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5 tough questions about teens, alcohol, and drugs - answered

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By Jessica Kelmon

Should kids learn about drinking at home?

“Yes,” says Jim Matthews, M. Ed., and author of Parent’s Guide to College Drinking. He advocates giving teens a primer on drinking responsibly — teaching them the differences between beer, wine, and hard alcohol, explaining how different types of alcoholic drinks affect people in different quantities, what "proof" means, and how .05 feels (as opposed to .1). You can (and should) include health and safety messages in this discussion. “Young people need information about this choice, and it’s information they’re not getting,” he says.

What’s the best way to get this information across? In addition to facts and frequent, frank discussion, some families report doing an alcohol taste test with their kids. Matthews allowed his own kids to have one drink at home when they turned 16. They both declined. “About 30 states allow parents to give their underage kids drinks in the home,” Matthews says, “and some states allow parents to buy [their] underage kids a drink in a restaurant.” In these instances, the recommendations are for very small quantities once or twice, not regularly letting your teen drink at home, which is harmful to the brain and dangerously habit-forming.

How can I tell if my kid is smoking pot?

If you’ve never smoked marijuana, it may be hard to tell if your kid is using it. Marijuana has a “skunky” odor. Burning a dried Maple leaf or lawn clippings can produce a similar scent. Teens may try to disguise the smell by burning candles or incense, wearing perfume or cologne, or spraying air freshener. Smoking marijuana isn't the only way to get high, of course. With the proliferation of cannabis clubs, food items containing marijuana — from brownies to popsicles — are easier to get. Regardless of how it’s ingested, telltale signs of marijuana use include red, swollen, glazed over eyes, dry mouth, and excessive hunger, known as “the munchies.” Be on the lookout for sunglasses (particularly if worn at inappropriate times), eye drops, and binge eating – especially at odd hours.

But don't jump to conclusions. Any of these “sudden” new habits — personal hygiene changes, style experiments, and even weird eating habits — could be typical behavioral changes rather than drug use. Check out Is My Kid Smoking Pot for more details on this troubling question.

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Comments from readers

"Hey my name is Inga my spouse was a drug user, and I encourage him to be open to my kids instead of hiding when the kids knew something was wrong.They have seen some of the affects and we have educated them to great lengths.To made a long story short my 14 year old daughter best friend was about to try some drugs and my daughter was able to educate her and discourage her from even trying, she even went so fast as to share how drugs have impacted our lives and beg that her friend never to go that route.Her friend 15 was very thankful and they are both moving in a positive direction today. "