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Parenting 101

February 2013

1.  My ex-husband is an alcoholic & drug addict and has almost no contact with our two children (12 & 15).  My oldest daughter is beginning to worry me with her recent behavior.  She blames me for her father’s problems, and often talks about how weak he is to have become addicted.  I know some of her friends have been caught drinking and I’m afraid that’s the path she’s headed down.  Is there anything I can do to make sure she’s drug-free?

If your daughter has not had any education on the disease concept of addiction it would be a good thing to make sure she gets.  Addiction is a diagnosable brain disease, not a weakness and whether he is active in her life or not, he is her father and it is important she have a framework for understanding what has happened to him. As far as making sure your daughter stays drug free, there are no guaranteed methods but there’s a lot you can do to increase the chances that she does not damage her life with substance use.  Along with some education on the disease concept to understand her father’s affliction, she needs to understand her own genetic predisposition and the risks associated with it. She needs a very clear message from you stating the family boundaries about substance use and that no amount (alcohol included) is acceptable while she is a minor in your house. You can assist her in building positive aspects to her life; positive passions, hobbies and accomplishments are wonderful protective assets. Keep the dialogue about substance use open, it is not a one conversation issue. One of the most important things is to make sure you are as aware as possible of what she is or is not doing substance-wise. One of the easiest methods is to make a hard rule family tradition that she must give you a hug or a kiss on the cheek anytime she comes home, even if that means waking you up.  A significant degree of intoxication can be hidden by keeping even a small physical distance. If she is close enough for physical contact with you,  it will be much easier to discern if she has been drinking or using.   Finally, both your children would greatly benefit from speaking with a professional drug counselor, especially one that is a recovered addict.  They would be very helpful in helping your children understand the ‘psychology’ of an addict,  and clear up the misunderstanding that you had much to do with her father’s ‘problem’, and how they are at risk if they have similar thoughts as addicts do.

2.  My 17yo son is a good student – popular & gets good grades.  Several of his friends come from very financially successful families and I’ve heard them talk about having parties without their parents – how do I make sure my son understands that just because these friends have money and (maybe too much) freedom, doesn’t make them invincible when it comes to drinking or drugs?

The key to successfully raising children in these very difficult times (difficult because there are so many choices that have lifetime impacts) is communication, communication and communication.  Have frequent talks where you make clear your expectations.  Especially let him know that because you observe him making good choices, even when some of his friends are making poor ones, that you will continue to allow him the freedoms he enjoys, i.e. going to his friends ‘gatherings’ as long as he continues making good decisions. All people, especially teens need constant positive reinforcement to stay on the right path. He may act like he is tired of hearing this over and over, but the truth is it really helps you stay in touch.  Alternatively, if you are truly against his attending his friends’ unsupervised parties, you should make clear your unwillingness to approve his participation in those activities.   Remember,  the feeling of “invincibility” is a normal part of adolescent development.  It is all too easy for them to believe it “cannot happen to me or my friends.”   This means that you must make sure that your son has the information on both the risks of alcohol and drug use, as well as the very real and certain negative impacts it has. There is a lot of solid research showing the negative impacts of alcohol and other substances on the developing brain and discussing that with him is worthwhile.  Unfortunately, it is just not, by itself, tremendously effective. To give your son the best chance at avoiding substance use-driven harms, he also needs an ongoing dialogue with you about substance use and very clear boundaries that no level of such is acceptable while he is a minor in your house.

Responses to the above parent questions have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention.  The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth.  For local resources or more information, please visit our website or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact:

Parenting 101

January 2013

1.  My husband and I suspect that the father of one our son’s friends might be using steroids.  He’s abnormally “buff” and his moods sometimes seem way over the top.  How can we approach our son about this to ensure he doesn’t think it’s cool to use steroids without harming the relationship between he and his friend?

It is important to see these as separate issues.  One is about your concerns that the father of your son’s friend “may” be using steroids, and the other about the use of steroids and your own son.
The second concern can be better addressed by casually bringing up the topic of performance enhancement drugs like steroids and HGH.  You may want to bring up the current situation with Lance Armstrong, asking your son what he thinks.   Research some information online about how many great individuals, including Olympic athletics fall victim to the temptation of performance enhancement drugs and stress how important it is to avoid all use of such things.

