Archive for the 'Teenagers' Category

Recovering out loud

Jan. 13th 2016

Jeb Bush sets the standard for facing addiction

In your family as in mine, did side conversations occur during the holidays about cousins, in-laws or next-gens in rehab, relapsing or actively using? How about relatives or offspring of family friends fresh out of treatment – are they back at it? Of course these are all very quiet discussions; don’t tell anyone.

 

We don’t want to talk about it, do we? 

 

But Jeb Bush does. 

 

As a father, I have felt the heartbreak of drug abuse. My daughter Noelle suffered from addiction, and like many parents facing similar situations, her mom and I struggled too.

 

I never expected to see my precious daughter in jail. It wasn’t easy, and it became very public when I was Governor of Florida, making things even more difficult for Noelle. She went through hell, so did her mom, and so did I.

 

It’s very debilitating when you have a loved one who is struggling, and you can’t control it. You have to love them, but you also have to make it clear you cannot enable the behavior that gets them in trouble.

 

Showing a lot of courage, Noelle graduated from drug court. Drug courts use a restorative solution model involving multi-disciplinary coordination, including the judiciary, the prosecution, mental health specialists, social services and treatment professionals. I was the proud dad that saw Noelle finish that. She’s drug-free now.

 

Noelle was charged with forging a fraudulent prescription for Xanax and with possession of crack cocaine. Her parents chose not to use their influence to get her off. They were smart enough to realize that criminal charges could be used to force her into multi-disciplinary treatment with accountability for clean drug screens over many months – the proven formula for successful recovery.

 

Hearing from parents like Jeb helps us understand how Noelle recovered and “normalizes” addiction – making it just like any other illness. Unfortunately, most families aren’t as forthcoming as the Bushes and few follow through to see that consequences remain in place.

 

Common rationalizations counterproductive to achieving long-term recovery (and my responses) include:

  • It’s up to the addict to tell people. (But if s/he never does tell, people can’t be supportive.)
  • Let’s keep it a secret. (But addiction thrives in secrecy and withers in openness.)
  • I am ashamed to have an addict in the family. (But addiction is a disease. Is it shameful to have cancer?)
  • I need to let go. (But addicts need accountability. If not you, who will hold them accountable?)
  • I would never suggest alcohol/drug testing. (But testing leads to improve outcomes and early intervention in case of relapse.)

Facing addiction means talking about substance use and abuse and recognizing it is a chronic disease that can be prevented or minimized if families and their advisors work together. For most, however, even simple steps, like attempting to estimate the percentage of substance abusers or others with significant behavioral health disorders within the family, is fraught with controversy and rarely undertaken. And what is the tipping point – 20%, 30%? – sufficient to motivate action? In my family of origin, combining my parents, grandparents and siblings, our rate is over 50%. That’s 911 time in my book – and one reason I became a licensed alcohol and drug counselor.

 

Doing nothing or ignoring it is not a successful strategy and only leads to tragedy. It takes a village and thoughtful planning – before you find yourself in crisis – to have a chance against the power of the drug or the drink.

 

When parents talk openly about their experience, other families learn about what works for recovery. And their stories serve as cautionary tales for those in their teens and twenties.

 

Until we find the courage to move beyond our shame and our silence about addiction, unneeded relapse and avoidable deaths will continue to happen.

Worse than ever: Pain pills and heroin use

Apr. 28th 2015

More people are dying from opioid overdoses than traffic accidents, yet no one seems to notice or want to address it. As commented on in the April 17th issue of The New York Times, “Serving All Your Heroin Needs”:

 

Meanwhile, the victims – mostly white, well-off and often young – are mourned in silence, because their parents are loath to talk publicly about how a cheerleader daughter hooked for dope, or their once-star athlete son overdosed in a fast-food restaurant bathroom.

 

Look at the numbers: 24,000 deaths from opioids. While the pain pill machine goes about its business of producing more and more addicts, no one says a thing.

 

For parents who do stand up and speak, the response is underwhelming. I attended an event at a large suburban high school billed as a community forum to examine the problems of recreational drug use, prompted by the drug death of a 17-year-old. Her father, Tom, spoke very movingly and passionately about his loss, but the audience was almost devoid of parents.

