Category Archives: Parenting

Parenting 101

April 2013


1) Our 15 year old son is causing us some concern because he seems to be more interested in “short cuts” than doing the work, whether it’s in his school work, chores at home, or in sports.  He’s pretty smart so his grades aren’t suffering, but we’re worried about what this says about his character.  We’re just looking for some insight as to how we can help him to be more motivated.

Finding a “short cut” in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing.  However, If that short cut involves dishonesty, breach of trust or his work is being left for someone else to do, that is, indeed, a character issue, and he needs to be taught about the importance of these values (and make no mistake parents bear prime responsibility for teaching them) in a didactic fashion where his input is heard. If the short cut is only his having found a way to accomplish the same end result he is responsible for with less time and effort, then his ability to find and implement such solutions is a tremendous asset to his future. To adults like ourselves, who are surviving in the world where there are few ‘shortcuts’ to life, a child like this may seem to be setting himself up for failure.  It is important that we take a moment to see how it looks from his world.  He is undoubtedly a very bright young man who can see many of the different angles to complete his work and school, and has purposely chosen the fastest, and maybe the easiest, paths to satisfying his school work responsibilities.  While we understand that school work doesn’t always portray everyday life, school work is not only his orientation, it is the only one he could possibly know.   Since his ‘grades aren’t suffering’ it sounds like it is working for him.  So trying to convince him that his methods are flawed won’t make sense to him.  Until he encounters new situations where his old approaches will not work, he most likely won’t change.  Unless his work is not meeting the expectations of his teachers, I would sit on this for now.  So, save both of you wasted time with lectures or ‘what-if’s’. Instead, compliment and encourage him to use his ‘creative’ intelligence to approach and solve the challenges in his life, so that when he does meet with challenges that confuse or stump him (ones where his shortcut methods are ineffective), he will have the belief in himself that he is intelligent enough to find a way.  The quest for a better, easier, more efficient, cheaper or quicker way to do something has driven much of mankind’s progress. When a short cut can be found that does not compromise morals/ethics or decrease the quality of the end product it is a great find. The key here is to provide him with the confidence to adapt and change with each new challenge that meets him.  Your attitude and belief systems will be the groundwork for his motivation.

2.  I’m a single mom of a 12 year old son and I’m concerned about his inability to control his emotions – especially during sports.  He hates to lose – and I mean hates it.  He really almost comes completely unglued and I just don’t know how to help him.  His dad has a pretty bad temper, too, and I don’t want him continuing that cycle.  Any tips or suggestions will be much appreciated.

Your son may be suffering from an all too common syndrome of expecting himself to be perfect.  If so, this means any reminder, like missing a basket or not hitting a home run is interpreted as failure.  Failure feels like you are inferior or flawed.  Individuals who must see themselves and have others see them as perfect, constantly set themselves up for failure.  They are almost always very hard on themselves.  They internally criticize and judge their actions to the point that they get emotionally crippled every time their faults are presented to them.

First, look at the environment that your son is exposed to at home and school.  Are there key individuals in his life who are very critical or judgmental?  If so, look to see if you have any power to change this exposure.  Either way, your son needs help to see how this false belief system is hurting him and the people around him.  This can be done by a skilled friend, or family member who can clearly see the situation, or by a therapist.  He will need to learn how to change his perspective of himself as well as see the good things that he can do.  If anger management problems are not new to the family, and his outbursts are inappropriate, professional counseling should be strongly considered.

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 www.thefutureiswatching.org or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact: events@sbcoalition.com.

Parenting 101

March 2013


1.  As a single dad (sober 17years) to two teen-age sons I’m concerned about the move to legalize marijuana.  I’ve been honest with my kids about my own use, but how do I continue my “hard line” when everywhere I look and everything I hear about marijuana makes it seem as if it’s harmless.

Assuming that your use is in the past (if not, then stopping your own use is the most impactful thing you can do to keep them Marijuana free),  it is good to keep an ongoing dialogue with them about the dangers of Marijuana. One focus needs to be the facts known about Marijuana and the other the fact that something being legal does not make it harmless, alcohol being a great example.  The following link provides some excellent information regarding  the public health consequences associated with legalization:  www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/marijuanainfo.   Assuming that you stopped for some very specific reasons, it would be good to share with your sons any and all the negative effects, both physical and psychological, that contributed to your decision to stop.  You may also want to point out, that ‘if’ marijuana is legalized, it will most likely be restricted to persons over 21, like alcohol.  The simple reason is that individuals under 21 are not in a stage of life where they can completely understand the risks and impacts of substance use that could very well change the course of their lives.   Also,  research has repeatedly shown that parents can be the strongest influence on adolescents’ attitudes towards drug use.  Being a good example, sending a consistent message (one talk does not do it), and being  a good listener will help them find the truth.

2.  I just found out that my 17yo daughter is pregnant.  And if that’s not bad enough, she’s been smoking and drinking with her friends and, in general, been pretty much out of control for over a year.  She hasn’t been to a full day of school in ages and now I’m worried sick about the child she’s carrying.   I don’t know where to turn or what to do.

You are right to be concerned about the child your daughter  is carrying. Alcohol, Marijuana and Tobacco are all capable of having devastating negative impacts on that child. There is nothing sadder than permanent harm done to a complete innocent. There is help available for your daughter. There are a number of publicly funded treatment centers that specialize in pregnant or parenting women, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Control division can help you find one near you.  It is important to note that when a child is born and tests positive or shows clear signs of drug exposure, medical staff are mandated to report to DCFS and they will open a file.  If your daughter is unwilling to seek help you are faced with some hard choices.  There are a number of options you will want to explore to protect your unborn grandchild involving interventions with your daughter, boundaries on your support for her continued harmful behaviors, and involvement of the authorities. None of these are black and white or cut and dried. A good first step would be to engage a counselor or therapist knowledgeable about addiction to help you  find the right decisions for you.

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 www.thefutureiswatching.org or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact: events@sbcoalition.com.

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 www.thefutureiswatching.org or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact: events@sbcoalition.com.

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 www.thefutureiswatching.org or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact: events@sbcoalition.com.

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 www.thefutureiswatching.org or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact: events@sbcoalition.com.

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 www.thefutureiswatching.org or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact: events@sbcoalition.com.

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 www.thefutureiswatching.org or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact: events@sbcoalition.com.

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