The other day I had the opportunity to catch up with my cousin Sharon from Wisconsin. We hadn't spoken in months, and while we had a lot to chat about, one of the first things she wanted to share with me was her experience at a local speaking event called Stairway to Heroine with Robert Stutman .
Sharon was adamant about how much I would love Stutman's message because she knows how I feel about teens and drug/alcohol use. However, she found one aspect of the evening very troubling: how few parents actually showed up to hear this man's message.
The event had been promoted extensively throughout the community and Mr. Stutman is a nationally-known speaker on the topic. In addition, there is a drug problem in the area Sharon lives in. (Coincidentally, or maybe not so much so, there is a drug problem in my area of Texas as well.) Sharon was dumb-founded as to why there were only a handful of people in the auditorium.
Although my cousin did not have to worry about alcohol or drug use with her older child (he is special needs), she also has a thirteen-year-old daughter and she works full-time in her school district. Wanting to be proactive for her daughter, Sharon and her husband didn't think they should pass up this important educational event.
I told her I was sad to hear it, but the minimal attendance didn't surprise me one bit. In fact, we suffer from the same issue in our neck of the woods.
Our conversation prompted me to really wonder why we have so few parents appearing to care about the use/abuse of drugs and alcohol in teens. After some thought, I came up with a few theories as to why I believe this is happening:
- We [current parents of adolescents] take our parenting very, very seriously. If we were to show up at an event about drug use in teens, someone might think we had a problem, didn't know what we were doing, or that we couldn't control our kid.
- We just plain do not want to know, or acknowledge, anything negative might be going in our own home, or in the home our child might frequent.
- Some parents, upon hearing a speaker or watching a documentary on drug and alcohol use, would then be forced to realize not only does their child potentially have a problem...but, they also have an alcohol or drug problem as well.
- Some parents are so embroiled in their own issues they cannot see what is actually happening in their child's life.
- If we don't take the time to get educated, it may not happen to us. (The "ignorance is bliss" theory.)
- If the schools won't acknowledge the gravity of the problem, why would the parents? This would reflect poorly on our communities, right? We cannot afford to have that happen.
In my opinion, the problem of our not "showing up" is really very minor compared to what I believe is truly going on with today's parents of adolescents.
The real problem is we have decided it's more important to make sure our children receive the "right" education/sports opportunities/social status than it is to develop close relationships with them.
Let's face it: We care more about making sure our kids have the necessary combination of (college-prep) academics, extracurricular activities, community service, and social standing to get into college and/or to receive scholarships than we do at making the time to build quality relationships within our families.
The truth hurts, doesn't it?
Here comes a second punch in the stomach: our kids aren't buying it. While on the surface some of them may be compliant for a while in the game we are playing (called their life), ultimately the relationship starts to crack and we begin to see the eye rolls, back talk, disrespect for parent and other authority. In some cases (more often than we want to admit) their unhappiness can spiral into drug experimentation...regular use...and potentially addiction.
I know this because I am the mother of an addict, I have worked with kids and their parents in the field of substance treatment, and because I spend a great deal of time observing (through reading/listening/watching) how families are interacting in today's culture.
I am convinced in order to raise children who can be satisfied with themselves and the world in which they live and work, we have got to change the way we approach our teens. BEFORE they become teens if at all possible.
Which means spending less time and energy worrying about and trying to control the direction of their lives and more time and energy (a) getting to know who they really are, including what they care about and what direction THEY want to see for their life and (b) loving and supporting them no matter what we discover.
But, in order to desire to change the approach, we have to let go of what others might think or say, and what society tells us is important. It takes a lot of courage because at it's core that means looking inside yourself to see where you might contribute to the problem.
There is no shame in how we have been parenting, it's what we learned from our own parents. But the time is now to shift the dynamic to understanding that as parents we can be part of the problem, or choose to be part of the solution.
I have chosen, at least in our home, to be a part of the solution. My question for you is: How is what you are doing as a parent working for you? What would you be willing to do in order to have the relationships in your home be stronger?
Make the choice not to continue to live in the dark about drug use, or any other area your child might be struggling with. They need you to wake up!