If you caught your teens texting about “red devils,” “Robo” or “Skittles,” would you know what they were talking about?
What about Snapchat? Ask.fm?
The first three are all slang terms for getting high on cold or cough medicine (yes, teens do that). The second two are social media platforms popular among teens, but also associated with sexting and cyberbullying.
Every year, parents face a growing number of threats to their teens’ well-being, many of which they’ve probably never heard of before. But abusing any of them could be deadly.
Experts say the key is to do your research, don’t be afraid to pry and, most importantly, talk to your child. Often.
“Parents, be nosy,” said Cincinnati police officer Eddie Hawkins, a school resource officer for 16 years and a father. “Lots of times we give kids a little too much privacy. We as adults kind of slacked off in what we do in fear of losing our kids’ friendship. I’d rather say I was a good parent than I was a good friend.”
Parents shouldn’t give up just because they don’t “get it,” said Richard Heyman, a doctor at Suburban Pediatrics in Montgomery who also served as state and national chairman of adolescent medicine at the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“Parents just shrug their shoulders because they don’t know what these websites are, don’t get the lingo, don’t understand the concept of tweeting and Instagram and Facebook,” he said. “They need to have open, ongoing discussions. The sex talk is not a talk. It’s an ongoing discussion. Use everyday incidents to talk about it.”
Here are some of the risky things that are most popular among teens this year, what to watch for and what to do to protect your child.
Social media sites
Social media might be a great tool to keep up with old roommates or share vacation photos. But teens are finding the dark side of cyberspace, and it might not be in the places you’d think. A few new apps that have popped up recently are causing a stir:
• Ask.fm: A social networking site where users can post anonymously. The site has been linked to the suicides of five teens who reportedly had been bullied by others on the site. Most deaths were in the United Kingdom. At least one was in the U. S. — a 12-year-old Florida girl who jumped from a platform at an abandoned cement factory after being bullied for more than a year on ask.fm and other cellphone apps like Kik and Voxter. Her mother had been trying to monitor the girl’s social media use, but had no idea the sites existed or that her daughter was using them, according to a New York Times article. The site has since reportedly implemented measures to discourage cyberbullying.
• Snapchat: A photo-sharing tool in which the images disappear from the recipient’s phone after 10 seconds. The short life span of the images gives it a reputation as a tool for sexting, as well as other dubious behavior such as cheating on tests or sharing proprietary information.
But it might not be as private as kids think. There are ways recipients can preserve the images, according to recent reports. Wikr and Poke are similar apps.
Other apps or websites popular among teens are Pheed, where teens can live-stream what they’re doing at any given moment, and 4Chan, an online community that allows anonymous posts, opening the door to bullying. NBCnews.com recently published a list of 11 social media apps that are popular among teens — some innocuous, some not. Others include Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Reddit, Tumblr and Wanelo.
“Social media is at an all-time high,” Hawkins said. “The average young people will spend 8-10 hours on their Facebook account.”
Cyberbullying and suicide
About 20 percent of teens have experienced cyberbullying in their lifetime, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center. Traditional bullying and cyberbullying have been linked as contributors to teen suicide. According to the 2011 risk survey by the Centers for Disease Control, 7.8 percent of teens had attempted suicide in the previous year.
Parents should monitor what their kids are doing online, even if they seem to be OK, and be alert if their child starts to withdraw into their social media world, experts say.
“If your kid is spending less time in general conversations with you and more time in general conversations with their friends or cellphone, if you’re in your car and there’s no conversation going on with you and your child, that’s a problem,” Hawkins said. “When you’re asking questions and getting those one-word answers, be concerned. They’re finding other outlets.”
Heyman recommended parents talk to kids about new sites or apps. Ask if they use them. Watch what they’re doing.
“Put the computer in a public place,” he said. “The understanding should be, if I give you the keys to the car, I expect you to call me when you get there. Not because I don’t trust you, but because it’s dangerous out there. If I’m going to give you the keys to the computer, I’m going to monitor. Even though you know more about the computer than I do, it’s my job to keep you safe.”
Teens probably won’t come right out and tell you they’re being bullied, Hawkins said, because they’re ashamed. But they have certain sayings to let you know they’re being bullied, Hawkins said.
“ ‘Coming at my head,’ ‘coming at my neck,’ ‘trying to push down on me.’ That’s their way of saying this kid is picking on me.”
Drugs and alcohol
Drugs and alcohol continue to be big risk factors for teens.
According to the CDC, about 22 percent of drivers in fatal crashes (the leading cause of teen deaths) had been drinking. The CDC risk survey notes 38.7 percent of high school students reported drinking alcohol in the 30 days before the survey and 23.1 percent had used marijuana.
Teens are abusing other drugs, too — cocaine, inhalants, ecstasy, heroin and hallucinogenic drugs showed up on the survey.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2012 survey, Monitoring the Future, found marijuana remains the most abused drug by students in grades 8, 10 and 12 followed by Spice/K2 (synthetic marijuana), amphetamines, Adderall, Vicodin and cough medicine.
The survey noted that marijuana use declined in the 1990s and early 2000s but has been on the rise since then.
Synthetic marijuana, which is often marketed to teens, and abuse of prescription drugs are rising problems.
“One of the things we tell parents is to monitor their alcohol and prescription drugs,” said Mary Haag, president/CEO of the Coalition for a Drug Free Greater Cincinnati.
“Keep your alcohol locked up as well as your medicine chest.”
She said most teens do not abuse drugs. But there are warning signs to watch for: changes in behavior, lying, a new group of friends or missing school.
But there is some good news: The use of inhalants, Ecstasy and even alcohol are all going down. The use of alcohol is at a historic low.
Cigarettes are still in the picture, but barely. Teen smoking peaked in 1996-97 and has declined continuously since then. Fewer teens smoke cigarettes than marijuana.
But kids are trying drugs at younger ages, and there are plenty of things out there with names parents won’t recognize, according to the medical website WebMD. Experts say keep an eye out for slang terms when your child is talking to or texting friends. For example, teens may combine LSD with ecstasy, something termed “candy flipping.” “Cheese” refers to a mix of black tar heroin and Tylenol PM. Other slang terms are “Special K” (Ketamine, an anesthetic and club drug), “crank” (methamphetamine) and “kibbles and bits” (Ritalin, the prescription drug to treat attention deficit disorder).
Heyman said perception has a lot to do with a drug’s popularity. As marijana become legalized in some states, the perception that it’s dangerous has gone down, and the use has gone up, even in places where it’s still illegal.
A group in Indiana handed out drug kits to parents earlier this year. Organizers said the kits give teens an excuse to say no if they’re being pressured by friends to try drugs.