I’m a day late with my blog. But, for good reason. I just returned from visiting my 88 and 89-year-old parents who still live on the family farm and who I haven’t seen or been with since COVID-19 hit in early March. I had to quarantine for 14 days before my visit due to my dad being a dialysis and cancer patient. After spending fourteen days alone in my home, followed by three days in the beautiful, quiet, peaceful countryside, I am more relaxed, focused and energized than I have been for a long time. It’s actually been a life-impacting experience for me.
Time was the gift I was given during my quarantine at home and visit to the farm. Being free of interruptions and distractions for 17 days, gave me the time to think about things that typically get pushed aside in my mind because I’m moving on to another task or I’m rushing off somewhere. I had numerous “a ha” moments these past several weeks. One of them came just a few days ago when I turned my calendar from May to June.
It struck me that moving from May to June is usually a time when we think of the end of a school year and the beginning of summer break for kids. There’s typically a feeling of excitement and anticipation making this transition. There might be plans for spending time in the pool or on the beach with friends, going to the ballpark for games, attending county fairs, visiting amusement parks, participating in summer camps, taking vacations and enjoying outdoor parties – just to name a few. Summertime means less structure, more time with friends and less adult supervision for kids. It’s a welcomed and fun time of the year for many kids and adults alike.
But, transitioning from May into June this year didn’t bring me that same kind of excitement and anticipation of summer like it normally does. After thinking more deeply about it I realized that summer break actually started 2 ½ months ago for kids and parents. It’s no wonder the normal feelings associated with moving into June weren’t there for me.
With the shutdown of schools, afterschool activities and extracurricular activities in early March, due to COVID-19, kids have been experiencing free and unstructured time since then. However, the time has been spent primarily in their home with family and not with friends. Adult supervision in the home has likely varied depending on whether parents were quarantined or working from home. Studies also indicate kids are already reporting an increase of boredom, anxiety and stress over the past several months.
Why is this so concerning, especially today, on June 4? Because summer hasn’t even officially started yet and the normal concerns of summertime with kids could very well have started months ago. Historically, summertime means an increased likelihood for kids to be exposed to substance use. Research has shown for many years that alcohol and drug use among adolescents significantly increases during the summer months. Studies show that during the months of June and July, teens are more likely to begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol. By the end of August, nearly one million teens will have tasted their first drink of alcohol. On an average summer day, approximately 4,500 youth will smoke cigarettes or marijuana for the first time.
While the risks of substance use and experimentation is possible any time of the year with kids, the drastic increase during the summer months can be contributed to several factors:
· More free and unstructured time
· Less adult supervision
· Accessibility to substances in the home
These factors have been present in most kids’ lives since mid-March and could continue for an additional 2 ½-3 months, inceasing the risk even more for substance use. With COVID-19 restrictions expected to continue and many typical summer activities being canceled, life isn’t going to change much for kids from what it is or has been. So, if kids are reporting being bored, anxious and stressed now, how will they be feeling in the months to come? And, it doesn’t help that some of the reasons kids give for using substances under normal circumstances is because they are bored, anxious and stressed.
Common sense and experience tell me we need to prepare for a spike in substance use with kids this summer unlike what we see during normal summertime. As you prepare a readiness response plan for the return of your kids to school and other activities in the coming months, it will be important to consider implementing proven substance use prevention and intervention approaches or at least re-evaluate the practices you were using before the pandemic. What worked prior to COVID-19 may not be what’s most effective now.
In some ways, it’s hard to believe it’s already June, and in other ways, it seems like the last few months have lasted forever. I’m sure it feels that way for many kids and parents, too. The extended “summer break” they are experiencing, coupled with all the current challenges and stressors of COVID-19, could make for a summer like no other summer. The challenge for you and I is…”How can we make it a summer free of substance use?”