Kid sits on skateboard.


I’m a Parent in 2020 and These Are The Things That Terrify Me

Jan 17, 2020

Warning: Some parents may find this article disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.

As a parent, you no doubt remember how tough your tween years were. And, if you were like me, you had to navigate not only enormous mental and physical changes but also a myriad of dangers like alcohol, drugs, sex and violence. At the time, these seemed like the basic ingredients for a typical house party. In retrospect, I realize how lucky I am to have made it through relatively unscathed.

Today's tween world is a whole new ball game — where one wrong move can have dire consequences. I don't want this to scare you, because like me and you, most youth will come out of these formative years unharmed. But that doesn't mean I'm not hyper aware of what's going out out there.

Here are three modern challenges that worry me most for kids in their tween and early teenage years and how I'm trying to navigate this dark, sometimes twisted world:

1. Vaping

Recently I was sitting in traffice with my daughter, watching the car in front of us. A 20-something driver put what looked to be a flash drive to his lips and inhaled. From his mouth came a cloud of white vapour so thick it temporarily obscured him until it billowed out the car windows. It looked as clean as a cloud, but in reality it’s a noxious brew containing glycerol, propylene glycol, potentially harmful flavouring chemicals and, in some cases, nicotine.

I turned and saw my daughter watching as well. "You know what's going on there?" I asked.

"Of course," she answered, “that guy's vaping. Lots of kids do it at my school."

Sadly, she is right. A recent Health Canada survey revealed that 23 per cent of students in grades 7 - 12 had tried an electronic cigarette. It’s problematic because some e-cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance, which can affect a young person’s brain development and their ability to concentrate.

This mom discovered her 11-year-old was vaping. Read about how she dealt with it here.

It makes me angry that, after years of declining nicotine use among young people, vaping has skyrocketed among Canadian teens.

While these products are currently undergoing review for new regulations, there is no way of knowing what chemicals are being inhaled into the lungs. But we are beginning to get a better picture of the potentially negative effects of vaping, because of the growing number of vaping-related illnesses cropping up in hospitals. 

What I Do:

  • I talk often about the harmful effects of nicotine on young developing lungs.
  • I try to explain addiction and how nicotine is a highly addictive drug.
  • If my child ever vapes, I won't be judgmental. Instead, I plan to encourage a visit to a health professional who can recommend treatment.
  • Meanwhile, I watch for signs of sudden and severe lung disease: shortness of breath, trouble breathing or chest pains.

2. Fentanyl

When I was around my daughter's age, I watched The Gene Krupa Story with my mom. The film, about the life of the legendary jazz drummer, has a scene in which Gene smokes a joint. As we watched, my mom remarked, "All it takes is one puff on a marijuana cigarette to be addicted." I refused to believe it. Of course, she was wrong about marijuana — at least in my experience. But I think of that moment when I try to make my daughter understand the dangers of today's highly addictive drugs, especially fentanyl.

According to Health Canada, there have been more than 9,000 opioid-related deaths in Canada since 2016 — and nearly all of them the result of accidental overdoses. In 2017, 11 people died each day. Fentanyl leads the way as the most lethal killer, being 100 times more powerful than morphine. Invisible, without smell or taste, it only takes a few grains of salt worth to be fatal. Many victims are unaware that they've even consumed it, as it is routinely added to other street drugs and can be smoked, swallowed or injected.

This woman told her mother to sober up, or she will not be involved in her granddaughter's life. Read that story here.

Most concerning to me is that youth 15 to 24 are the fastest-growing group hospitalized for overdoses and many that survive are left with severe life-altering injuries.

What I Do:

  • I talk openly about how lethal fentanyl and other opioids are.
  • I share my concerns with my kid about the dangers of being slipped a drug on the side.
  • I watch for the signs of opioid use: sudden attitudinal changes, falling school grades, borrowing money or sudden changes in communication.
  • I've made sure I know the signs of an overdose and keep a naloxone kit in the house (naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse the effect of an opioid overdose).

3. Drug-resistant STIs

While we are fortunate to live in a world where many STIs are curable, that isn't the case for every one. HIV, while preventable and treatable is not curable — yet. 

Thankfully, medical advances have resulted in reducing the HIV virus to the point of being undetectable in the bloodstream. The bad news is that some formerly curable STIs are becoming increasingly resistant to traditional treatment.

In Canada, chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are the most common sexually transmitted infections, with rates rising alarmingly among people 15 to 39 years of age. Gonorrhea, the second most reported STI, is becoming increasingly resistant to treatments that worked in the past. Without new medications for resistant strains, certain strains of the disease could become incurable. The result: pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility and chronic pelvic pain in women and epididymitis (pain and swelling in the testicles) in men.

What I Do:

  • I maintain an open dialogue about sexuality with my kid that is non-judgmental.
  • I make sure I'm available and attentive if my kid ever needs to confide in me about sexual matters.
  • I am making efforts so my kid knows and understands the risk of STIs.
  • I reinforce the need to practice safe sex, if and when the time comes.

If you've made it this far, you've no doubt noticed that for me, it’s important to talk to your child openly, honestly and frequently. It's not easy, there is always something else I could be doing and kids aren't always receptive. But I believe the awareness I am creating will go a long way to protect my child one day when I'm not around and they must make a potentially life-altering choice.

Article Author Craig Stephens
Craig Stephens

Craig Stephens is an award-winning writer and documentary film producer who is passionate about developing projects that explore social issues and innovation. He is currently shooting and producing Long Ride Home, a project that explores innovative healing paths for post-traumatic stress. Craig lives in Toronto with his wife, a writer, theatre producer, and podcaster, and their tween daughter – his most challenging and rewarding project to date!  You can catch his latest work at

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