Parenting a teen can be very challenging as you try to find balance between giving them freedom and keeping them safe. The risk factors for teen poisonings take a more serious tone and the focus shifts from unintentional to intentional. It is not uncommon for teens to purposely use medications or household products to harm themselves.
Why are teens at risk?
- Stress: In times of stress, teens may turn to medications or illicit drugs to “take the edge off,” while others may find there is no way out and opt for ending their lives. Stress can come from multiple sources – family, school, coaches/sports, friends or work. Do not ignore a sudden change in your teen’s behavior.
- Peer Pressure: The biggest stressor in a teen’s life comes from negative peer pressure, and it’s usually from people they call friends. Peer pressure can sometimes lead to experimentation with drugs (over-the-counter, prescription or illegal) and alcohol. Make it a point to maintain open dialogue with your teen about the dangers of these substances. Encourage good choices, regardless of the actions of others.
- Substance Abuse: The substances that teens experiment with vary with time. “Designer” drugs come and go, just like fashion trends. Also playing a factor is location, availability and ease of access. Parents need to make it a point to look for any change in a teen's personality, school performance, relationships with friends or interests. Do not view these changes as "normal teen behavior." They are typically a sign of trouble.
- Inability to Understand Label Directions: Even when using a medicine or a household product for its intended purpose, teens are at risk for poisoning if they don't read the label fully or do not understand what they are reading. Encourage teens to ask questions if they are unclear as to the proper use of household products and proper usage and dosage of medication.
- Workplace Exposures: A job provides a teen with responsibility and financial resources. However, lack of proper training and/or supervision when using workplace chemicals (ie: potent degreasers, cleaners or other chemicals) can be dangerous. Remind teens to read product labels and follow directions exactly or ask for assistance when using cleaning products and chemicals at work.
- Medicine Safety: Teens typically have an order of magnitude when it comes to medication/drugs – over-the-counter medicines are safer than prescription medicines, which are safer than illicit drugs. When used incorrectly, they are equally dangerous. Make sure your teen knows to talk to you or a trusted, licensed medical professional before taking any medicine to ensure it is the right medicine for a given health situation. Remind them to read and follow directions exactly and to ask questions if there is anything they do not understand.
- The Internet: There is so much useful information on the internet, but there is also some misinformation. Help teens sort through the internet for reputable sources of information. Do internet searches together and know what websites they are visiting when you are not with them. Be aware of the various videos and "challenges" they are viewing.
The IPC can be a resource for parents in many of these situations. You can call with questions, not just in emergencies.