I did some community volunteer work over the weekend which allowed me to hang out for a few hours with our local high school police/security officer. First and foremost, I have to tell you what a nice man Officer Jason Rachal is, he seems to really love his job and he also appears to truly care about the kids he's in contact with everyday. You know the topic of teens and alcohol/drug use and making good choices is near to my heart, so I took advantage of the time with him to pick his brain.
I started with [what was likely] an obvious question...Do we have a drug problem at our high school? "Yes, ma'am. Just like every community, we have a drug problem." I went on to ask him several more questions (poor guy, I'm sure he didn't think his time was going to be spent talking to this mom about the drug issue at school) however, there are two important things I want to pass on to you:
When asked what Officer Rachal felt parents could be doing better right now in terms of helping their kids potentially avoid drug use (or, catch it for that matter), he told me it was really important to stay involved in your kids life. He shared with me how often he has gone to a home to investigate a teen and has come upon a house with stunningly beautiful curb appeal...whose downstairs inside the home was pristine as well...but, the closer he got to the young person's bedroom [upstairs], the dirtier and more chaotic the atmosphere became. Apparently, since most of the master bedrooms in our area are on the main level, parents (out of respect for their child's privacy?), don't often venture up the stairs.
And, Officer Rachal told me, when parents are presented with hard evidence (paraphernalia or actual drugs from the room) he is amazed at how often he hears a parent completely deny the situation, or how often they say they feel their child deserves some privacy so they haven't been inside their room in a long time.
So, here's the thing...nobody likes a helicopter parent. You know, the one who is so overly involved, overly invested in the well-being of, and on-top-of-everything their child has going on it cripples both the child and the parent. BUT the adolescent years are a time of so much change physically, emotionally, and socially as parents we can't underestimate the value in staying connected with our children during this crazy time of growth, especially in a culture that glamorizes sex and drug use and trivializes the negative impact.
Which means setting aside time in your busy life to have one-on-one time with each of your kids so they will feel listened to, appreciated for who they are (not who you want them to be), and that they have a genuine spot in your heart. Have a weekly coffee date, walk to the donut store (one of my favorites), take up a sport THEY like...whatever makes them feel like they are important in your world.
Yes, during the teens years we have to be willing to let go of the reins and give them plenty of chances to make some choices and [when necessary] be accountable for their actions, but that should be balanced with the knowledge our kid's brains are not fully developed (especially in the area of being able to predict the consequences of their choices), until they are in their 20s. Therefore, if you've invested the time and energy into knowing your child well and spending time with their friends (and even the parents of their friends if possible), you will pick up on the vibe when something is going on much earlier than if you don't have a connection to your teen.
And, yes, we have to give our kids some privacy (this from the mom whose diary was read by her parents as a junior in high school), but again, there has to be some balance in that as well. Your child should be told that you care enough about his or her well-being to never hesitate to look through their car, backpack, or their room if you felt they might be drinking or using. If you've built a relationship with your child wherein they know you hold their best interest at heart, they will respect (and possibly even privately love) the fact that you're there for them during this challenging time of their life.
Another thing Officer Rachal shared with me is that the local drug dealers would much rather sell to our kids than adults. Which means teens can be/are preyed upon...especially in our fairly affluent area. This wasn't something that ever dawned on me, but it sure makes sense.
One of the things that can get in the way of developing a good relationship with each of your children is your own baggage. In my next post I will talk about what steps you can take to recognize when your "stuff" is coming between you and your child and some thoughts on how to begin the process of moving through it and beyond it in order to have a close bond with your kids.
So tell me, how do you feel about your kids growing independence and their privacy? What measures do you, or don't you, take to make sure your preteen/teen knows they hold a special place in your life? I'd love to hear your thoughts so comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next post...keep it real! ~Kim