 

Why? Is it fear of hearing a contemporary bare his soul about a parent’s worse nightmare? Is it hoping that ignoring the problem will make it go away – soon they’ll be off to college anyway? Who knows? But the absence of any passion – any demand for action – was striking.

Stimulant use among 26-to-34-year-olds doubles in four years

The Sunday Times had a second story, this one on abuse of ADHD medications, titled “Workers Seeking Productivity in a Pill are Abusing A.D.H.D. Drugs.” Stimulants like Adderall, Vyvanse, and Concerta are migrating from school settings to the workplace. They’re now in play in demanding professions:

 

These lawyers said they and dozens of young colleagues at their firms had casually traded pills to work into the night and billed hundreds of extra hours a year in the race for partnerships.

 

Overuse leads to rapid heartbeat, acute anxiety, hallucinations, sleep deprivation, and addiction. Just the type of professional you want working on your case or in your firm or client base. Outside of the workplace, these pills are “Mommy Crack,” great for staying thin and multitasking on the home front.

 

Again, this phenomenon starts in high school, where students sell pills or give them to friends to help with academic focus and performance. They’re great for answering the four or five extra SAT questions needed to break 700 and pulling all-nighters for studying and exams. Whether it be weed, alcohol, uppers, or downer, students in every high school know who is selling or providing drugs and drinks, but are unwilling to name names out of fear of being ostracized or to protect their sources.

Silence and indifference

In any case – at the parent or student level – we have created a culture of silence and indifference not seen since the AIDS epidemic. We are beginning to make the connection between binge drinking and date rape among high school and college students, but a similar connection must be made between pharmaceutical companies’ and doctors’ profits and drug dependence and deaths. In both instances, the big businesses supplying the alcohol and pills pay less than 5% of their collateral damage and can never atone for their increasing death toll.

 

Not to minimize the AIDS epidemic, but what we’re dealing with here is on a very large scale. The Band Plays On, with alcohol and opioid deaths exceeding 100,000 per year. When will enough of us join together to stop this growing tragedy?

Becoming addicted to pain pills

Perhaps understanding how opioid dependency develops will be the first step in generating more public support for taking on the drug industry.

 

For those of you unfamiliar with how someone becomes dependent on pain pills, here is how it happens. People have an injury, surgery, or dental work and are given a prescription for 30 pain pills. After just a few days, it takes more pills to obtain the same level of effect in dampening pain. Most patients learn to tolerate their pain and supplement with over-the-counter medications. But then once they near the end of their supply, there is the problem of stopping. Stopping abruptly leads to uncomfortable physical symptoms, so most people taper off. But addicts are not like most people, and they don’t stop.

 

The dependency cycle

 

The dependency cycle begins when a person ups the dose, decides it’s too uncomfortable to quit, or in fact likes the physical and psychological effects from the pills. These narcotics can give a euphoric sensation of withdrawing from the world. Users will continue to seek prescriptions until their doctors decide to cut them off. From there, they turn to doctor-shopping and online ordering, or worse.

 

Switch to heroin

 

Many users – or addicts – switch to heroin because it’s cheaper and more readily available. It also can produce a really powerful and pleasurable body jolt the first few times. This motivates the addict to “chase the high” – trying to reproduce the feelings from that first time by increasing the amount, potency, or by mixing with other drugs. Very dangerous and a big reason for all the deaths. A similar process occurs for other narcotics.

 

Over-prescribing

 

Painkillers are meant for acute pain, not chronic pain, as are most other drugs, such as anxiety or sleeping medications. But remember, this starts with the doctor handing out the initial 30-pill prescriptions or samples provided by Big Pharma, enough to hook some patients, as the drug companies know all too well. And it’s no secret that doctors are liberal with the scripts – even doling out Norco (acetaminophen and hydrocodone) by the handful to newly-postpartum nursing mothers. It’s hard to keep saying no when it’s always offered.