While it surely may be true that this father is using steroids, without specific proof of this, any accusations could easily turn into a hostile situation that could reflect poorly on the two of you.  This may be best left alone.   Any suggestion you make between steroids and this boy’s father may go straight to the father, making a hostile situation for you and your family, especially if he has altered moods.   However, if you feel it needs to be addressed specifically doing that research becomes even more be helpful in becoming familiar with the dangers of steroid use,  both to the user and those close to the user.  If you make a short list of the biggest concerns,  noting that there can be many other problems as well,  your son will more likely to be receptive to the information and more likely to retain it.  You will want to make clear that you are pursuing a concern, not an attack on his friend or his friend’s father.  As you will find in your research, steroid abuse leads to severe damage to the body and brain and can be a huge contributing factor to homicides, suicides and other violent and aggressive behaviors.  If the idea that his friend’s father may be using steroids shakes him up or concerns him then  make sure he is aware of the dangers if the father goes into a “roid rage” and plan appropriately for his safety.  If he defends steroid use itself, you will have a lot more work to do with more research done together, serious discussions of his thought process in thinking they are in any way o.k. and possibly professional counseling.

2.   My 15yo daughter is having significant mood swings.  She’s always been a bit dramatic, but lately she get extremely angry or weepy over the smallest things.  And then 10 minutes later she’ll be her old laughing, good-natured self.  I don’t have insurance so getting her to a counselor or therapist will be next to impossible.  What can I do to help her?

One of the biggest challenges for parents, and in reality, therapists as well, is distinguishing when adolescent behaviors are normal and when they may be pathological.  This entire stage of life is noted for instability of mood, mind and will, which makes this period of time often the least favorite of life’s stages. You stated that having her see a therapist is next to impossible.  This practically rules out the possibility of having a professional diagnosis and leaves it all in your hands.  The biggest worry is that this behavior will somehow hinder her growth both emotionally and academically.  Check with her teachers, school counselor, and adult friends and ask them if they are concerned about her behaviors with them or in public.  If she is progressing at school academically and socially, without any of the people who interact with her being concerned, then allow yourself to step back and become an observer as well as her biggest supporter and see where it goes.  However, if you do discover issues that are holding her back, please reconsider the counseling option.

Specifically,  be aware that any expression, verbally, in writing, or in behavior of a desire to harm herself or others needs to be taken seriously and professional help engaged.  Angry or weepy (minus destructive behavior) is fairly normal for a 15 year old girl. The quick rebound to her normal laughing self even sounds fairly healthy, different than the manic glee of a substance induced rebound.

Responses to the above parent questions have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention.  The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth.  For local resources or more information, please visit our website or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact:

Parenting 101

December 2012

1.   My husband and I have one daughter – 8 years old.  She was born to us relatively late in life so we have spoiled her and lavished her with pretty much anything she’s wanted.  Unfortunately now she’s become seriously materialistic and doesn’t seem to appreciate the small things we do for her.  Also, when we expect her to clean her room or do any other chores she has a fit and refuses.  We know this is our fault, but don’t know where to start to fix it.  We need help.

Enabling children is an unhealthy approach for both the parent and child and is done all too often by both older and young parents.  Enabling is often confused with spoiling, which are two different issues.  While spoiling has to do with an individual receiving much more than they need, enabling has more to do with not holding someone accountable for both their behavior and decisions.

The only way to begin reversing the effects, which will be more difficult for you than for her, is to stop enabling.  Make her totally responsible for her actions by enforcing consequences, which imitates the real life of adults. This includes no lectures, criticisms, or judgments, except whether or not she follows through on what she was supposed to do.  Remember, you cannot control her or what decisions she makes, but you control ALL her privileges and freedoms! When she defiantly tells you she doesn’t care if you take her privileges away, and she will, just know that it does bother her or she would not have put any emotion into her response. Apply this to all her responsibilities – homework, cleaning room, taking out trash or feeding the pet, etc. – and tie it all into earning privileges. Give this change in direction some time to process and she will start to come around.  However, expect a great deal of tantrums and poor behavior – neither of which are of much consequence unless she destroys something in the process (i.e. breaks something or calls hurtful names).  So there should also be a consequence in place for being destructive.  She should be allowed to express anger or frustration as long as it is not destructive.

2.   I am the single mom of a 14year old girl who  believes she can make all decisions for herself (including whether she smokes, drinks, or “dates” older boys).  Any time I try to enforce any boundaries, rules, or discipline she takes off and doesn’t come home for hours – and I have no idea where she is.  I have to work and have tried to keep her involved in sports and other after school activities, but so far nothing has worked.  Her father is not involved and I’m dealing with this all alone.  What should I do next?

