The Courage to Parent

Communities all across Long Island have become alarmed at the use of heroin in our schools and our neighborhoods. Many communities have sponsored community forums to discuss the heroin epidemic and what we might do ...

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Communities all across Long Island have become alarmed at the use of heroin in our schools and our neighborhoods. Many communities have sponsored community forums to discuss the heroin epidemic and what we might do as a community to respond to this crisis.

Across Suffolk County townships and school districts have seen a record number of parents and students gathering for these programs. Miller Place had over 700 parents and students come together. Smithtown and Commack school districts each had over a thousand parents and students gather for a night program of information and challenge.

Recently, the Commack School Community featured two dynamic speakers that kept the audience engaged for more than two hours. Charles Bernard, a regional DEA agent gave a very compelling and graphic presentation on how heroin has reached our neighborhoods.

Dr. Stephen Dewey, a scientist from the Feinstein Institute was probably the most powerful presenter of the evening. His groundbreaking research on brain imaging is transforming our understanding of what drugs and alcohol do to the brain and the rest of the human body. His presentation was dynamic, understandable and frightening.

Probably the most important thing he said had less to do with his scientific research, and more to do with his role as a parent of two teenagers. He stood before over a thousand people, and as a parent challenged all the parents gathered to take back their parenting authority and parent more responsibly. He said that it is unconscionable that we tolerate underage drinking, which from his perspective is out of control. He urged parents to have the courage to be parents.

As a member of the audience, I listened attentively to his comments. After his comment about parental responsibility, the audience broke into spontaneous, thunderous applause. So many parents were shaking their heads in approval.

For more than 25 years, I have worked with families in crisis. I have sat with countless parents who are literally afraid to parent. Too many of our present parents are more fixated on being friends with their teenage children, rather than parenting them.

When I do a parenting workshop, I remind parents that there is a very simple litmus test of one s effectiveness as a parent. If your son or daughter tells you a million times a day, how much he or she hates your guts, you know you re being an effective parent.

Parenting is probably the most challenging enterprise that caring adults must embrace. It is a full-time job. It does not come with a handbook that is good for all. To be effective, there is a lot of on-the-job training, a lot of learning as you go and trial and error. The most important skill a parent must possess is open communication. You have to talk to your children and equally as important, have to listen to them.

The human landscape is radically different today than it was 25 years ago. Our children are exposed to so much with the technology highway, television and the media. The average eighth grader has seen more sex, violence and abuse on television than most of us will see in three lifetimes.

It is hard to parent today. You have to be willing to be in conflict with your son or daughter based on principle. You cannot casually compromise basic human values. No is not a dirty word, and you should not be afraid to use it when it is appropriate. An important question to raise in your family is who is in charge? Are you in charge or are your children running the show?

It s Friday night, do you know where your 17-year-old is? Does he or she have a curfew? What is your position on underage drinking, smoking pot and abusing prescription drugs? Do you pretend not to see these volatile social issues? What price are you paying choosing to be blind to this human infection?

If Jack comes home drunk or high, what is the consequence? Do you enforce it or let him maneuver around you? How many times do you tolerate his reckless behavior? When do you seek professional help? These are definitely hard questions to reflect upon. However, they are questions that must be addressed. Too many teenagers are not being held accountable for the choices that they make. A growing number of them see nothing wrong with smoking pot every day and drinking every weekend.

The argument they make is that they are good students and basically respectful at home. So what s the big deal! They fail to address that their social choices are against the law and potentially harmful to their human development. Part of the problem is that most teenagers believe they are invincible and that all of our concerns should not apply to them.

Mr. and Mrs. K have an intact family. They have five children. Their discipline is very laid back and often times nonexistent. Four out of the five of their children are teenagers. The teenagers are reasonable students and fairly involved in school activities. However, they believe that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want. Their parents rarely interfere.

By their silence, Mr. and Mrs. K. tolerate their teenage children s reckless decision making and behavior. The two older teenagers smoke pot regularly and drink on the weekends. The parents are aware and have never sanctioned them.

A month ago, their oldest son was coming home from a party where he was engaged in heavy drinking. He wasn t slurring his speech or imbalanced on his feet. He thought he was fine to drive home. He did, and he ran a stop sign. It was 4 a.m. and someone saw that and called 911. A few minutes later, he was stopped by a cop and given a sobriety test. He failed. His blood-alcohol content was double the legal limit. He was arrested. Because he was under 21, at his arraignment his license was revoked until his 21st birthday.

His criminal case is still pending. His parents who are good people are mad that someone reported him and frustrated that he has no license, and they have mounting legal fees to pay. What is really tragic is their inability to see their irresponsible parenting and their choice not to hold their son more accountable for his choices. They should thank the person who reported him, because he possibly saved their son s life and others who could have been victimized.