Transforming public opinion and policy

Attacking the supply side seems like a good first step, but that means overcoming deeply entrenched social stigma, leaving the shadows, and finding the courage to tell our truths – namely that these problems don’t exist in a vacuum. With opioid-related overdose deaths occurring every four minutes, we can no longer pretend that these “dirty” deaths are only happening to strung-out junkies living on the streets in the inner city. They are happening to us, our families, and our friends. Fortunately, new generations are stepping forward to start conversations aimed at transforming public opinion and policy.

To Tom, the father who spoke out at the community forum, you are not alone, and we will not forget your daughter.

Marijuana: Family and advisor responses and recommendations

Mar. 31st 2015

Part II

As emphasized in Part I, it’s important to acknowledge the positive and enjoyable aspects of pot use to establish credibility with young adults. After all, they know many of us older folks smoked in our early days and we did indeed inhale, unlike one of our presidents.

 

However, to reiterate, marijuana’s downside is that repeated use impairs learning and executive/problem-solving brain functions. With many regular users chasing higher THC concentrations (up to 27 percent), being able to identify at-risk and dependent users becomes an imperative. Note that, in contrast, medical marijuana is effective at 9 percent THC in very small quantities (two or three times a day) – one way to identify those truly in need of pain relief vs. those gaming the system.

The survey says

Another important part of any discussion with young adults is putting marijuana use in the context of other substance use, including alcohol.

  • Surveys show within a two-week period, 13 percent of college students had 10+ drinks in one night and 5 percent had 15+ drinks in one night.

Potheads are quick to point out this comparison (binge drinking at 18 percent vs. regular pot use at 9 percent) while also noting the difference in post-use effects – namely no vomiting or hangover. But let’s not fall into the trap of arguing which type of substance is superior. Going down that rabbit hole with Alice (a.k.a. your client, son, or daughter) leads you to a land of never ending rationalizations and justifications.

 

By the way, these drinkers and smokers are two separate groups, so the total for male students with substance use symptomatology is at least 27 percent. Add in the one in nine in 2013 who used Adderall without medical supervision and smaller numbers using other drugs, and you can understand why we keep harping on the fact that this problem can no longer be ignored.

 

A recent New York Times article on 12 hospitalizations due to ingestion of “bad Molly” on the Wesleyan campus led police to discover 600 Xanax and at least 15 other prescription drugs in room searches. Noted one expert at Columbia College:

 

“Where did this kid get such a bizarre collection of drugs? … It’s very frightening, because these drugs can cause fatal reactions.”

 

Great question. The answer is everywhere. This type of use by different groups – the drinkers, smokers, and stimulant freaks – is prevalent on all campuses and upon graduation will either become part of your client base or potential work force. 

Evaluation

Clients come to us suggesting we evaluate a young adult to see if there is substance dependence. But good luck conducting an assessment based on self-reporting. All we hear is minimization and excuses. Reports from concerned family members are rejected as overreactions or one-time “experimental” events. When marijuana comes up for discussion, the attitude is “It’s legal or should be legal.” Without objective external evidence, convincing a young adult to cut back or seek help can be fruitless, particularly if they have access to trust funds or are employed.

 

Be aware that for an evaluation to be accepted in court in our state, at least three outside collateral sources are needed to verify information about the subject’s drug use. Identifying and then even suggesting talking to these collaterals can be contentious, to say the least.

 

As mentioned in Part I, by understanding marijuana’s effect on the body and why people like it, family offices and advisors can tailor an approach that focuses on education, establishes behavioral standards and performance expectations, and puts policy in place for family members.

Recommendations

For the office, drug testing is the most reliable and prudent approach to ensure you are not putting your reputation and fiscal integrity at risk. If a person wants to smoke dope or use other drugs, they can work at a coffee shop, but not for you or the families and clients who rely on you.

 

For your clients, there are two complementary tools: education (scientific advances, including brain scans) and behavioral expectations and standards.

 

Education: the science of brain scans

Showing younger generations how brains of pot smokers compare to the brains of non-smokers is an excellent educational tool. When accompanying accurate information on how weed affects the body – both the fun and unfun sides – scans can be persuasive. Another tactic is to find a respected family program, like Hazelden’s, where teenagers and their parents can learn more about substance dependence and how it is linked to brain changes.

