Folks, it’s that time of year again! After a long hot summer, school is back in session. For some parents, the returning school year may signify a break from an exhausting summer schedule. For others, it may be a bittersweet ending to much needed quality family time. Regardless, a new school year is upon us, so I wanted to take the time to address an issue that has been at the forefront of my mind all summer long.  

Once the 2022-2023 school year ended, I reflected on how I can be more effective in my role as the Community Liaison and Youth Event Coordinator for NPC. After some thought, I concluded that much of my effort needs to focus on the growing mental health crisis amongst our youth. National and local data trends have confirmed we have a growing crisis on our hands. In addition, my experience on the ground has validated what the numbers have borne out. The turmoil amongst our youth is palpable. The million-dollar questions are what is causing this crisis and what do we do about it?  

Realistically speaking, this is a multifaceted issue, but I believe I know where we can get the most bang for our buck. I posit that possibly the most effective way to alleviate mental health struggles for your child this upcoming school year is to reform the use of their smartphone, particularly their social media use. I’ve had this supposition for years and it was only deepened when I heard Dr. Twenge speak earlier this year.  Dr. Jean Twenge is one of foremost researchers on the topic of how smart phones affect our teens. We had the privilege of hosting an exclusive lecture by Dr. Twenge this past March. She presented her main findings from her book “iGen” along with other research she’s done on the topic.    

She explained that clinical level depression doubled between 2011 and 2019 among U.S. 12- to 17-year-olds [3]. In her opinion, that stark rise can mainly be attributed to the fact that 2012 is the first year when the majority of Americans became smart phone owners. This sharp decline in teens’ mental health has persisted despite changes in our culture, economy, politics, and various other factors. Teen mental health decline has been the one constant over this past decade. In this short video listed below, Dr. Twenge gives a succinct analysis of the issue during a TED talk. I highly encourage you to take a moment to watch, so you can better understand how we got here. 

I want to be clear, there are a multitude of things that can affect our teen’s mental health. Adverse childhood experiences, substance misuse, poor physical health, social obstacles, just to name a few. The bottom line is being a teenager is hard, which is why we should not exacerbate their struggles. Instead, we should try to protect them from the harmful effects that smartphones can cause. I believe smartphone use is a detrimental catalyst to any issues our teens are struggling with independent of their online activity.  

For example, one theory that I’ve heard floated for the origin of this crisis is that our teens are under severe academic pressure. I was sympathetic to this theory but upon further investigation I fear this is another misdiagnosis of the root cause. Dr. Twenge debunked this theory in a Substack article she wrote entitled, “Academic Pressure Cannot Explain the Mental Illness Epidemic.” She explained that according to Monitoring the Future Survey, which has gathered self-reported data from students since the 90’s, students are spending significantly less time on homework than previous generations. Moreover, competition for grades amongst students is also at an all-time low.  

Still skeptical? Take a look at this chart below.  

This chart examines the depression rates of students by gender and academic achievement. High achievers are categorized by students who maintain an overall grade average of an A- and above. Check out how there appears to be normal fluctuations up until the year of 2012 and then depression rates amongst all groups begin to skyrocket. Dr. Twenge eloquently summarizes this trend in her Substack article when she writes, “Of course, many factors can cause depression, and academic pressure may certainly be the cause of some cases. But we’re not trying to explain all cases of depression; we’re trying to explain why teen depression increased so much after 2012. Given that homework time has declined (and was never high to begin with compared to screen media time), given that teen-reported academic pressure has primarily declined over this time, and that teens under more academic pressure are actually less likely to be depressed, the evidence I’m able to find in the Monitoring the Future study contradicts the academic pressure hypothesis. [1]” 

I chose to highlight the academic pressure hypothesis specifically because it fits well within the “Back-to-school” theme of this article. Yet, this is just one area of many that needs deeper exploration into how smart phones can exacerbate the issues that our teens face. We NEED to give our children a fighting chance and this is one area where I believe we can get effective results. So, what can you do? Fortunately, Dr. Twenge has three simple rules that she recommends all parents implement to drastically reduce the potential harm of smartphone use.  

  1. No phones or tablets in the bedroom at night. (If they need an alarm clock, have them use an actual alarm clock.) 
  1. No using devices within an hour of bedtime. (Being on your phone before you go to sleep can have a large impact on your quality of sleep which is an important factor for depression.) 
  1. Limit device time to less than two hours of leisure time a day. (This does not include homework.) 

These may seem like miniscule changes, but they can go a long way. If you would like more information on why monitoring smartphone use is important for your child’s development, I encourage you to check out more articles that Dr. Twenge has written. Here’s to a great school year! 

