Thursday, June 28, 2012

Synthetic Marijuana, A Dangerous But Legal Drug Of Choice Of Teens

K2, Spice, and Mary Joy,  and smokeable incense, are all varieties of herbal "marijuana" that can be purchased at head shops in the mall, tobacco shops and even convenient stores, legally.  "I'll have a big gulp and some spice please, a common request of teens." Poison control calls about these drugs have doubled in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, and I'm sure in states across the country.  That is a significant and serious increase. These new drugs are incredibly appealing to teens because they are legal...for now. Never mind that they are incredibly dangerous. Some of the side effects are: uncontrollable shaking, heart palpitations, hallucinations, intense head pressure just to name a few. This website was developed by a mom who lost her son to these drugs. After a night of smoking, he got into his car, driving at 100 MPH crashed into a house and died. She was absolutely clueless that he had been experimenting with this drug. In hopes of helping other parents, she started this foundation:

 Remember that teens are impulsive, don't think things through, and if a friend says, "hey man, you gotta try this spice, its legal, its cheap, I got it at the mall, it's gotta be OK right? I heard it's a great high, let's do it!" I'm guessing if you have a teen who has already smoked some pot, and they are presented with a legal, cheaper version...hello, I think they would get on board pretty quickly.

The first step in helping your teen is awareness and education. If you have a teen who you suspect is smoking pot, even if it's recreationally, you need to give him/her this information. Don't go right to the question: "have you used this stuff?" They will hear a tone in your voice, and probably shut down immediately, and not hear this very important information. Better to say you heard this story on the radio, and it scared you, and you wanted to make sure that you gave him/her all this information. You might say: " I know some of your friends smoke pot, and maybe you have tried it too. And maybe one of your friends has heard about this stuff and has asked you try it. I want you to listen to this story and look at this website from the mom whose son died at 16 after smoking this stuff. I want to make sure that you are fully informed should you find yourself in a situation where this "fake pot" is being handed around. This stuff is really scary, and I need you to know what is out there."

I know this stuff is scary. But as I always say...KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What Can You Do About Your Teen's Messy Room

I think that the #1 complaint I hear from parents of teens is "My kid is such a slob!" Opening the door to your teen's room is like going down a black hole. Dirty laundry mixed with the clean, new (expensive) clothes stomped on, turned inside out, and looking unappreciated for the sacrifice you made in purchasing them. You thought it was too expensive, too short, too sexy, too much! You wonder how hard it could be to hang up their clothes, put their laundry away, bring the dirty glasses and plates into the kitchen, and generally live like the civilized human being you thought you have been raising.

 No matter what you suggest, no matter what you threaten (taking away the computer, the phone, their life) it all falls on deaf ears. You make deals, you cajole, you yell, and nothing seems to work. Every time you walk by that closed door, knowing what's inside, you get that pit in your stomach, and the veins in your neck stick out just a little more, and you feel helpless, and wonder how did it all come down to this. What happened to those days of yore, when all you had to do with your kid was ask, or threaten with no TV and the deed was done. Here is the disconnect: First, your kids could care less about their room. Their new developing brain is consumed with thoughts way more interesting, nerve-racking, anxiety producing, and exhilarating than the clothes on their floor. The idea may pop into their head, "Oh I'm supposed to clean my room", but it is fleeting, and a text, a face book post, or a great musical lyric that is pulsing through their IPOD distracts them.

First, take an honest look at their room. I visited a family recently where the room issue had become all consuming. When the dad opened the door to his son's room for an objective assessment, I was expecting the worst, but what I saw was a room that kinda looked like mine at home. Yes there were some clothes on various chairs and tables, and some shoes flung around, and the comforter was askew on the bed, but honestly, it wasn't that bad, and made me feel a little guilty about my own lack of neatness. (I ran home and cleaned my room) 

So first it is all about expectations. Are you a neat freak and want everyone to have the same standards you have for yourself? You may be setting yourself up for a fall. If though, the room really is over the top, crazy making chaos, then here are a few suggestions:  You can start a conversation with: "I get it, I know you are fine with the way your room is,  (try not to judge and be critical here) you and I have different standards, but it does make me crazy, can we figure something out so that we can both be ok? Maybe Sunday nights we do it together so at least the week can start out fresh." If your teen rejects that approach,try this. " I get that keeping your room more organized is not that important to you, but it does make me crazy, so I just want to let you know that I will be coming in once a week to make sure that the ants, bedbugs, other crawling disgusting insects will be set free by ridding your room of trash, dirty laundry and food stuffs. 