 

Behavioral expectations and standards

Aside from the educational approach, the critical piece has to do with behavioral expectations and standards. Start with solid baseline information on aptitude, skill level, and any learning concerns. Assuming you or the parents you are advising have this information, assess whether there are underperformance or behavioral concerns that warrant evaluating the reason for the differences between expected and actual results. This may require educational or other testing to explain the disparity.

 

As you continue on, it’s necessary to come to an agreement or otherwise establish goals for the young adult in question. It is through a thoughtful goal-setting process with measureable standards that dysfunctional behavior can be identified, particularly if there is some indication drug testing is a necessary part of the process.

 

Note the connection to the Social Impairment diagnostic criteria for substance use disorders:

 

Social Impairment is the second grouping of criteria (Criteria 5-7).

  1. Recurrent substance use may result in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  2. The individual may continue substance use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the substance.
  3. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities may be given up or reduced because of substance use. The individual may withdraw from family activities and hobbies in order to use the substance.

Setting measureable goals and expectations can provide the factual basis to support findings relating to social impairment, an area of vulnerability for pot smokers. When facts become apparent, it’s a good time to introduce drug testing. Tests can now be justified to parents and families who might previously be concerned about an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

 

present in an alcoholic as you would in someone whose drug of choice is marijuana. For example, take impairment criteria 3 and 10, more common to binge drinkers:

  1. The individual may spend a great deal of time obtaining the substance, using the substance, or recovering from its effects.
  2. Tolerance is signaled by requiring a markedly increased dose of the substance to achieve the desired effect or a markedly reduced effect when the usual dose is consumed.

The people consuming 10-15 drinks in one sitting will have a high tolerance and spend a great deal of time recovering from the effects of doing so. Each drug presents its own set of challenges and impairments. By DSM standards, one is not better or worse than another. Disordered use is disordered use.

Three points

1. Take action or problems will get worse
Don’t let under performing, slacker, next-generation family members meander through their formative years without a plan to investigate drug or learning concerns. (Otherwise they become dependent – in the full sense of the word – 30-, 40- and 50-year-olds.)

  • Of course, this assumes the family office and governance documents contain expectations as to performance.

If not, and each branch handles these issues individually, you will be an observer of the long-term effects of drug use and living proof of affluent “falling generations.”

 

2. The code of silence

Don’t expect siblings, cousins, or friends to blow the whistle on heavy pot smokers (or other drug users or drinkers, for that matter). There is a fierce unwritten code not to rat out substance users.

  • If you do hear something, follow it up because it usually means the person of concern is in way over their head.

However, even if the information is persuasive, you will need to determine if it carries the same weight with the deciders (i.e., parents or grandparents) before you proceed. They will often either be in conflict or more concerned about reputation and succession, and thus eager to shoot down stories from their heir’s friends.

 

3. Cross-addiction

Simplistically, the brain reacts to most drugs in the same way. It doesn’t distinguish between weed, alcohol, coke, and other substances in terms of their addictive nature. So when someone comes out of treatment and says, “They told me I can’t do vodka, but I can have beer and weed,” that’s a lie. Ask them to sign a release so you can see their discharge summary with their diagnosis. This type of misinformation is a lot more common than you would imagine.

Not going away

We hear from our friends in Denver that home prices are skyrocketing due to an influx of younger folks of independent means who seem to be moving in so they can enjoy legal bud. Who knows if this is fact or old folks’ imagination, but what we know is weed is not going away. It’s going to be more pervasive and impactful on communities, including the families we serve and the people we employ. Doing nothing is not an option.

Marijuana: The fun side, the downside, and why family offices and advisors should take note

Mar. 19th 2015

Part I

Fully or partially legalized in many states, a solid majority of teens and young adults believe marijuana should be universally decriminalized, viewing weed as a relatively harmless drug in comparison to alcohol. Its use is widespread among affluent young in high school and college. For example, at one local school I hear students toke up to obtain a better grasp on abstract concepts in their advanced physics class.