There are a significant number of very important factors that could be influencing both your daughter’s behavior and your own behavior in a case such as this. Due to those potential complexities we would highly recommended that you seek the professional services of a therapist who specializes in adolescents.  One thing for you to start considering is  how to attend to your daughter’s safety. If you have no idea where she is, who she is with or what she is doing,  and older boys, smoking and/or  drinking are already on the table the risks she may be taking could be substantial. Notification of the authorities if she runs away, and letting her know that they will be notified, needs to be considered. Involvement in the legal system is not something that parents would normally seek, but if you have no control over her comings and goings there is little other option. While the police don’t have the resources to go looking for her,  they will make out a report…and if she is spotted by a policeman they will pick her up and return her home.  If this happens, you will either need to be there, or have an adult there to receive her.  Many PDs will have you call them when she returns home and will come over and explain to her that a 14 year old is not allowed out of the house without permission, and how she may temporarily lose her freedom if  she continues to run away and is taken to a juvenile detention facility

Strengthening of boundaries and consequences will not solve the issue completely though. They are needed, however, and children who do not have them tend to act out (they need them to feel safe), but used alone they either accelerate the problem or simply tamp it down for a future explosion of greater magnitude. There are reasons that your daughter is seeking reward through inappropriate channels. It is crucial that you find out what these reasons are and get  her the appropriate help to address them. There are reasons that your daughter displays the lack of respect that she does towards you. You need to find out what they are and you and your daughter work to address them.  Pick a therapist carefully, ask questions about their assessment of your situation (after a few sessions) until you are satisfied they have communicated to you what they see as the problem and you understand what they are conveying, ask what the treatment plan is (do not settle for general or evasive answers, a real set of goals and objectives and a plan for attaining them is needed).

Remember, all children want to feel loved and accepted.  No criticism or judgment of her. She is always running to her friends because that is what she gets from them – acceptance and a place to belong.  Do your best to create a home that provides what she seeks.

Responses to the above parent questions have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention.  The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth.  For local resources or more information, please visit our website or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact:

Parenting 101

November 2012

1.  I know most energy drinks contain lots of caffeine and I’m concerned because my 12yo son and his friends drink them all the time.  Is it possible for them to become addicted to these drinks?  Should they be consuming them at all?  Are there long-term effects?  Thank you for whatever information you can provide me.

Caffeine is a stimulant and all stimulants have some addiction risk. Remove someone who normally has a few cups of strong coffee every morning from those cups of Joe and most will get a low grade headache, which is actually a withdrawal symptom. The levels of caffeine in many “Energy” drinks dwarf the amount in coffee,  and other substances such as Taurine and Guarana are often also present.  Most energy drinks contain very high levels of sugar also. Increase one’s energy and desire for exertion, stimulate their cardiovascular and induce a level of sugar that contributes to dehydration and you can have a very dangerous combination (add alcohol and it becomes incredibly dangerous). Is there anything listed you do not want your child to have? Is there anything that you consider beneficial enough to counterbalance any negatives you found? Does a 12-year old need induced energy?

Like many of the new food fads, energy drinks are controversial. For any foods we eat or drinks we consume, we need to educate ourselves as to what’s in them and how they affect us. Read the ingredients of what is in your child’s energy drink yourself and then do some brief Internet research on what you find.  There you will find a plethora of information both positive and negative. We suggest you discuss this information, in an adult manner, with your children and have them weigh both sides of the information you collect.  It is also a good idea to have them collect their own information and compare it with what you found.  This approach is a great tool  to educate ourselves and our children whenever whenever there are tough decisions to be made that may have long term affects on our lives.

2.  Our daughter is a freshman in college in another part of the state.  We’ve been in consistent touch with her since she left for school, but we’re growing concerned because her calls are becoming less frequent, her grades have slipped a bit, she seems less than forthcoming when we ask her about friends, classes, etc. and now she’s talking about not coming home for the holidays.  What can we do from a distance to make sure she’s safe and stays on track?

When our children go away to college, and are over 18, we have surprisingly little control over their behaviors, activities and whereabouts.  They are, in the eyes of our society, our legal system, and the college, legal adults, even if we consider them inexperienced and not yet ready.  This is the reason that teaching our children how to handle freedom and responsibility must start long before they reach this age.  So depending on how much your daughter learned about these life skills before going away to college will determine how well she handles decisions when she is on her own.