Parents here is the thing about room cleaning, if it really bothers you, do it yourself!! This also makes you look good in your kids eyes since you won't be yelling at them anymore about it. You can now focus on other things to yell about, but the bigger payoff is that it gives you access to your kid's room. Just think that if the parents of the Columbine killers had spent a little more time in their kid's room they might have had a sense that something really bad was happening. Your kid's room holds a lot of clues to their mental health. Its not really just about being messy, but do you get a sense of depression, anxiety, chaos? That is way more important stuff than  the underwear on the floor. I worked with a parent once who made the leap to clean her son's room, and lying on the floor, out in full view was a poem he had written about his family. She sat down and cried. In this poem was a declaration and recognition of the love he had for his parents. In fact the poem was titled "I am from love I am from life" This mom and son had been at it for weeks over his room, his attitude, his everything, and here she found this nugget of gold, that gave her new perspective on their relationship. Find a way to make the messy room work for you. Try to get them to take responsibility. If you are your teen's banker and chauffeur, you can always use these as bargaining tools. "I would love to give you a ride, as soon as you bring down your laundry or bring down the dishes caked with food" or "I would love to give you twenty bucks for going out with your friends as soon as you do X Y Z.  But if you see that their busy schedule, up at 6 am, work till 3, nap, shower, dinner, and out with friends bed truly doesn't allow much free time, especially to clean their room, than the gift of "I get it, you have a crazy schedule, you have a lot on your plate, I'll take care of this piece for you,"at least makes this power struggle go away. You are not giving in or giving up, but giving to!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Some More Summer Tips

Yea...summer is here. Some of your teens may have been shipped out to various camps, programs, far-away islands, and you are all enjoying a little break from the trials and tribulations of daily teen life. However, many of you are looking at 8 weeks of "what are you going to do all day?" conversations. If you do not have a teen who has found a job, internship or volunteer gig, here are some ideas on how to keep your teen from turning into a video gaming, jersey shore watching, shopaholic, comatose during the day, but strangely energized come sundown person.

1. All teens need money to survive during the summer. Those nightly jaunts into town, to the mall, or out to dinner with friends all cost money. Pair money to gym workouts, book reading. As in, "I get you need money when you go out with your friends. Here is the deal, you can earn money for your hangs by getting off the couch. Every time you hit the gym, you earn some cash. When I see you reading for an hour, you get some cash. When you actually do some stuff around the house, ie laundry, cleaning your room, making your bed etc, you get some cash. Should you choose to just sit around the house all day, no cash. Of course you can always find a job, internship, volunteer something,which I would love to help you with, but I cannot support you being on the computer, facebooking, playing video games and watching tv all day. That's the deal."

2. For those of you who have video game addicts. These guys are looking at the summer as an orgy of game playing. If they are not involved in any activities, jobs, etc you are looking at the potential of your son playing for 12 hours a day. NOT GOOD!!! Get a device for your device that can be programmed for finite amount of use. Your teen can earn video game play by exchanging other activity participation. Like above, book reading, exercise, internship, lawn work, be creative. But DO NOT let your teen play video games all day and night. Come September, you will have a full-fledged addict!

3. Summertime does mean more free time with friends. Weather is warm, outdoor partying is the preferred option. Make sure you continue to talk about safety with drug and alcohol use, and sex. There is just more opportunity to participate in all of it. And now that weekday nights are free and clear from homework obligations, there is that much more to fill the days and nights. Use this system to help set expectations that are mutually agreeable. It will make for a much nicer summer for all.

A four question example:

Teen asks: "What time do I have to be home tonight?
Parent asks: What time do you think you should be home?

