We are a generation of parents who pride ourselves on being tuned in to our children’s needs.
However, when it comes to drug and alcohol use, our actual knowledge about the pressures and influences facing our kids is sometimes lacking.
There is no way that our kids could effectively introduce us to their generation; to them it is a given — it would be like describing the air they breathe. Also, there is no way that we could stand in our kids’ shoes by just being good friends with them. No matter how close our relationship we were raised in a different time.
For example, our generation never had the experience of growing up online. When we take a look at what kids are watching on television or online, we realize that what was considered “appropriate behavior” in our youth has totally changed.
Knowing what opportunities and challenges your children face when they navigate online or gather with friends is the first step toward responsive parenting. Whenever I work with parents, there is considerable (and justified) concern about their child’s privacy, particularly around written material. I, too, remember writing revealing notes to friends, and I would not have wanted my parents to read them.
However, participation on the Internet is less like a private diary or secret interaction with a friend, and much more like a public event. The fact that there are few parents are permitted by their kids to share their online lives, like their Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram accounts doesn’t make it any less important to be aware of. If you want to know potential dangers of online venues, surf some of the popular social networking sites to see who is there and what they are doing. You can do the research without overstepping your child’s privacy boundaries.
If you suspect your child is taking risks that are affecting his or her mental health, friendship life, or schoolwork, it is your responsibility to figure out how you can help. One way is to set limits and stick to them.
How do you set rules without sounding like a drill sergeant? No parent enjoys being an inquisitor or likes to see a teen stiffen with resentment when faced with “the questions,” such as “Where are you going?” ,“What are you doing?,” “Who will be there?” Here are several strategies to try:
- Focus on the positive: “We’ve been a good team on other occasions. [Like when we worked on that science project together, worked on your tennis serve, etc.] Let’s use our teamwork here to stay safe and healthy.”
- Discuss the interaction: “Hey, we always seem to end up here…given that I’m only doing my job, and every time you go out I will be asking questions, how can we make this go more easily between us?”
- Use a sense of humor: “Ok, it’s time for me to put on my ‘dad’ [or mom] hat. You know that means I have to ask the questions…”
I have heard teens express anger about their parents checking up on them, and I have seen some teens continue risky behaviour regardless of the parents’ response.
However, by far the most common response that teens have is relief. (Of course, they will never express this directly to their parents!)
I have heard many teens say what one young woman recently told me: “I actually am relieved that I’m grounded, because I was getting out of control and needed a break.”
by Alison Birnbaum, LCSW.
Ms Birbaum has practiced psychotherapy in New York City and Connecticut for 25 years. In her clinical work, she helps adults, adolescents, children, and their families with issues ranging from mental illness and substance abuse to divorce and emotional intelligence. Alison also works as a consultant to the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, offering expert advice on various media initiatives and contributing guest columns to TheAntiDrug.com. She was previously a member of the Media Campaign’s Behaviour Change Expert Panel (BCEP).