Colleges do not send copies of grades to parents, they do not call or inform parents of progress or problems because they view the student as the person solely responsible for their enrollment decisions regardless of who pays for the tuition or boarding.

However, if you control the money, then you have some power of accountability.  Make sure your child knows that your continued financial support is dependent on having a copy of all grades at the end of each grading period, including passing classes and carrying a minimum number of units.

You should put together an agreement if you have a certain grade average expectation (you can even include when to call, if you feel it is necessary).  There should be a simple understanding that if your expectations and/or agreements are not kept, then they lose the opportunity to attend that school, leaving them with the choice to find their own funding, get a job, or come home and go to community college.  Remember, going to college is strictly a privilege and not a right.  It is not possible to control any of their day to day activities, but it is always possible to hold individuals accountable.

Responses to the above parent questions have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention. The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth. For local resources or more information, please visit our website or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact:

Parenting 101

October 2012

My husband and I are currently separated and share joint custody of our 15yo daughter.  My issue is this – I do not want my daughter drinking at all but my husband believes that if he allows her small amounts of alcohol at home, she won’t feel the need to drink outside with friends.  I strongly disagree.  I don’t know how to get my husband to agree on this.

Research (including very recent research) shows that supervised drinking at home has opposite effects to those intended.  For instance a 2011 study, lead-authored by University of Minnesota professor Barbara McMorris, found that teens whose parents allow supervised drinking are more likely to have problems discontinuing alcohol use, have problems at school, problems at home, get into fights, suffer from injuries caused by alcohol, experience “blackouts” or unconsciousness due to extreme intoxication, and have sexual experiences they later regret. This and multiple other studies have shown that allowing in- the- house drinking for teens increases their risks. We would encourage a conversation with your husband based on science and data rather than opinion.  Look up and print out the research and ask him what information he had based his opinion on. Offer to take a parenting class together or see a family therapist together, if necessary, to get on the same page with this issue. Let him know that you know that this is an extremely serious issue for your daughter’s welfare.  It’s essential to remember that when parents, either living together or apart, do not provide a united front, they send contradictory messages to their children.  The result is a huge compromise to the parental front and leadership. Your ex-husband is most likely coming from a place of personal belief that hopefully can be modified by him reading up on the statistics of parents who believe in this model.  Most parents who believe the same as your ex-husband are attempting to win their child’s respect by being the ‘cool’ parent.  No matter what your husband continues to do, always keep in mind that even if your children don’t like that you are too strict, they will, in the end, have more respect for you because they will eventually understand how much you care for their safety.

Our 16yo son participates in several sports and is very popular with this teammates.  I have a growing concern about the number of his friends who’ve mentioned the “meds” they take for pain and injuries suffered during  their games.  He says they don’t share but I’m very suspicious that that is not true.  What is the best way to ensure that he doesn’t use his friends’ medications?  I’m not even sure how to tell if my son is using their meds.

There is no way to absolutely ensure that your son does not use his friends “meds.”  Some “meds” will show up on urine drug tests and some will not. There are some important pieces of information that would be needed to give you the best and most complete answer.  For example, are his friends talking about the “meds” in front of you and naming them? If so,  what “meds” are they taking? Are there reasons for your suspicions that he may have taken the “meds”?  A one-on-one conversation with a knowledgeable local drug and alcohol counselor, or therapist who works with youth, may well have a good return on investment  in helping you find clarity and the best approach to take.  Above all, it is critical that you do your best not to compromise your trust in your child by making unfounded accusations about possible drug use.  Until you have proof, assume the best.  But, do sit down and address your concerns being careful to use ‘I’ statements.  ‘You’ statements almost always come across as accusations.  Explain to him you need a way of finding reassurance that you do not need to worry about the drugs you have heard about.  Ask him for suggestions.  Suggest that maybe he would agree to enroll in the voluntary drug program at school (most high schools now have them).  However, most importantly, keep your communication open and truthful.

Responses to the above parent questions have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention.  The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth.  For local resources or more information, please visit our website or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact:

Parenting 101

September 2012

1. My 15yo daughter has always hung out with older kids and it hasn’t been a problem until now.  She’s a freshman hanging out with juniors and seniors and I notice her attitude is getting worse by the day.  Many of them have their drivers licenses  and she wants to be gone all the time, plus I suspect there is some drinking going on as well.  Should I just cut her off from all of her friends?  My house is becoming a war zone.  Help!

