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: firstname.lastname@example.org.