 

As of 2013, one in 11 male college students are daily smokers. With marijuana use and acceptance on the rise, we advise diffusing this momentum with facts on how it affects the brain (both positive and negative) and a behavioral-based management strategy.

Why bother worrying?

As pot becomes increasingly legitimized across the country, now is a good time for family offices to get up to speed on the implications for clients and office operations. You might think, “Why bother?”

  • And, indeed, that is a fair question if your approach is to oversee investments, disburse and account for income, advise on estate planning, and leave personal conduct issues up to the individual.

Marijuana can be viewed as just another substance that clients may choose to use as part of their lifestyle. Some regular smokers even tend to be “laid back” and therefore less time-consuming and demanding compared to other clients.

When it becomes a problem

Conversely, other regular smokers may be more difficult to deal with in family meetings.

  • They ask disruptive questions and go off on tangential trains of thought.
  • They are susceptible to harebrained investment schemes, being easily talked into being the deep-pocket “lead partner” to show their family they can be successful – despite being chronically high.
  • You may also have unhappy grandparents when they discover their beloved granddaughter is moving to Colorado to raise goats after they “invested” several hundred thousand in her private school education.

So identifying the source of this behavior, understanding what marijuana does to a user and why so many find it so appealing may be helpful in responding to these unhappy senior family members. If your office or family leadership is also concerned about encouraging young adults to develop competitive skill sets and lead productive lives, as well as avoiding addictive behavior patterns, then I suggest you read on.

Consuming THC – the delivery system

THC is marijuana’s primary psychoactive ingredient. Levels today can exceed 25 percent, as compared to 3 percent in the ’90s. And as users ingest higher concentrations of THC at more frequent intervals, the chances of addiction and other disorders increases. In addition, there are many other psychoactive chemicals (cannabinoids) that are fine-tuned through plant breeding to create different strains to increase potency and appeal to consumer tastes.

 

Note that CBD and related cannabinoids are cultivated for their medicinal properties, lack any noticeable psychoactive affects and are generally sold in pills or other edibles. Exception: Pot for treating pain has THC, one reason why so so many young adults carry generalized pain diagnoses in medical marijuana states.

 

There are four stairways to heaven:

 

Burning: pipe, joint

  • Hits the lungs in minutes, lasts about two hours, but is an irritant.

Vaporizing

  • Solves the irritation problem and is hard to detect. Oil can go into an e-cig chamber.

Eating

  • THC is processed through the liver, resulting in a delayed high.

Dabbing

  • Placing concentrated hash oil against a heated surface and inhaling the smoke. These extracts have up to 90 percent THC levels and result in a rapid and very intense high.

Brain scan information[i]

From brain scans, we now have a good understanding of how pot affects various areas of the brain and the ensuing feelings:

 

In your brain:

  • Basal Ganglia: Controls many of the brain’s reward system, the part that makes you feel high
  • Amygdala: Responsible for paranoia and anxiety in smokers
  • Hypothalamus: Gives stoners time warp and munchies
  • Hippocampus: Pot mimics a temporary brain lesion, which is why smokers can’t recall so much of their high
  • Cerebellum: Nexus of motor control, especially coordination and timing, becomes sluggish under effects of cannabis
  • Brain Stem: Charged with autonomic functions like breathing and heart rate, devoid of cannabinoid receptors, which is why virtually no one fatally overdoses on pot

The last fact, that THC does not lead to overdoses, is one reason why potheads believe weed is far superior to alcohol.

 

In your mind:

  • Euphoria: The brain’s reward circuit kicks into action and intensifies feelings – usually a pleasurable experience.
  • Dysphoria: Opposite effect, for those already anxious, fearful, or worried about the increasing heart rate. Reported by 40-50 percent of users.
  • Distortion Perception: THC’s affect on the amygdala and release of dopamine induces state of absorption, can make things more vivid, and result in sound and visual distortions.
  • Time Lag: THC speeds up internal clocks so stoned people overestimate how much time has passed while high.
  • Memory Impairment: Short-term memory affected due to neural interactions and modifications.

