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Coping With Today's Teenager

Every day there is another terrible story about a young person who lost his or her life due to reckless decision-making. What does a parent do when his or her son or daughter feels it ...

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Every day there is another terrible story about a young person who lost his or her life due to reckless decision-making. What does a parent do when his or her son or daughter feels it is his or her right to smoke, drink and get high on an on-going basis, even though it is against the law?

A growing number of college and high school coeds believe they are invincible. They think it is okay to get high on a regular basis as long as they live by their curfew, go to school and respect their parents. Too many parents choose to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to this reckless social behavior because they don't want the hassle with their children.

By their silence and toleration, they are saying this kind of behavior is socially acceptable. Few parents are willing to take a hard line in this regard. Too many parents make excuses for their children. They feel that school and other adults are overreacting and making too big a deal out of these issues.

As a parent, what do you do if your son comes home stoned from a high school party? He tells you that he ate brownies laced with marijuana and then drank some beer. You ask him why and he says, "because everybody's doing it." You respond by saying, "that's not acceptable." You inform him that he must be held accountable for his poor decision-making.

He informs you that he has no intention of being grounded or of accepting any other sanction. From his perspective, getting high and drinking is no big deal. He makes it clear that there is no way you can enforce any kind of restriction or sanction.

The conversation quickly creates a major confrontation. You are now faced with standing by your word or caving in. As a parent, what do you do?

The social dilemma just outlined poses many complicated concerns. As a concerned parent, what do you do? Do you let it go? Or, is this a battle you choose to fight till the end? The middle ground here is very delicate.

As a parent, you need to reclaim your parental authority. Whether your child likes it or not, you are in charge. You should act accordingly. As the parent, you have the right to set the parameters around social behavior. It is dangerous and potentially lethal to be silent and tolerant of illegal social behavior. Although many parents take a very casual and lax position around smoking pot and illegal teenage drinking, responsible parents should not cave in to adult peer pressure and social permissiveness.

It is important to be clear, to be consistent and to be willing to enforce whatever your family rules are. Consistency and holding your children accountable are key. Most of us realize that before our teenagers graduate from high school, they will make some poor social decisions. Those poor decisions should not be exploited or minimized. They should be dealt with forthrightly.

Unfortunately, too many parents become paralyzed when their children make poor social choices. They sidestep the issues and make excuses for their children's poor decision-making. More often than not, these parents are not comfortable imposing consequences for their children's poor choices.

Then there are those parents who overreact to their children's poor social decision-making and punish them for life. Worse than the sanction is their unwillingness to let go of the past and give their son or daughter an opportunity to start anew. That narrow-mindedness and negativity only encourages our children to grow distant from us.

The parenting adventure is not easy. It will have its' peaks and valleys, but we must not lose heart, give up or give in. We must stay the course and keep the conversation between us and our children going.

As parents, we should try to create a climate where our children know that no matter what they do, they can always start over as long as they are accountable. Probably the hardest aspect of parenting teenagers is finding a balance when it comes to discipline and accountability.

Discipline is not a dirty word, but rather an important principle calling our children to task. We should not shy away from the challenge and responsibility of disciplining our children, especially around those delicate issues that cause all of us great concern.

JT is sixteen. He is the oldest of four children. His parents have been happily married for over twenty years. They are well-educated professionals who are highly respected in their fields. In tenth grade, JT started smoking pot. For most of his sophomore year, he did it discretely and never got caught. Memorial Day weekend, he was busted by the police for having marijuana in his car. Needless to say, his parents were shocked and appalled. When they confronted him, he lied and said the marijuana belonged to a friend. He swore up and down that he only smoked occasionally. His parents wanted to believe him, and they did.

After the nightmare of his arrest blew over, he continued to smoke pot on a daily basis. He flew under his parents' radar because he used Visine to eradicate the redness in his eyes. However, they knew something was wrong. He had terrible mood swings and had the munchies all the time. Every time they confronted him, he vehemently denied doing anything illegal.

By mid-summer, not only was JT smoking pot, but he was drinking as well. One night he came in after curfew stone drunk. The next morning, his parents confronted him. He basically told them that he had no intention of stopping any of his social behavior. They threatened him. He called their bluff and they backed off. He told them that they were overacting and that most sixteen year olds smoke and drink during the summer. He assured them that he was only smoking and drinking, and was not acting recklessly.

As summer progressed, so did JT's outrageous behavior. According to his parents, JT was consistently in a drunken stupor. As parents, they were embarrassed. They did not know what to do. In a panic, they sought counsel. The counselor strongly urged them to take a hard line with JT. He suggested that if JT was not open to amending his ways, they should seriously consider asking him to leave the house or to enter a rehab treatment program.

When confronted with his options, JT rejected all of them. He reaffirmed that he had no problems and was only engaging in typical American high school teenage behavior. He suggested that his parents needed counseling. He said that from his perspective, they clearly needed helping coping with today's teenager.

On the first Friday in September, in the early hours of the morning, JT and a group of his friends were coming home from a party. They had all been drinking and smoking weed. JT was driving the car. Only a block from his home, he lost control and hit a tree. Two of his passengers were ejected from the car, but luckily were not seriously hurt.

JT broke his right arm and leg. After he was treated in the local hospital, he was arrested and charged with a DWI. Because of his outstanding tickets, a high bail was set. He spent that weekend in jail.

His parents hoped the whole experience would change his outlook on his social behavior. It did for a while, but it quickly wore off and he went back to his old ways. The night before his sentencing for his first DWI, he was out drinking with his buddies and got stopped for a second time. Now he's facing serious jail time because of his recklessness.

When will JT get it? After going to jail, or after killing or maiming someone? What will it take for him to learn and become more accountable?