As the parent of a 15 year old it is very important both that you know who she is with and where she is.  Additionally,  remember that it is very common for a 15 year old girl to want to hang out with older boys.  Because most girls mature emotionally before boys, many are turned off by the immaturity of the boys their own age.  This situation, created from nature, has made for an age-old dilemma because older peers are involved in riskier behaviors.  If you have suspicions there is most likely good reason. Make it a condition of going out that she greet you face to face with a hug when she returns. Close contact will allow you to get a good idea of whether she is under the influence of anything. It is surprising what level of intoxication can be hidden with even a little distance. Alcohol and automobiles are a deadly combination for teenagers and one you need to protect her from. You can also easily purchase Alcohol Saliva Test Strips, the large advantage of these over urine testing is that you only need observe her not ingesting fluids for five minutes and then have her spit in a cup, no worries about diluting the sample,  no discomfort about restroom observance, and no dealing with the “I can’t go right now” game. If you confirm drinking in any manner then the people she was with should be off limits .  Remember, you are in charge. It is an appropriate time in life for her to test boundaries and want to assert independence.   It is not practical to just cut her off from her friends.  Most often they will just go behind your back.  It is important that your relationship be one of trust and respect.  Therefore it is critical that your daughter’s choices be more closely monitored than those of someone two or three years older.  However, she must feel that the choices she makes are respected.  As long as her choices demonstrate responsibility she should be granted freedom.  It is perfectly reasonable (and responsible) to know where she is at all times, and who she is with – names, phone numbers and parent contacts. Be prepared for resistance and to be unpopular, but do not allow her to verbally, or otherwise, abuse you for exercising what is both your right, and more important, your responsibility as a parent.

2. My husband and I have a fundamental difference as to how to deal with our 16yo son and his growing interest in girls.  My husband kids and jokes and treats it all pretty casually, but I’m concerned because our son seems almost obsessed at times, he’s constantly texting and recently I discovered him in chat rooms with people he doesn’t even know.  I feel very alone with this issue and need some advice desperately.

It is more often the case that parents have some notable differences in the way they want to parent.  Simply put, very few parents were brought up in identical situations or with identical rules.  None of us had a ‘perfect’ childhood, or perfect parents which means we can’t claim exclusive knowledge of how to raise a child. That is why parenting, at best, can be described as a compromise between the way mom and dad desire to raise their children. Your child’s situation provides the perfect opportunity to find a reasonable compromise to deal with the problem.  Find a peaceful environment, somewhere away from your son, where the two of you can sit down and talk about your concerns without judging or criticizing each other’s feelings or point of view.  Knowing that all children need ‘guidance’ with growing up issues, create some ‘guidelines (or rules)’ that will address both of your points of view.  If you discover that you have exact opposing views, then target a view that meets each other half way.  Unless one parent  is advocating something that is illegal or has real potential for harm, all compromises must be  taken seriously. Once mutually constructed guidelines are created you must present  to your son as a united front!  The most important factor here is that your child sees you as both on the same page and in full support of each other regardless of your individual opinion, which you must not share with your child. Later if something does not work, or you anticipate problems, then it is time to meet alone again with your parenting partner to renegotiate.

Responses to the above parent questions have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention.  The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth.  For local resources or more information, please visit our website or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact:

Parenting 101

August 2012

1.    I’m curious about these Hookah Bars I see around the area.  Do they have age restrictions?  Is it just “regular” tobacco smoked in them?  Do they serve alcohol, too?  I have two high schoolers and would not like it if they were able to go into those establishments. Thank you.

Hookah bars are subject to the same laws and regulations as apply to other methods of smoking tobacco  (cigarettes, cigars etc.), so these can change from city to city. It is illegal for those under 18 to be sold tobacco products in California and that includes Hookah bars. The tobacco products smoked at Hookah bars are often flavored. Hookah bars, may in some areas allow indoor smoking if their primary business is the sale of tobacco products, similar to a cigar shop/lounge. Any establishment that serves alcohol must follow all applicable state and local laws regarding patrons under age 21. Because Hookah bars do target a younger, generally college age crowd, they are not likely to serve alcohol, although some bars and clubs that serve alcohol have created outdoor hookah areas. Hookahs are just as dangerous and addictive as any other method of smoking tobacco and you are right in not wanting your children to be frequenting establishments that promote it. If there is a particular establishment that you are concerned about, you may want to check what licenses that establishment holds and what state and local laws apply. Selling of tobacco products to minors or allowing minors on the premises, if law forbids their presence, can lead to fines and loss of license for retailers.