Oh, to be back in college, or not!

 

Similarly we, have a good understanding of the physiological impact on the body:

  • Dry/cotton mouth: Lagging salivary gland response time slows the secretion of spit.
  • Bloodshot Eyes: With lowered blood pressure, capillaries in the eyes widen and blood fills the void. Dilated pupils can also make it difficult to focus on nearby objects.
  • Increased Heat Rate: In as little as 10 minutes, heart rate can spike to 160 and stay elevated for a few hours.
  • Drowsiness: THC can interfere with REM and stage-four sleep for up to five days.
  • The Munchies: Causes the hypothalamus to produce enzymes that increase hunger and messages that let your body know you’re full.

THC is stored in fat cells and is released into the blood stream for two to four weeks or more, depending on amount and intensity of prior use – one reason why professional athletes flunk drug tests while in training camp.

Have a real conversation

The best way to have a real conversation about pot is to acknowledge what’s good about getting high: It lubricates social interactions, dissipates boredom and stress, and enhances perception and euphoria. Just saying it’s all bad does not resonate with younger people and causes most to end the conversation or stop listening to the lecture.

 

For some, the not-so-good aspects include amplified anxiety, lack of motivation, and expense. Allowing people to express these experiences while also talking about the enjoyable aspects helps take the conversation to a deeper, more nuanced level.

 

For regular users, one in six teenagers and one of 11 adults become substance-dependent, with many adolescents seeking help when psychosis takes hold. With the brain developing into the mid-20s, young people who smoke early and often are more likely to have learning and mental health problems due to structural changes in the amygdala (processing memories and emotions) and the nucleus accumbens (decision-making and motivation).

 

As one expert, Dr. Hans Breiter, noted:

 

If I were to design a substance that was bad for college students, it would be         marijuana.”

 

It’s also bad for office staff as THC can impair focus, working memory, decision-making, and motivation for about 24 hours. Not exactly the qualities family offices and advisors are specifying in their job descriptions.

 

As with alcohol, moderate marijuana use among young adults might be professionally and socially acceptable. But its side effects and legality call into question how families and family offices should treat it. So as recreational marijuana use becomes legalized, de facto legalized or decriminalized in more states, it’s crucial for families and family offices to be proactive when dealing with their psychoactive offspring and clients. In Part II, we’ll talk more about how to go about this and what approaches and policies are most effective, including education and setting behavioral standards and performance expectations.

 

[i] The following information on the science of the weeds impact on the body is taken from a December 2014 article in New York Magazine titled “Your Grandmother’s Guide to Pot.”

 

Preparing the next generation

Jan. 27th 2015

Rethinking advice for parents

A recent article in The New York Times by Ron Lieber with the headline “Growing Up on Easy Street Has Its Own Dangers revealed the shocking news that many adult children of the moneyed class are not self-sufficient functioning adults. The article states:

 

There is an emerging consensus among academics that children of the affluent have higher rates of depression and anxiety and elevated levels of substance abuse and certain delinquent behaviors.

 

OMG! If this is news to you, what planet are you living on?

 

Ever since the ’60s, members of wealthy families have been self-reporting high rates of addiction, behavioral health disorders, abuse, and generalized dysfunctions in memoirs. Aside from personal stories, Joanie Bronfman’s 1987 dissertation, The Experience of Inherited Wealth: A Social-Psychological Perspective, documents what is common knowledge among the next-generation affluent: Yes, Houston, we have a problem!

 

But almost every wealthy family, when asked, will not admit to significant concerns about substance use disorders or underperforming, economically-dependent younger generations. Those of use on the inside – either because we are in recovery or in the helping professions – see a reality that is far different than the public façade. Not only are there high levels of substance dependence, but increasingly, financial conflict with parents and trustees stemming from the inability to independently sustain the lifestyle and social standing experienced as children.

Great expectations

As commented on in the New York Social Diary (your link to society), over the last 20 years there is the growing phenomenon of new wealth supplying their children with an endless supply of money to live the high life and impress their friends. While this assures those of us in the recovery business an endless supply of clients, old money’s younger generations feel enormous social pressure to compete and maintain prominence.