Kid states a time. Lets say 11:00 PM
Parent asks: What do you think I will be worried about if I say yes to 11. This is your teen's opportunity to say out loud any of the dangers that in fact you do worry about.

Parent asks: Yes those issues do worry me, what is your plan to make me feel OK, that you will stay safe?
Teen needs to offer up a plan for safety around drugs and alcohol and other safety issues curfew times, keeping you in the loop throughout the night etc.  that hopefully he/she stated in the worry question.

Parent asks: What will the consequence be if you don't follow through on your plan?
Teen needs to put a consequence in place so that if he/she fails to follow though on the plan, a consequence is ready to go.

Engaging your teen in this process of taking responsibility for behavior makes for a calmer summer. They want more freedom, and you are giving them the opportunity to take ownership. This does not in anyway give them carte blanche to go and do whatever they want. Sometimes the plan is just not good enough, perhaps it is too unsafe, or just not practical. No will still mean no when you need it to.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It's Time For A Parent Reality Check

"I come from a family that gets disappointed and chews me out for B's or B+'s and even A-'s. I've been told that the only way to be successful is through academic excellence. I'm sick of the expectations to be a perfect kid. Change your unrealistic expectations and take the My Kid Is An Honor Student bumper sticker off your minivan."20 year old non-ADD Adderall user.

The New York Times (see link below) did an eye-opening article last week citing the number of high school and college students without ADD that are using drugs like Adderall, Concerta, and Ritalin. Kids with ADD who have been prescribed these drugs have found a great market niche. Sell their own prescribed ADD medication to kids looking for either a cheap high, or like to use the amphetamine like high or energy boost to get through homework faster and with a higher degree of success. What parents see from their teen is a renewed sense of dedication and ability to concentrate from their students, and applaud their successes, blinded to the reality that this is being achieved through a drug high. Remember these are kids NOT DIAGNOSED with ADD, but have felt a pressure to meet the high expectations from parents, teachers, and community. Read the article for a full explanation of the dangers of using these drugs which are not prescribed for the many kids using them. If your teen is prescribed such a drug, do not give them the responsibility for the bottle. You dose it out and maintain control of the bottle. There is too much temptation out there for selling their pills to other students.

First off, let me say that  not all kids are "A" students, nor should they be. Academic achievement is getting a bad rep.  Making honor roll every term, does not assure success as an adult. There are many very successful people who were high school or college drop outs whose "A's" came from their passions in other areas, but did not show up on their report cards. People like Peter Jennings, Rachel Ray, Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds, billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, Milton Hershey, founder of Hershey Chocolates, Joyce Hall, founder of Hallmark cards. And the list goes on.(Google successful people who didn't graduate and you will be amazed at the list) This is not to say, you should not have high expectations of your kids. But they should be realistic expectations. If you have a son or daughter who is engaged fully in their life, with a passion like sports, or theater, or computers, or cartooning, or film making or is a budding musician who wants to spend every waking moment making music, that is a good thing. That drive and passion will translate to the real world in a meaningful way. If in addition to a non-academic interest they have many friends and an active social life. That too is a good thing and will translate to the real world in a meaningful way. If in addition to a passion, and friends, they have a job, that will translate to the real world in a meaningful way, And if they do well enough in school, and are actually interested in what they are learning, how amazing that is and how important that will be as they head out into a very complex and complicated world. Getting on honor roll to make you happy should not be the goal. Getting on honor roll because it is a goal they have for themselves is the real work.

Some years back I was doing some work for a prestigious private school. One weekend party binge was particularly upsetting to the school community. A student whose parents were away for the weekend, had a party at her house. The party got out of control, and hundreds of kids showed up at this house. Not only did they party hearty with alcohol, but these "A" students completely trashed this house, leaving no lampshade unturned. The damage to this beautiful house was beyond belief. How could these well-educated, smart, goal-driven kids do this? When the kids who were caught were asked, here is what they answered: " Our parents expect us to the "best little boys and girls" in the world. They want us to get good grades, be the best athlete or singer or actor or artist, be active in the school, do community service, do it all!" And we do! But guess what, trashing this house was our way of saying "f##k you, we are not perfect!