2. We have a 4yo son who is very difficult to “control.”  If he doesn’t get what he wants he sometimes goes into a frenzy and throws huge fits (it doesn’t matter where we are).  It’s gotten so bad we hate to take him with us anywhere.  We’ve tried several different kinds of discipline but it seems nothing works.  Is he too young for counseling?  What about spanking?  Help, please.

All children learn different behavioral methods in order to attempt to get the things they want, or believe they want.  In truth, adults do this as well, only children have fewer resources or ‘power’ to be able to get what adults can.  As a result they resort to any behavior that provides them with results.  To a child, a good result is anything that gets others, especially parents, engaged.  A very simple rule of engagement is the more attention you can draw to yourself, the better the chance you will succeed in getting what you want.  This explains why your child goes into a “frenzy,” which is another term for a tantrum.

Your son may be only four years old, but he knows perfectly well that you not only dislike this behavior but it genuinely upsets you and puts him in a position of  ‘negotiating’ with you for things he wants.  It doesn’t matter whether he gets positive or negative attention, they both draw you into his personal drama to the point you will be very tempted to give him what he wants so he will stop.  Research shows that children first learn this type of manipulative behavior at 7 months of age, so at four years old, your son is an old pro.

It begins with small situations that ‘upset’ him, and over the years grows into what can seem like a frenzy.  Your only hope of stopping this behavior, and it can be stopped, is to learn to ‘disengage’ with your child.  When you first begin to ignore this behavior there is a natural reaction of him to increase his frenzied behavior in order to maintain the hook it has on you.  However, if you can hold out, the behavior will begin to fade.

At home, have a designated place where the child is in ‘time out’ until they settle down.  Do not engage in conversation, debate, or give any attention during this time.  If it happens at the market or in a restaurant, simply leave your cart, or excuse yourself from the table, and remove  both you and the child from the immediate environment.  Put him in a place you temporarily can use for time out that is just outside the store or restaurant and explain that he can return when his ‘tantrum’ is over.  You may have to leave early from the store or the restaurant, but these small sacrifices will pay big dividends in the end.

From what you describe of your child, he will be more likely to change when your parenting changes than by listening to words that a stranger (counselor) would tell him.  Children process actions much better than words.  Since you will be the one with him when inappropriate behavior surfaces, you are in a far better position to provide guidance.  While very moderate spanking, that never leaves red marks, may be legally accepted, it has not been shown to improve behavior. The main disadvantage of spanking is that it inadvertently justifies hitting others when we are upset, it sets a negative example for our children, and is totally unnecessary to help children learn appropriate behaviors.

Responses to the above parent questions have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention.  The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth.  For local resources or more information, please visit our website or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact:

Parenting 101

July 2012

1.   My husband and I have always been open and honest with our three kids about substance abuse, including alcohol and marijuana.  However, with all the talk of decriminalization and/or medical marijuana, it is getting more difficult to “convince” them that using could take a heavy toll on their lives.  What can we say to maintain our position with credibility and not sound like we’re stuck in the past?

This is such a great question for the times.  It truly is more difficult today to stand behind an argument about the dangers of marijuana when currently marijuana use is riding the borderline of legality.  Decriminalization and medical usage have clouded the waters in our society’s discussion of Marijuana far more than necessary. Neither consideration changes the dangers that Marijuana use poses in the slightest. It is the same substance if it is decriminalized or not (which is not to say decriminalization is not an important issue, see RAND’s white paper on what would happen if it were legalized). Tobacco cigarettes are not criminalized, but do we doubt at all that they are very dangerous and unhealthy? It is also the same substance, with the same risks, whether it has medical use or not. Cocaine is used medically. Oxycontin is used medically. Valium is used medically. Would anyone advocate that this means that these substances are safe for recreational use? We do innumerable things in the name of helping sick people medically, that we would never want to subject a healthy person to (surgery, radiation etc.). The content and handling of the Compassionate Use Act (not the “free for all getting high is o.k.” act) has presented some serious problems. The people of California wanted to make it o.k. for sick and suffering people to have access to a medicine they previously did not (despite the fact that there is still significant debate in the medical community whether Marijuana is a best practice medication). The law was not intended to allow free use, though the way it was implemented and the way some profiteering doctors have handled it have made it defacto legal for those over 18, at least for now. The facts and the research on the effects of Marijuana do not change with legislation. There are plenty of articles you can find if you simply ‘Google’ “The dangers of today’s marijuana.” An example of what you would find is as follows: “The potency of THC, the mind-altering chemical in marijuana, has more than doubled in the last twenty years creating a greater risk for impairment and a far higher risk of addiction.” So, we suggest you find a number of credible articles, the best ones have scientific research to back up their facts.      Have another of your “open and honest” discussions and share both your fears and facts.  Marijuana has many, and sometimes more, of the toxic chemicals found in tobacco that collect in the body with each use.  Point out how common abuse and addiction are in both the adult and secondary school populations, which greatly disrupts and destroys individuals lives and the lives of their family members who love them. Good for you for taking this issue seriously and arming yourself with information!

