Healthy Family Life Is Hard Work

An increasing number of parents are copping out when their children act out around drug and alcohol use. The growing response is "it is only a phase, it is part of the American rite of ...

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An increasing number of parents are copping out when their children act out around drug and alcohol use. The growing response is "it is only a phase, it is part of the American rite of passage."

For some curious or rebellious teenagers, drug and alcohol use is only a phase and a rite of passage. However, for others it becomes a pattern of living that they feel no one has the right to interfere with.

Even if it is a phase or a rite of passage, drinking and drug use are against the law. They are not necessarily gateway experiences to hardcore addiction but they are social choices that need to be confronted head on and dealt with.

Most high school students will probably experiment with smoking weed and drinking before high school graduation. However, there is a big difference between occasional experimentation and becoming a weekend warrior.

Too many parents are tolerating and co-existing with the "weekend warrior" mentality. The position that some parents take is "they are going to do it anyway, I'd rather they be safe and do it in my house." That kind of thinking is reckless and irresponsible. A parent has the right to condone whatever they want. They don't have the right to give someone else's son or daughter permission to party illegally in their home.

Parents need to be mindful that they are the parents. They are the adults who should be in charge. As parents, we should be setting boundaries and limits for our children. Yes, at times it will not be a walk in the park. Quite honestly, at times it is very hard, even overwhelming work. We should not cave in to the challenge of parenting. We should not be afraid of saying no.

Teenagers today are going to press every button they can to get what they want. They will stretch every boundary and challenge every limit. Thus, as parents we need to be clear, consistent and willing to hold our children accountable, even if it hurts.

The mixed messages we give only fuel the fire. We cannot live by double standards or delude ourselves into believing that certain inappropriate social behaviors should be tolerated. Once we cave into that kind of pressure, it is almost impossible to re-establish any kind of balance or respect for parental authority.

TJ is a sixteen year old, eleventh grader in an intact upper middle class family. He is the older of two children. He is bright, articulate and insightful.

Once he began high school, he started to spread his wings. He began resisting any boundaries. His schoolwork became like a roller coaster. He went to class when he felt like it. He did well during the first quarter, fell apart the second quarter, rebounded in the third quarter and coasted in the last quarter. Unfortunately, his rebounding skills were getting weaker and his parents were panicking.

By the end of his sophomore year, his parents noticed tremendous mood swings in TJ, but only on the weekends. On one Saturday night, TJ came home late and was nasty. One thing led to another and he and his mother had a terrible confrontation. He exploded and told her that he hated living at home. He admitted to smoking pot to cope with his "hateful house."

Needless to say, his parents were devastated. They decided not to press any further and let TJ go to bed. The next morning when he got up and was reasonably straight they pursued the conversation that had begun after the bomb was deployed.

In a calm, deliberate voice, TJ admitted to smoking pot for months, mostly on the weekends. He expressed that he thought it was his right and that his parents could not stop him. He furthered this disturbing conversation by saying that he had no intention of stopping, even if he had to choose to leave home.

His parents were beyond words. They could not believe how provocative he was being. They kept shaking their heads and saying, "he would leave home over pot." They could not fathom how their son would pick "smoking weed" over his family.

After hearing this story, my sense was that TJ was using a scare and hurt tactic that was most effective in getting his parents upset.

Shortly after that memorable experience, TJ's parents asked friends about how they were handling their teenagers drinking and smoking.

To their dismay, many respectable parents were talking about tolerance and co-existence, even though the behavior is against the law.

As they continued to reflect on their parenting and their son's social choices, they became aware that they created much of the stress between them. They realized this was due to their inconsistencies and double standards. TJ effectively learned how to play his parents against each other, so that he always got what he wanted.

Now, at sixteen, he was giving ultimatums and calling the shots. His parents realized that they needed to reclaim their parental authority at all costs.

They sought professional help and all agreed to a contract. TJ seemed skeptical, but relieved. His parents agreed to lighten up and not smother him. School became solely his responsibility. If the school called home or poor progress notes came home, there would be a very clear consequence. Round one, he would lose access to the Internet. Round Two, Mom would stop chauffeuring him around town.

Probably the hardest issue to deal with was his pot use. He reluctantly agreed to give up weed and to be randomly drug tested. If he was found to be consistently non-compliant, his parents said they would file a PINS and request a mandatory drug treatment program.

Right now there is tentative peace in the household, but everyone is nervous. Healthy family life is hard work. This time around they have a chance because they all agreed to work at it. TJ conceded that his parents are in charge. His parents agreed to hear TJ's concerns.

Hopefully, this new approach to communication will make all the difference.