 

This group, having grown up in an environment of surplus, expects to live in a similar manner as adults and be supported by family money in doing so. Their parents often inherited in their 40s or even earlier. But now, with increasing longevity, the next generations are facing shortfalls and not happy about it. Lacking the skills or inclination to earn significant incomes in the job market, they are pressuring parents and trustees to pony up. While resorting to violence is obviously an extreme measure, cutting off access to grandchildren and threatening litigation with the attendant disclosure of family secrets is becoming more common.

 

Few take responsibility for slacking off in high school and college and consequently failing to develop marketable skills or spend within their means. Accepting a lower social profile or adopting a reduced standard of living is not an option. Resentments surface and demands increase, often fueled by excessive alcohol and prescription medication abuse.

Reaching a crisis level

We continue to identify substance abuse and behavioral disorders as the No. 1 risk to wealth preservation and next-generation well-being. While drinking and drugging have always been part of high-end culture, intensifying external social and media influences are leading to increased use and at younger ages. It’s beginning to reach a crisis level; parents are overwhelmed and outgunned, and we are not using our expertise to help them respond.

 

In my view, the primary task for family offices, advisors, and professionals is to support parents in setting limits, requiring accountability, and limiting communication tools, as well as being role models rather than peers. Advice on involving the younger group in philanthropy, family meetings, and business/economic exercises is secondary and can detract from the more important goals of learning life skills, developing academic and career interests, and differentiating from “the family.”

 

Let’s devote 2015 to assisting our clients in educating themselves on the risks to their children and responses that allow them to successfully navigate an increasingly hazardous culture.

Teenage popularity: blessing or curse?

Jul. 29th 2014

Why affluent adolescents fail to launch

Being athletic, attractive, socially admired and sought after seem like the perfect solutions to overcoming the angst and insecurities common in the early teen years. It might feel as though you’ve dodged a bullet if your child is one of the popular kids, but watch out.

This temporary teenage high is more of a flash fire than a slow burn and many end up in “failing to launch” as adults.

Fast-forward a decade, and the once-popular kids are often struggling with substance abuse and low achievement, looking back on the glory days, with parents providing a helping hand for living expenses.

Popularity as a problem predictor

This might come as a surprise, but popularity is actually a better predictor of future problems than teen substance use itself, according to a study from the University of Virginia and discussed in Jan Hoffman’s New York Times article “Cool at 13, Adrift at 23”:

“Pseudomature behavior is even a stronger predictor of problems with drugs and alcohol than levels of drug use in early adolescence.”

But why? Why, when they seem to be on the road to success, does stable young-adulthood so often elude them? Let’s explore some answers.

Emotionally unprepared

Early stardom, hosting the all-nighter, and attaining “Queen Bee” status carry their own stressors.

“The teenagers who lead the social parade in middle school – determining everyone else’s choices in clothes, social media and even notebook colors – have a heavy burden for which they are not emotionally equipped.”

Once you’ve won the big game, become party central, or bedded that special somebody (probably following an over-the-top prom invitation), it’s hard to maintain the pace without raising the stakes to dangerous levels.

For me, playing left wing on varsity in eighth grade and winning the big game at 15 were incredible highs. So was beating the competition for class rank and making it into an Ivy League college. But that euphoria passes quickly, and it’s easy to turn to alcohol in an attempt to recapture the endorphin rush.

Most young teens lack the perspective and sophistication to handle early peak experiences. It overwhelms them, even as they pretend that everything is under control. It’s not easy feeling insecure on the inside while presenting a bulletproof exterior to fend off the competition at any age, let alone at 16.

Early success and attention can be scary – and there’s no one to talk about it with because most adults think success breeds happiness. Under the guidance of aware adults or a strong internal compass, some maintain self-discipline until their brain develops abstract concepts and they gain a perspective on their experiences, but this is more the exception than the rule.

There’s only one Missy Franklin for every 10 Justin Biebers.