[1] https://jonathanhaidt.substack.com/p/academic-pressure-social-media 

[2] https://time.com/5555737/smartphone-mental-health-teens/ 

[3] https://time.com/collection/person-of-the-week-podcast/6307832/jean-twenge-interview-person-of-the-week/ 

[4] iGen: The Smartphone Generation | Jean Twenge | TEDxLagunaBlancaSchool 

[5] https://www.jeantwenge.com/writing/ 

Have you ever wondered why the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) in the United States is 21? Maybe you’ve traveled abroad or spoken to someone from another country and realized that other places have vastly different legislation regarding alcohol consumption. Well, things are a bit different here, especially juxtaposed to other countries around the world. The truth is the origins of our MLDA date back to over two centuries ago. It’s a long-complicated history, so we’ll need to start from the beginning.  

The Temperance Movement 

From 1920 to 1933 it was illegal to manufacture, sell, or transport intoxicating liquors per the 18th amendment. Since alcohol consumption is normalized in today’s culture, it may be shocking to some that our congress had the three-quarters support it needed to ratify that constitutional amendment. This overwhelming support was made possible by the religious sentiments which prevailed during that time. America was a nation conceived of many things including Protestant teachings and evangelical ideologies. These ideals would be the foundations for many great movements such as the fight for independence from the British and the abolitionist movement. Undoubtedly, it was a bloody coming of age but ultimately led to the country we know today. 

However, this awakening led to another phenomenon known as the temperance movement. The goal of this movement, which started in the early 1800s, was to create a society that was morally pure and steadfast. Religious followers pushed for social and legal changes that adhered with the moral standards set by biblical teachings. By the Civil War, many states had passed their own prohibition laws. 


When the U.S. entered the First World War in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson enacted a war time prohibition to save grain for the war efforts. This provided the perfectionists with the window of opportunity they were patiently waiting for. Congress passed the 18th Amendment, which went into effect in 1920 and made prohibition constitutional superseding any state legislation.  

Initially, prohibition seemed to be a success. Public drunkenness, arrests, and alcohol-related violence decreased. However, very quickly the unintended consequences became apparent. Black markets for alcohol began to pop up all over the country, especially in urban areas. Speakeasies and bootleggers propped up organized crime operations, making numerous criminal millionaires. Bars and restaurants that once relied on alcohol sales found it hard to stay in business. Not to mention, thousands of people died each year from drinking bootlegged moonshine that contained deadly toxins. To speak frankly, the Prohibition Era was not successful. In 1933, Congress passed the 21st Amendment which repealed the 18th Amendment and overturned the federal ban. 

Minimum Legal Drink Age 

The 21st Amendment gave back the authority to each state to set its own MLDA. The majority of the states, with a few exceptions, set their MLDA to 21. However, another constitutional amendment would soon pass that changed the landscape once again. In 1971, Congress passed the 26th Amendment, which lowered the minimum voting age from 21 to 18. Following suit, most states lowered their MLDA leaving only 14 states with a MLDA of 21.  

After a spike in fatal car crashes amongst teenagers, researchers began to analyze the data. Most concluded that there was a direct correlation between the lowered MLDA and increase of teenage alcohol related deaths and accidents. Advocacy groups such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) began campaigning for states to raise the MLDA to 21. Their efforts were successful in some states, but numerous states resisted pressure to change their drinking laws.  

However, the surging number of fatalities would once again gain attention from the federal government, including President Ronald Regan. Since the 21st Amendment guaranteed States’ right to regulate alcohol, the federal government had limited authority. So, they got crafty. In 1984, President Regan signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act into law. Essentially, this law withheld a portion of federal highway funding from states unless they raised their MLDA to 21 by 1987. Its legality was challenged by South Dakota in the U.S. Supreme Court, but ultimately the law was upheld. In short, any state could lower their MLDA if they so desired, but they would face the consequence of reduced federal highway funding. The threat of decreased funding was very effective and by 1988 all states had raised their MLDA to 21. 


As promised, the U.S. has had a long-complicated history with alcohol. The real question is whether our current MLDA laws are effective. According to SAMHSA, “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that MLDA 21 has saved 31,417 lives from 1975-2016. Lowering the MLDA would surely increase traffic accidents, injuries, and deaths.[5]” If that number seems small to you, you may need to think about the dozens or hundreds of people that would be affected by each of those deaths.  

Alcohol is a tricky substance. Waiting until you’re 21 allows your brain more time to develop, which can mean better impulse control and decision making. Although, safe/moderate alcohol consumption should be the goal for legal drinkers as well. For more information about responsible alcohol consumption, including how to discuss it with your children, feel free to read our other alcohol related articles.    