2. I’m a single mom with one son who is 13.  I work to support us and can’t be with him all day long.  A couple of times I’ve come home and would swear I smell cigarette smoke in the apartment.  When I ask him he denies it but I’m not sure I believe him.  At what point do I stop trusting him and breach his privacy?

The general rule about breaching privacy is that it is done whenever there is any suspicion that involves potential dangers for your child.  You are at that point. If you smell cigarette smoke it is because it is there. It is your responsibility as a parent to make sure that your house is free from dangerous chemicals and that your 13 year old son is not starting an addiction that is devastating. The privacy he is entitled to is limited. Smelling cigarette smoke more than once in your apartment is sufficient enough to search his room and belongings when he is not at home.  If you don’t find anything, wait until the next incident and repeat your efforts.  I would smell the clothes he puts into the dirty clothes bin, and/or ask him for a kiss when he returns home from being with his friends to determine if his breath smells of tobacco use.

Tobacco is an extremely addictive drug for anyone, but the younger one is when they start, the greater the chances of addiction. His brain is still developing and very malleable, including in critical parts related to addiction.

Many cities now have agencies that have prevention programs for young smokers.  If you can locate some support systems, you may be able to get information that will help to educate your son, and/or possible cessation programs if you determine that he has been smoking.

Responses to the above parent questions have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention.  The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth.  For local resources or more information, please visit our website or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact:

Parenting 101

June 2012

1.   My son just started driving and I want to create a contract that clearly defines our expectations as well as punishment for infractions.  What points should I be sure to include in the contract?

The contract should begin by stating that driving is a ‘privilege’ and not a right.  The privilege, for all drivers, is maintained by driving responsibly.  The consequences (not punishments) for not driving responsibly is loss of the privilege – plain and simple.

Include a list of all  expected responsibilities that are related to driving.  Examples are: drinking and driving or using other mind-altering substances (even when not driving – being absolutely clean and sober should be a non-negotiable part of the contract), obeying traffic rules, obeying curfew laws, etc.  Follow next with rules that are more family expectations related to driving – Examples are; maintaining a ‘B’ average to get an insurance discount (or whatever grade average you feel appropriate for your teen), chores completed, re-filling the gas tank, keeping the car clean after use (possibly even washing the car).  Remind your teen that until they are 18, parents have the legal right to revoke or suspend a driver’s license, and that you will do so if your rules are not respected.  Also, remind your son that if he doesn’t respect the rules of the DMV that the police will do the same,  (i.e. driving with friends in the car before the first year, etc).  How any traffic tickets, parking tickets and/or accidents will be handled should also be spelled out.

2.  We just found out that our 16yo daughter’s boyfriend (he’s just turned 18) has a prescription for medical marijuana.  Is there any way to make sure she doesn’t use it as well?  Can he get into trouble for sharing with her?  How do we monitor this?

You have quite a situation on your hands there. Monitoring your daughter for potential use should involve the following two elements:

1) Random drug testing. It needs to be truly random, so she does not know when it is coming. Marijuana lasts for a long time in the body and is one of the easiest drugs to catch on a test. It is strongly recommended that you get professional assistance in testing and in handling the results if they are positive. There are an abundance of tricks and methods to beat drug tests (just spend two minutes on Google checking out the plethora of information available and it will make your head spin). Unobserved drug tests are of little to no value, neither are drug tests she can study for ahead of time.

2) Close personal interaction when she returns home. Make a tradition where she needs to give you a hug or kiss on the cheek when she returns home. Take note of the condition of her overall bearing, her eyes and any odors. Also watch for attempts to mask evidence, such as use of perfume, incense, breath mints etc. to mask odors and frequent use of eye drops to mask red or glassy eyes.

