To combat the spread of coronavirus, most states have enacted stay-at-home orders that have closed schools and other youth-serving community resources for the remainder of the school year. Days have turned into weeks, which have turned into months and many parents are working hard to keep their teens engaged while indoors. But while teens are adjusting to extended time out of school, parents’ thoughts should turn to prevention. Talking about drug use with your kids might not be on the top of your priority list, given worries big (virus/economy) and small (toilet paper). However, youth drug use trends always increase during periods of time away from school. So an investment in prevention now can help prevent negative consequences. When it comes to drug awareness with your teens, fact-based education and honest discussion are key to successful prevention.
Youth drug use rises during extended periods out of school
- During the summer months, youth drug use rises as teen experimentation spikes
Research shows that youth drug use increases during extended periods out of school. Summertime increases outdoor activities and decreases adult supervision, leading to a rise in youth drug use and experimentation. 1,2
- First-time use for tobacco products spikes during the summer
One study revealed that during June and July, cigarette consumption among youth was higher than any other drug use, with over 5,000 surveyed youth reporting first-time cigarette use during these months.3
- Increased involvement in extracurricular activities can reduce youth drug use
Schools and community-based organizations can have a significant impact preventing and reducing youth drug use through increased extracurricular activities. 4 In fact, one study reveals that students who are involved in extracurricular activities are 49% less likely to use drugs. 4
The unique situation caused by COVID-19 means that many teens have increased time away from school with decreased access to extracurricular activities. The combination of these risk factors may lead to increased rates of youth drug use -- even if parents think their teens are well supervised at home with family.
Vaping is among the top concerns for youth drug use
- Vapes are the most commonly used tobacco product among youth
Vapes, also known as e-cigarettes, have been marketed towards the youth market, making vapes the most popular tobacco product among youth. Although legislative policy has fought to decrease youth vaping access and consumption, policy alone is not enough to prevent youth from vaping.
- Teens are enticed by fruity flavors and colorful packaging
After great scrutiny, JUUL was forced to take their most popular JUUL pod flavors among youth off of the market. This, however, has not stopped other vape manufacturers from producing products and e-liquids (the liquid concentrate that goes in vapes) that contain flavors that are appealing to youth.
- Vapes can contain high levels of nicotine that enable users to inhale large amounts of nicotine at one time
Vapes can deliver high levels of nicotine to users at a faster rate than traditional cigarettes and many youth report not knowing that vapes contain nicotine. Vape manufacturers have misled consumers to think that vaping has no real health risks. Lack of clear, evidence-based information has made youth vulnerable to nicotine dependency which can have adverse effects on the developing brain.
- Vapes come in a variety of shapes and sizes that are easy to obtain and conceal
Vapes come in modern designs that are easily concealable and e-cigarette vapor can be undetectable due to the unrecognizable scent vapes produce. Teens obtain vapes through a variety of methods, including online purchases and convenience stores. One study revealed that the majority of teens who attempted to purchase vapes online were successful in doing so. You may feel that your teen is safe from vaping while stuck at home, but there are several ways that teens can acquire vapes.
- The CDC says that prevention is critical to ending the tobacco epidemic in the US
Most tobacco use begins in adolescents. The CDC recognizes prevention as a key component to fighting youth tobacco use and ending the tobacco epidemic in the US. Vaping prevention is critical to educating teens on the health risks of vaping and reducing the sky-rocketing number of youth vapers.
When it comes to youth drug prevention, there are measures you can take to keep your teens safe.
- Take time to educate yourself on current drug trends and science-based information
When you know the facts, you can better educate teens on the risks of drug use. Invite open-ended discussions and be clear about what your rules are. Share the facts with your teens and be as authentic as you can.
- Try to avoid getting angry or disappointed
Your teens are more likely to open up to you if you are prepared to listen and not judge. The goal is to educate and inform so that your teens understand your concerns and you feel confident that they have the information they need to make informed decisions.
- Engage with your community
Preventing youth drug use is a group effort, so engage with your community. Approach youth serving community members with your concerns and try to develop partnerships that support your community’s youth drug prevention goals.
- Utilize online resources like AVOID
Use online resources that are based in science and centered around education. Check out AVOID as an example of an online educational resource your community can use to prevent youth vaping.
Youth drug use is a pressing concern worth considering as teens have extended time out of school and less access to supervised extracurricular activities this summer. The fight to reduce youth vaping continues to be a top priority in communities across the US as more youth become regular vape users. Public health officials agree that prevention is an effective way to fight youth vaping and you can begin these efforts in your own home. Engage in open discussions with your teens about drug use, voice your concerns, and inform your teens using fact-based information. As the saying goes, it takes a village. Together, we can educate teens on the risks of drug use and combat youth vaping -- especially during these unusual times.
- Joseph J. Palamar, Caroline Rutherford, Katherine M. Keyes. S Summer as a Risk Factor for Drug Initiation. JGIM, 2019 DOI: 10.1007/s11606-019-05176-3.
- Lee, K. T., & Vandell, D. L. (2015). Out-of-School Time and Adolescent Substance Use. Journal of Adolescent Health, 57(5), 523–529. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.07.003.
- Castillo, M. (2012, July 5). First-time teen tobacco and marijuana use booms in June and July.Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/first-time-teen-tobacco-and-marijuana-use-booms-in-june-and-july/.
- Council on School Health and Committee. (2007, December 1). The Role of Schools in Combating Illicit Substance Abuse. Retrieved from https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/120/6/1379.