The lifestyle

Being “special” is an especially well-trodden path for children of affluence. Kids who come from families with money – who have the trendiest name-brand clothes, the latest technology, the fastest cars, etc. – often find themselves at the epicenter of their social circles. Their peers want to be around them; they’re put on the A-team in athletics; teachers and administrators buckle under the weight of the family’s prominence. Out here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes – these are the Boat People – kids with lake homes who drive jet skis and migrate to houses with absent parents and accessible alcohol.

Some skate through – never pushed to build real-world, employment-worthy skills. Others are on the track for high-prestige schools and run into trouble post-college.

Athletics

For the budding athlete, there are varsity induction rituals like hazing and end-of-season celebrations – all of which involve heavy drinking. Prowess on the field and in the gym creates a sense of invincibility and many opportunities for binging. This includes girls, ever eager to show they can outshine the boys.

With winking disapproval from administrators and parents, the relationship with alcohol (and eventually other drugs) becomes ritualized.

Dubious role models

The attractive, the good-looking, and the superficially sophisticated not only look up to older role models as trendsetters but are often partying with high-status students three to four years older. And it’s usually the more exploitative elders who are interested in the younger crowd. Some juniors and seniors get off on introducing the underclassmen (particularly girls) to alcohol, drugs, and of course sex. It’s a game for them, and they don’t care who gets hurt.

‘Best friend’ parents

Many upwardly-mobile parents are pleased their sons and daughters are tight with the in-crowd and overlook the danger signs, including their own inability to see how they are living vicariously through their children.

Large houses with absent or benign-neglect parents become party central. Many parents would rather have their kids use at home than drink and drive, so there’s a lot of “staying over” for the night at a friend’s house and arriving home at noon the next morning. Moms call school with excuses for missing homework and postponed exams.

Does this sound familiar? If so, you are courting big trouble.

Affluent young adults and substance use disorders

Many are surprised to hear that over 20 percent of affluent young adults assess as needing substance use treatment. Our teens under discussion here comprise a good portion of this group.

It’s a simple but vicious cycle for the affluent:

  • Their kids are the popular kids.
  • The popular kids are the kids who grow up too fast and with few limits.
  • The kids who grow up too fast are the kids who end up needing alcohol and drug treatment.

(Most of the remainder are college students with genetic histories of addiction in their families who party hearty in college and trigger their gene.)

Not cool anymore

As these kids age up into their twenties, they think that these “pseudomature” activities will help them maintain their position, but in reality they inhibit true maturation. They get stuck living in their middle-school world, their emotional and intellectual growth stunted by alcohol and drug use. While they’re acting grown-up, their “less-cool” peers are actually growing up – and passing them by.

They are doing more extreme things to try to act cool, bragging about drinking three six-packs on a Saturday night, and their peers are thinking, ‘These kids are not socially competent,’ ” Dr. Allen said. “They’re still living in their middle-school world.”

Yes, getting wasted at 24 at the family compound with buddies is no longer just “having a little fun.” Unlimited access to alcohol and drugs with few consequences begins to take its toll – a bitter irony for parents, as the very things they aspired to for their kids sowed the seeds for future dysfunction.

Individuality and confidence

This is one of those situations where the risks associated with popularity and higher socioeconomic status can sink your child. However, this all-too-familiar ending is by no means inevitable. But it takes parents who are really on their game – stars in their own right – who understand the dangers being overinvested in their children’s successes, particularly as surrogates for their own unfulfilled dreams. These parents can help their preteens and teens understand and accept that popularity isn’t the end-all be-all.

“Parents can reinforce qualities that will help them withstand the pressure to be too cool, too fast. … Adolescents who can stick to their own values can still be considered cool, even without doing what others are doing.”

One key task is to keep the dialogue going on how your child feels about being the center of attention. That means taking the time available when your child wants to talk, not when you want to talk. And be a parent – not a friend or cheerleader.

  • Look out for pseudomature behavior and bad-influence older friends.
  • Provide structure and accountability.
  • Homework first.
  • No overnights.
  • Don’t allow the demands of practice and friends to override family time.

It will likely put a dent in your child’s popularity, but far better to suffer through a few teen years in the middle of the pack than all of adulthood in stunted adolescence.