1. My son is 13yo and I’m concerned about the new friends he has made in middle school. They have much more freedom than I’m willing to give my son. I suspect some drug use, particularly since I’ve heard them talk about doing some graffiti, and their behavior is occasionally suspicious to me. How do I keep my son in check and keep him drug-free?
This is a far too common situation, where a child is given more freedom than they can handle. To your child, this looks like what should be the norm and he probably views your ‘checking up’ on him as too restrictive. The most common mistake in an adolescent’s thinking is that ‘freedom is free’ – perceived as a rite of passage and not something that is earned. One of the first things you need to pursue is communication with your son’s friend’s parents. Middle school children are rarely appreciative of this, but knowing these parents and what they allow, what boundaries they have and what the home environment is like is a parent’s responsibility when it comes to friends with whom your child is spending a lot of time. Next, have a talk with your child and tell him that his freedom must be earned by acting responsibly. Acting responsibly means making the right choice not to be using alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs. It also means obeying the laws of the city and the expectations of the family. Tell him he can earn more time to be with his friends only if he can demonstrate the ability to make his own decisions about what choices he should make and not copy friends who may be making poor choices because their parents are not paying close attention. Remind him that you will always be paying attention and will be on the lookout for poor decisions, which will have serious consequences, the least of which will be the loss of his freedom.
The issue of graffiti is a bad sign and if it is an ongoing activity for these kids, your son does not need to be spending time with them. Since we cannot follow him around every minute of every day, it makes no sense to forbid him from seeing these friends, but it makes perfect sense to follow up on where he will be and what activities he is involved with.
If you see any signs of substance use on your son’s part, get an assessment by a substance abuse professional and a drug test immediately. A lot of the boundaries and rules you will need to enforce will most likely not make you popular with your son. A teen with a good parent will often be unhappy about that parent’s choices. Your child’s welfare comes first…always.
2. I recently married into a family of smokers. I have 10 year old twins from a previous marriage and I’m concerned first, about all of the second-hand smoke, and second I don’t want them to get the idea that smoking is okay. How do I discuss this with them without making the new family sound like the bad guys?
It is not a question of “bad” but a question of “sick.” Tobacco addiction is a brutal disease, which is very difficult to arrest and most often leads to severe impairments to quality of life and eventually a lingering and suffering death. And there are no two ways about it, second hand smoke is lethal also. It may well at times offend or hurt your new family, but this issue needs to be addressed firmly and clearly with all aware of your stand. Your twins cannot be exposed to any second hand smoke, there is no safe level. If smoking is happening indoors, your twins should not be in that space, the same goes for cars and/or other vehicles. Your twins need to get thorough and repeated education on the harms caused by smoking (this is critical – without refresher education children easily forget at that age and well into adolescence). Hopefully, your new in-laws are supportive of your stand. A lot of smokers do not want children starting and are aware of how harmful it is (i.e., “I know I’m killing myself, but I can’t stop”). However, some smokers are very offended by anti-smoking measures and second hand smoke avoidance measures. If faced with the latter, your commitment to your children’s’ health must be unwavering no matter how anyone feels about it. No one’s good graces are worth a painful death for your twins. This is a very precarious situation. Remember, children learn in three ways: 1) by example, 2) by example and 3) by example.
The questions above are from parents who live in the South Bay. The responses 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 http://www.sbcoalition.com or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
The questions above are from parents who live in the South Bay. The responses 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, more parenting information, or more about the South Bay Coalition, visit our website: www.thefutureiswatching.org