[1] https://drinkingage.procon.org/history-of-the-minimum-legal-drinking-age/ 





Even for people working in prevention, deciding when to talk about the dangers of various drugs and alcohol can be a challenge. When Delta-8 first became a topic for prevention professionals, there was concern that any efforts to warn families might also promote the substance. The truth, however, is that kids are usually far more aware of things than we give them credit for, at far younger ages than we want to admit. (In the case of Delta-8, a few quick searches on Tik Tok revealed that the kids were well aware of its existence.) If it is that hard for professionals to know when to start a conversation, how can parents know at what age they should talk to their kids about drugs and alcohol?

For parents, it can be both more difficult and easier to make the determination about when to have those tough conversations with your children. Easier because you know your child and their struggles, and you know how to broach topics with them. More difficult because you aren’t with your child every moment of every day, and they likely have already been exposed to substances—they may even be using them. Most of us, quite frankly, don’t like to think about that possibility.

As you are working your way through when and how to address the dangers of drugs and alcohol with your child, here are a few things to consider.

Father sitting with his preschool son.
When children are young, you don’t need to scare them with information about drugs and alcohol. Instead, talk about the importance of taking care of their bodies and making healthy choices.

It doesn’t have to be about the substances.

Research has shown that kids respond best to positive messages rather than negative. It is certainly important for you to know and understand the risks that drugs and alcohol pose to a developing child, but not every conversation has to center around the negative. It shouldn’t, in fact, because most people (and especially kids and teens!) have trouble thinking that danger applies to them.

Instead, focus your early conversations about the positives. For example, making the healthy choice means you:

  • Can do your best in school and in sports.
  • Feel well instead of hung over or sick.
  • Are always available to help a friend in need.
  • Can feel proud of your choices.

Make it age-appropriate.

It is never too early to start talking to your kids about the dangers drugs and alcohol pose. (Okay, maybe talking to a newborn about it might be taking that idea too far, but it would be great practice for you!) Of course, that does not mean that the message you give to a preschooler should be the same as the one you give to a teenager. Messages for young children should be simple. For example: “We want only good things in our bodies so we can grow up to be healthy.” As they age, start letting them know things like, “Drugs and alcohol will make you sick. Your brain is still growing, and the chemicals in drugs and alcohol will hurt it.” 

The older your kids get, the more specific your information should be. You can share that vapes contain as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. Remind them that the vaping companies exist to make money, and the more people vape, the more money the companies make. Let them know that vapes contain dangerous chemicals and metals.

Mom and son sitting on couch, having a discussion about drugs and alcohol
Teens are less likely to use drugs and alcohol if they know their parents do not approve. It is important that you let your kids know where you stand, even if the conversation is uncomfortable. As parents, we must do all we can to protect the health of our children.

It’s okay if you have to look it up.

Eventually, your kids may want specific, scientific answers. It is entirely fair to admit you don’t know the answer when they challenge you. Go do some research together (or do it separately) and have a conversation about what you discover. Make sure you talk about looking at who has written or funded the research—again, vape companies exist to make money, so their articles and videos are not going to list the risks of vaping (unless there is a government mandate to do so).

As you research, you might find that the product is just too new, and there is not enough research about its effects. You can still go back to the question, “Is this the best choice for your health?” and continue to discuss the possible effects of it. For example, in the case of vaping, discuss whether it is truly safe to inhale chemicals and metals and risk becoming addicted to nicotine.

Teaching children about self-care and helping them build resilience through loving interactions and household responsibilities are key to them making healthy choices in regard to drugs and alcohol.

Self-care and resilience matter.

Many children begin using drugs and alcohol when faced with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) or overwhelming situations, such as being left alone a lot, sexual abuse, divorce, domestic violence, bullying, or death of a loved one. One of the best things we can do for our children when they are young is teach them to take good care of themselves and their bodies, and help them develop resilience. Having a strong foundation in both will provide them with the inner strength and coping skills they need to get through tough times.

Wellness and resilience are topics that are far too deep to be covered in this article, but here are a few basics to start with:

  1. Make healthy choices: eat right, drink enough water, and get enough sleep.
  2. Make one choice to be drug- and alcohol-free, because that helps to keep you healthy and gives you the best chance of having your best future.
  3. Life will throw us challenges. When tough times come, it is important to ask for help, talk out our problems with a trusted adult, and continue to take care of our health.

Read more about wellness on our website, or listen to our podcast Positive Vibes from the Valley on the eight dimensions of wellness. We also have several articles about building resilience.

Dr. Rob Anda of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. Vincent Felitti of Kaiser Permanente conducted a study of 17,300 mostly middle-class white Americans between 1995-1997.  The study sought to ascertain if adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) contributed to long-term negative health outcomes in adulthood.   

The survey asked 10 questions that focused on traumas experienced in childhood.  These questions were arranged in three clusters around abuse, neglect, and family challenges.