The Challenge of Transitions

The lazy days of summer are quickly coming to an end. Parents are already getting ready for back to school. Some families are preparing to send their first child off to college. Others are getting ...

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The lazy days of summer are quickly coming to an end. Parents are already getting ready for back to school. Some families are preparing to send their first child off to college. Others are getting ready to begin high school and still others are getting ready to begin elementary school.

Probably the most challenging transitions for students are the transitions from high school to college and from junior high school to senior high school. These academic transitions are not as arduous as the social transitions. In junior high school, as an eighth grader, you are part of the leadership-the senior class persons. In high school, as a ninth grader, you're once again at the bottom having to fight your way to the top. As a senior going away to college for the first time, you are leaving everything that is familiar and facing a wide range of new social possibilities. Although that sounds exciting, it can also be very unnerving; especially if you are shy and laid-back.

When our kids go away to college for the first time, we always give them a pep talk. We talk about time management. We talk about social responsibility and acting respectfully. We address our concerns around illegal drug and alcohol use and reckless promiscuity.

However, we know when everything is said and done, our first year college students are on their own. No one is going to call home and let you know if your son or daughter is cutting class, staying out all night or drugging and drinking. One only hopes that one s children are responsible enough to make positive choices around school and their social lives.

Back home, for our children who are in high school, we as parents face formidable social challenges. The drug and alcohol epidemic is out of control. Before our freshman in high school graduates, he or she will be exposed to a wide range of street drugs, prescription drugs and an abundance of pot and alcohol.

What makes this scenario especially difficult and at times painful, is that parents have a wide range of different viewpoints on how to respond to high school students who choose to smoke pot, use prescription drugs and recreationally drink. A growing number of parents believe in their heart of hearts that this behavior is part of the rite of American passage from teenage-hood to adulthood. It is only experimentation. In simple terms, they see nothing wrong with the social behavior. In large measure because many of them did the same thing, they don't see a problem. They take the position that it is only a phase that their children are going through.

Thus, they tolerate a lot of inappropriate social behavior that could be potentially lethal. The other extreme is parents who are so rigid that they create invisible walls between themselves and their children. Their children seek guidance and support away from home. Needless to say, there needs to be a balance.

Every family needs to have a core of basic values, basic rules and basic regulations that govern the smooth operating of one's family system. Chaos never helps. It only adds fuel to the fire. It makes it extremely difficult to set up reasonable parameters to monitor teenage behavior.

When parenting teenagers, parents should always be consistent and fair. Never say something that you do not intend to enforce. Do not compromise your moral compass for the sake of being friends with your teenage adolescent. Be clear with your expectations, and always be prepared to practice what you preach.

Tolerating teenage drinking and pot use is very dangerous thinking, especially if you take the attitude that they are going to do it anyway, as you turn your head and take a blind eye to this dangerous social behavior.

This summer, week after week, we read countless stories of reckless decision making around the use of alcohol that cost innocent people their lives. More often than in previous summers, an extraordinary high number of children were victimized by the reckless decision making of a number of adults.

AJ is a senior and a football player. Academically, he is a fair student with limitless possibilities, but up until now has been extremely lazy. This summer his life was out of control. He smoked pot every day and got drunk every weekend. When he went over to Fire Island, if he drank too much he would get into a fight even if the guy was twice his size. He came home many weekends with a black eye and a bruised rib cage.

At the beginning of July, his parents discovered that he was smoking every day and drinking on the weekends to get drunk. One of his friends was so concerned that he came and told AJ s parents everything. He shared with them all the gory details of AJ s out of control summer.

AJ s parents were shocked and appalled. They struggled around what to do. His dad wanted to be somewhat tolerant of the weekend drinking, especially since AJ was going to be a senior. His mother vehemently opposed that position. They both had strong negative feelings around the use of pot.

As parents they knew they had to be in concert around what was acceptable social behavior for their children. After an intense conversation, they agreed that no drug or alcohol use would be tolerated in their home. They told AJ that it was unacceptable for him to continue to use pot and live in their home. They also reminded him that he was 17, and that it was illegal for him to drink even if it was socially. That social behavior would also not be tolerated in their home.

AJ told his parents that he had no problem giving up alcohol, but it was going to be hard to stop smoking pot since he has done it every day since he was 12. His parents said they would drug test him and if he failed three consecutive tests he would have a choice: go to rehabilitation or move out. To many parents, this seems too strict but to others it doesn't seem strict enough. What do you think?