Tween/Teen Proofing Your Home

by Bobbie Jacobs, MS, LPC-S

Part 1

When our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or children of family friends were infants and toddlers we made sure that our homes were babyproof in order to insure their safety while they were visiting. You, like so many others, thought that this type of safeguarding ended when the child was entering approximately the first grade. Now parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends you have a larger task at hand. You must tween/teen proof your home.

Recent studies have shown that the number one place a tween/teen looks for substances to get high is in their own home, the home of relatives or a friend’s home. Pre-adolescents and adolescents seem to think that if a doctor prescribes a medication, these medications must be safer than street drugs. Ten percent of teens say they have taken drugs from friends of relatives without asking. When you combine a “nothing-can-happen-to-me attitude” with risky behaviors they are headed for problems that will affect them, their friends and family. In this two part series, I would like to give you a few ideas as to what you might want to monitor around your home.

One of the most important things we need to do is keep our medications in a safe location. The family medicine cabinet is no longer a safe option. Painkillers like Vicodin or Percocet are the prescription drugs most likely to be abused by tween/teens, but all painkillers are fair game. Members of the household should be informed that even though you keep your medication in a safe location you also keep track of the number of pills. If you think you child is abusing painkillers look for signs like constricted pupils, mood swings, personality changes, clumsiness or drowsiness.

Is a member of your family on ADD or ADHD medications? Did you know that one in four children with a prescription for stimulant medication has been approached with offers to sell, give or trade drugs? Be aware of lying or hiding behaviors that have not been present before. Is your child overly cautious about the contents of their backpack? (This would be an example of a hiding behavior.) Is your child hanging out with a new crowd of friends? Signs of stimulant abuse include anxiety, flushed skin, excessive energy, lack of sleep, irritability or loss of appetite.

Moms, aunts, and grandmothers, don’t tempt your children or their friends by leaving your purse or pill boxes laying around unattended. I don’t think we realize the magnitude of the pressure our tween/teens feel from their peer groups to fit in. They are looking for bragging rights about the pills they scored while mom, grandmother, aunt, or a family friend were off in another part of the house and they had access to the prescription or over-the-counter medications you left unattended.

And here’s an FYI if you no longer need your medications. Be sure to dispose of them properly. To correctly dispose of prescription drugs, the pills must be smashed and mixed in with something undesirable to eat, placed in a sealed can and thrown in the trash. Do not flush the drugs down the toilet – they contaminate the water source!

Part 2

Tween/teen proofing is an expansion of the old “baby proofing” concept employed to protect our babies and toddlers. It is up to us to keep all our children safe, even those who consider themselves all grown up.

Here are a few tips regarding the kitchen. Keep an eye on the number of bottles of beer, wine or other alcoholic beverages you keep in the refrigerator or storage areas.

In addition, you may not see a reason for keeping your blood pressure or cholesterol lowering medications out of sight, but you have to remember that some tweens/teens might try any pills just to see what effect they will have, or may trade these medications for other pills. I can’t say this enough times, keep track of pill amounts and the number of your refills.

Storage areas and garages can’t be overlooked. Sniffing or huffing ordinary household items is dangerous and may even result in death. Some examples of household items might turn up missing or need to be replaced often are computer screen cleaner, cooking spray, glue, nail polish remover, dry erase markers. The garage is full of numerous aerosol cans, such as refrigerants or spray paint. Signs of an inhalant abuse problem include missing household items, chemical odors on breath or clothing, drunk or disoriented appearance and slurred speech.

In conclusion, I would like to make the following recommendations:

  • SECURE. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends please treat your prescription drugs like you would treat other valuables in your home. If you have a secure area where you keep important documents, or other valuables, keep your medications in the same area. One suggestion is to keep only a week’s worth of your medications available at a time. This helps you to keep better track of your medications. You are better able to notice if two pills are missing from a pill box that holds seven pills as opposed to telling if anything is missing from a pill bottle that may hold 30 to 50 pills.
  • MONITOR. If there are a number of individuals in your family who are taking medications, keep a list of each person, the medications they are taking and when their refill dates are due. If certain medications seem to be running out sooner than anticipated, it will be a clue for you to investigate the “why” of the shortfall in medications.
  • DISPOSE. Remember to dispose of your unused medications properly and in a timely manner.

Another tried and true method of curbing substance abuse is to keep an open line of communication between you and your children. Spend 15 minutes each day with your tween/teen. Ask about their day, be interested in their activities and be available.

Jacobs is a doctoral candidate at Texas A&M University and has a private practice in Greenville.