuana high involves “distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and disrupted learning and memory.”
  • “Users who began using in adolescence revealed a profound deficit in connections between brain areas responsible for learning and memory.”
  • “People who began smoking marijuana heavily in their teens lost as much as 8 points in IQ” and the effects didn’t go away even after use stopped later in life.
  • Its chronic use is linked to higher rates of psychosis and schizophrenia.

Teens Less Likely to Smoke When Parents Set Limits

If you sometimes feel like you don’t know how to guide your teen through the various minefields they face, then you are not alone.  Am I being too strict?  Will they rebel against too-tight boundaries?  Or am I too lenient, and will they take advantage of opportunities to stray? In the area of teen smoking, a Chicago Tribune article offers advice based on a new study showing that “parents who set limits are less likely to have kids who smoke, regardless of their ethnic and racial backgrounds.” Apparently, a style of parenting “associated with rule enforcement, curfews and set bedtimes, was more likely to go hand in hand with so-called anti-tobacco parenting strategies.”  The article reported that this type of parenting was linked to a lower chance the teen would initiate smoking at all.  Specifically, the anti-tobacco strategies included things such as:

  • Punishing a child if he or she has been caught smoking
  • Discussing with the child the motivations behind smoking
  • Talking about the dangers of smoking

Heroin Use Increases Among Youth

I’ve been reading  articles in the past month about increased heroin use among youth in the Chicago suburbs.  It’s enough of a concern that I wanted to pass on information about several meetings for citizens, parents, and youth.  Below is an email, exactly as I received it from my town:

Shining Light, NFP finds the latest news about an increase in heroin use in DuPage County, especially among young people, very disturbing. So much so that the West Chicago not-for-profit organization whose mission is to empower women and families through education and outreach, has partnered with Corpus Christi Church in Carol Stream to host an informational meeting on the subject.  The meeting will be held on Sunday, December 8, 2013 at 3:00 p.m. at Corpus Christi Church, 1415 W. Lies Road, Carol Stream, Illinois. It hopes to bring people together to learn from various service providers including Alexian Brothers, Cadence Health, DG Counseling, Bartlett and Carol Stream Police Departments, Bartlett Countryside Funeral Home, DuPage County Coroner’s Office and more. Each speaker will present on the different experiences they have encountered with heroin in our communities. Attendees are encouraged to ask questions, even anonymously, and take-home resources will be provided. This meeting is open to anyone, and Shining Light, NFP encourages both youth (6th grade and up) and parents to attend.

A second meeting for Spanish speakers will be held on Sunday, January 19, 2014 at St. Mary’s Church, 147 Garden Street, West Chicago, Illinois. For more information about Shining Light, NFP or either of these informational opportunities,

Flesh-eating Recreational Drug Arrives in the Area

This has to be the most frightening drug I’ve ever heard of…a drug called Krokodil, that destroys human tissue from the inside out.  According to an article and video by local Fox News, users in Russia, where there has been an epidemic, typically die within 2 years of beginning to use this injectable drug.  It is cheap to make, and gives a short but intense high, about “three times more potent than heroin” according to the article.  But it destroys blood vessels, leading to tissue death near the site of the injection.  Gangrene sets in, leading to skin with a “crocodile-like” greenish color and scaly appearance.  People literally rot, can need skin grafts or amputation, and die from infection from the rotting tissue.  This would be a good video to watch with your kids, as this drug has just recently appeared in the U.S. and is now showing up in Will County.

Study Drug Use More Common Than We Think

Are you SURE your child has never used study drugs?  Ever?  If your answer is 100% sure, then you are pretty much like other parents.  Only 1% of those parents whose child has not been prescribed medication for ADHD believe their child has ever used a prescription amphetamine or other stimulant to get an “edge” while studying or taking tests.

The truth is that quite a bit more teens actually have used these so-called “study drugs.”  According to, a University of Michigan national poll showed that “10 percent of high school sophomores and 12 percent of high school seniors say they have used an amphetamine or other stimulant medication not prescribed by their doctor.”   But, the article says, “only 27 percent of parents polled said they have talked to their teens about using study drugs. Black parents were more likely to have discussed this issue with their teens (41 percent), compared with white (27 percent) or Hispanic (17 percent) parents.”  Knowing that these are powerful drugs that can be harmful to anyone, parents should be warning teens (and college students) not to share their ADHD drugs with others, or buy them from those who have these prescription drugs.