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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Words of Wisdom: Parenting Teens in a World Filled with Violence


Thought for the Day: I'm still catching up and posting late in the day, but taking time off always puts things a bit off schedule. Today's quote arose from a session with a client about their 16 year old daughter. My client and his wife were having a difference of opinion on whether to allow their daughter to take walks to town and back in the early evening by herself. My client feels they live in a safe community with a few stores, coffee shops, a library and a small movie theater less than a mile from their home. He could not understand why his wife was worried. I played devil's advocate and asked my client what he thought his wife's fears might be.
      He had trouble imagining her concerns. His daughter, a well behaved, good student, is active in their church's youth group.  She has a black belt in karate, so she could defend herself if the need arose, however, the town is a sleepy, safe suburb. He and his wife know their daughter's friends and her friends' parents. He feels he can trust her and her friends, but his wife is nervous about her being out alone. I asked if they had talked much about drugs and alcohol with their daughter. He said they had and that he would be very surprised if she wanted to go on walks to get or use drugs. He did know that there were a couple of friends in his older daughter's class that had trouble in the past. Their older daughter is now in college, but when she was around the age of 16, two of her friends were suspended and went into treatment after being caught using drugs at school. At the time, my client had been surprised since the girls appeared to be good students and strong athletes before the incident.

      I told my client that in all likelihood his daughter is not trying to hide anything and just wants the added freedom of taking evening walks. However, teenagers today are pretty good at covering their behavior if they are involved with drugs or alcohol. When I was a teenager, it was pretty obvious when a student was headed in the wrong direction. Nowadays, it may not be that clear. Years after one of my kids was out of high school, I learned that a very polite, star athlete and leader in their class was also a drug dealer. I often wonder whether the secretive double lives of seemingly well-adjusted teenagers is related to the rise in violence that children have been exposed on television and in the news. The increase in bullying, drinking and drug use among teens who look well adjusted is frightening. Are teenagers saying to the adults around them: "The world is so messed up, that I need to escape or it just doesn't matter what I do."

      Given all the dangers that exist in the world, parenting in this day and age is a precarious balancing act. On the one hand, you do not want to overreact. I gave my client some simple suggestions that he and his wife can discuss to help them decide how to trust their daughter in increments. Perhaps by suggesting that she get back before dark. Over the summer this will allow her to be out later and later giving her a sense of more freedom. They can take a drive into town to check where she goes. If she sees them they can say they forgot that they needed something from the drug store. They can speak with her older sister, who knows the town and the high school. They can ask her sibling if they were too permissive with her or whether they should be more strict with their younger daughter.

      On the other hand, however, you do not want to under-react. Although teenagers have always been rebellious and kept secrets from their parents, the stakes and the dangers have escalated. I told my client about a mother who came to me following a tragic ordeal a few years ago. Her son had been a star student planning to go to a great college in the fall. Over the summer, he went to a party and took ecstasy, probably for the first and last time. He ended up a vegetable. Instead of going off to a college he is spending the rest of his life in a residential institution. I told my client about this young man, to warn him to proceed with caution. It is important to think about all the possibilities. Parents need to give children reasons to be cautious and make good choices in life. Talk about the traumatic events when they come on the news. Do you talk to your kids about drug and alcohol related deaths? Did you speak with them after the Sandyhook tragedy or the Boston Marathon Bombing? Listen to how these events make them feel. Acknowledge that it is depressing, but show them that things can and do get better. Share stories about how Boston is stronger one year later. It is important to help them choose life over dangerous activities. It will help them develop hope and resiliency.

      That is why I believe that:

      The number one challenge parents face today in a world filled with violence, bullying, drugs and war is instilling hope in their children that people can and will be able to make things better.

      How are you dealing with this challenging change in the modern world?
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