As a bottom line, yes it is illegal for him to share it with her (he could lose his prescription privileges if he shares with anyone), however, actually proving that he did, even if she tests positive, is quite another issue. You would do well to adopt a bottom line that if she uses Marijuana at all she will no longer be allowed to associate with people who have known access to it (and you might want to ask yourself just how much of your blessing this relationship has). There also needs to be a bottom line drawn that she cannot be a passenger in a vehicle driven by this young man. Marijuana, as previously noted, lasts in the system for a long time and has been shown to seriously impair the ability to drive. A firm and clear setting of at least these boundaries should be done with your daughter AND the young man in question. They may be done with your daughter separately and beforehand, but the young man needs to hear them also. Your daughter may not be a big fan of the idea, but if a now legally adult young man is going to have a serious relationship with your daughter (who is a minor) he needs to be willing to discuss serious issues related to that relationship with you face to face.

This is the exact type of situation where we need to recognize that we cannot control any of our children’s actions (i.e. – whom they choose for friends or if they choose to partake in alcohol or other drugs) – BUT WE DO CONTROL THE CONSEQUENCES FOR NOT MAKING RESPONSIBLE DECISIONS.

Responses to the above parent questions have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention.  The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth.  For local resources or more information, please visit our website or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact:

Parenting 101

May 2012

1. My 16 year old daughter was at a friend’s house and had a pretty bad headache so her friend’s mother gave her ½ Vicodin which really bothers me. My daughter is begging me not to contact her friend’s mom. How best to handle this?

You absolutely need to contact your daughter’s friend’s mom. You would also do well by setting a firm boundary that your daughter is never to be in a situation where this woman is the sole adult caretaker present. Illegally distributing narcotics (and make no mistake Vicodin is a strong narcotic) to minors is an extremely serious matter, one in which you would be well within your rights to involve the police. Regardless of whether the mother that gave her the medications is completely unaware that she just acted as a ‘dealer’ of illegal drugs, or whether she understands and doesn’t have any regard for the laws – she is acting irresponsibly and needs to be informed before she either gets into trouble with the law, or inadvertently contributes to illegal drug use by minors. Both would send her to jail. Yes, as a teenager, your daughter is likely to be embarrassed and want to avoid dealing with the issue, but to send any other message than that this is an extremely serious matter would be gravely irresponsible parenting. Prescription drugs, in particular opiates (of which Vicodin is one) have become one of the leading causes of addiction and overdose in this nation, in large part due to society’s tendency to view them as safer than street drugs. Deaths from overdoses of prescription opiates happen nearly six times as often as those from Heroin, and from 1997 to 2007 the number of opiates prescribed increased over 400%. The Center for Disease Control has classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic. Your daughter needs to be clear that prescription drugs are extremely dangerous as this will unfortunately not be her last opportunity to take them illegally. Problems that are not addressed only grow, address this one strongly. Here is a great resource page for more information:

2. Our daughter is leaving for college this year. Both her father and I have been in recovery for many years and we’re not sure what to say to prepare her for her first real taste of freedom and the drinking that may go along with that. And is it possible for us to monitor her behavior when we’ll be so far away?
If you and your husband are both in recovery from chemical dependency, it would certainly be time to talk with your daughter about her substantially increased risk of dependence if she indulges in mind altering substances. Your daughter is old enough now for you to share with her your struggles with recovery (always be honest, but it is not necessary to go into details, and it would be helpful for her to know that neither one of you ever thought your choices would wind up in a lifetime change). It may be especially helpful for your daughter to hear that her parents are ‘not perfect’ individuals that you have challenges like everyone else. This is a good time to reiterate that her freedoms are only restricted by the choices she makes when she is on her own. It is your responsibility to make sure that she is aware of the dangers and to help her plan for her own safety, but make sure listening is as much a part of the interaction as talking. By this age, she most likely has already had to make many decisions surrounding substance use and her thoughts, beliefs and mindset will be the most influential factors in the decisions she makes while off at college. Unless she has already made dangerous decisions regarding substances, direct monitoring would be not only extremely difficult and unreliable, but counterproductive to her continued growth and maturity and most certainly her relationship with you. Visit her if possible, talk by phone frequently (texting or e-mailing is not the same when it comes to knowing someone is o.k.), make sure any expenses being paid by you track closely with a pre- determined budget and keep a dialogue open about her academic progress and the new life experiences she has. Care and love deeply, but know that you cannot control her, only your contribution to her process.

Responses to the above parent questions have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention. The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth. For local resources or more information, please visit our website or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact:

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