Your kids feel the pressure of your expectations, and because they love you want to please you. But of course there is a cost. If taking a drug that is not meant for them will get the job done, then so be it! Parents, this is time for a reality check. Ask your successful grade A student why they get the grades.  If they say, "because I know it will make you happy", then give them an F, cause that is the wrong answer. If they answer "cause I really love school, and I love what I am learning," give them an "A", cause they deserve it. When your friends ask you,'Hey how is Sally doing?" and you answer by giving them a rundown of Sally's honor roll report card and SAT scores, give yourself an "F". If you answer by saying: "you know she seems really happy, has great friends, loves soccer, and seems to be enjoying her classes," give yourself an "A". Of course we take pride in ourselves when our kids do well, and feel disappointed and maybe even embarrassed when our kids don't do well. But truly, I would rather have a kid who struggles, but has a lot of other good things in their life besides academics that build their confidence and self-esteem, than a kid who feels pressure to strive for the A by taking drugs that will make them work even harder, and diminishes the joys of working hard and achievement to just getting the job done.

When the final report cards come in this week. Whether you are elated or if you are disappointed, the question should be the same. "How have our expectations of you impacted this report card?" In the long run, the kids who become successful adults are the ones who have something in their life that motivates them, interests them, and gives them joy. But that shouldn't be you!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

SummerTeen...And The Living Is E...Z...E

School has been over for just a week now, and my phone is ringing off the hook. Mostly the calls are about, the "just hanging around" issue when a teen is asked where and what are you doing? Now instead of this just being a weekend question, parents are forced to ask this question on a nightly basis. Hello the next 10 weeks!! And the summer is just starting. Good time to anticipate potential summer conflicts so that you have some plans in place.

A parent I talked to today asked how she should handle her 16 year old son's summer chant. " I don't know what I am doing, I don't know where I am going, I don't know when I will be home." She has found out from another parent that kids like to hang at the houses where parent's have yet to lock up the booze. She related a story she heard from a parent about a boy who kept on a friend to pilfer his parent's booze that was not locked up saying: " Oh come on, they will never find out." Which is almost always true by the way. This parent has heard from many of her friends, "what are you going to do? They are teens, they are going to drink, there is nothing you can do about it. LOCK UP YOUR ALCOHOL AND YOUR PRESCRIPTION DRUGS!!!!

Here is what I have to say about that attitude. True many teens will or already do drink. It is also true that in most cases, even with a lot of due diligence like locking up your alcohol, and calling houses to make sure that parents are home, and even with parents home, kids drink. OK so we have established that teens drink. That does not mean that there is nothing you can do, that you are completely powerless. Parents who say nothing because either they just don't want to deal, hate conflict or have a "kids will be kids attitude" are sending their kids a very powerful message. Go. Do. Just don't let us find out about it. Teens who get this message have no motivation to set any limits on themselves. These are the teens who drink too much, too fast, and often find themselves passed out in a pool of vomit in someones basement. Teen's who get a consistently strong message that drinking can be dangerous, harmful to the brain,  and put one in compromising and scary sexual situations etc etc will probably still drink too. Here is the difference, the repetitive and annoying lecture you give every time your teen leaves the house is somewhere in their brain. So yes, maybe they do down a or two or a shot or two. But, most likely your annoying voice in their head might save them from downing a six pack of beer or 8 shots of booze. Your boring, seemingly meaningless lectures provide your teen with a niggle that just might save their life. So please don't just give up the ship here. Everything you say or do indeed has purpose and meaning, as long it is said in a loving and nurturing tone. Because of course that is the key. Don't set up the no-drinking as some sort of a challenge. " If I find out that you use drugs or alcohol, you'll be grounded for the summer," kind of comment just challenges your teen to do it and not get caught.

As far as the hanging around thing. It is important for your teen to check in with you. Often teens leave in the afternoon, don't return home for dinner, and sleep out at someones house. If I was a parent with a kid like this I would see a red flag. If your teen is leaving your house and only coming home to change their clothes, that's because they have found a home with little supervision. Beware!!!! There should definitely be some discussion about sleeping out. I recommend no consecutive sleep overs unless they are going away with a family on a trip. If your teen is roaming your town, you should have them send a "changing location" text. Let them know that it will be less embarrassing for them to write a text saying that are walking into town for pizza, or moving on to Jesse's house than you calling a parent to find out where they are. And lying about location is a much more serious pain in the ass.

If you have a teen on the brink of getting a drivers license, I would tie the license and the keys to your car, to showing responsibility this summer for keeping you in the loop. If they choose to lie about location and activities, then that scares you about their ability to be responsible and safe when driving. Teens always have choices. Don't just tell them to make the right one, help them make it. Remember they are impulsive, distracted, and motivated for fun, you need to provide them with options that will keep them safe.

There are some great things about Summer teens. Their schedules aren't quite as busy. You don't constantly have to be on them for getting their homework done. Summer is a great time for replenishing your relationship, for having fun, for being relaxed together. Maybe during the school year, it is too crazy to even try to have family dinners. excuse. Make this a requirement of all family members. Include everyone in the decision making. Teens are working and hanging with friends, parents are working,playing tennis, playing golf but don't  let these scheduling  excuses get in the way for everyone to commit to dinner.  It won't be the same night every week, but send a message that family is important, and attendance is mandatory!

Summers are fun and summers require planning and accountability for everyone. Fun and safety are not mutually exclusive.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How Your Teen's Personality Style Impacts Their Decisions About Drinking And Drugs

When we are born, we bring into the world our temperament and our personality. It is our parent's job to understand what we bring to the table, our nature, and then help us to develop to our fullest. If our parents misunderstand or don't want to accept this part of our nature, we can forever feel misunderstood and at odds with them. Your kid's too bring their temperament and personality to the table. It is what drives their choices, their interests, their emotional reactions, their motivation,  and their ability to connect with you and people outside the family. Understanding your teen's personality and what drives their behavior will be the key to keeping them safe as they navigate all the scary, risky choices that present themselves during Adolescence.

I have targeted 4 major personality styles and how these interact with all the temptations that teens encounter, specifically drugs and alcohol. Who is your teen?

  • The Risk-Taker: Those of you with these teens will have memories of your teen as a 3 year old running instead of walking. These were the kids that showed no fear. A big slide, can't wait. Climb to the highest rung of the monkey bars, race you! Gets on a sled or puts on a pair of skis, the faster, the steeper, the better. Roller coasters, scary movies, you name it, they are always game. That's what makes being around them so much fun, and of course terrifying. Your parent mantra...BE CAREFUL!!! Now as teenagers, with a brain tuned into risk-taking, the drive for dangerous fun is a powerful motivator. But now it's not steep slides, but fast cars, and power drinking, and being up for trying and doing just about anything. Obviously this "nature" puts them in a vulnerable position. You can't tame this beast but you can teach them. Here is your "I Get It" conversation: Honey, you know what I love about you. I love that you are always up for a new challenge, you're always game for anything. And in life, that can be a wonderful quality, it means you will have an exciting challenging life. Unfortunately right now as a teen, that "up for anything" could put you in a lot of unsafe situations. You really need to understand this about yourself, so that you can put the brakes on before whatever you are "going for" gets out of control. I do worry about how you will manage drinking and driving and drugs and sex. All those exciting things that can get unsafe really fast if you get caught up in the awesome-ness of it all. Lets come up with some ways that can keep you safe."
  • The Shy and Anxious Teen: Those of you with teens like these will remember them as being very cautious children. They had difficulty in new and unfamiliar situations. They stuck to you like glue in group settings, feeling uncomfortable around a lot of people. They probably spent much of their time at home with their siblings rather than out on play dates, and needed encouragement to make friends. Over the years you might have seen this child grow more comfortable through involvement in activities like sports where the activity gave them a purpose. But now as teens, the expectations to be social, and chatty, and charming can be overwhelming. These teens are usually well liked. They are easy to be around and make great loyal friends, especially when they are with the kids they feel the most comfortable with. But now there are new expectations, dealing with romantic feelings, flirting, acting cool, these do not come naturally to the shy and anxious kid who lives in their head. Add to that the normal hyper sense of self-consciousness that all teens feel, exaggerated in the shy and anxious teen. This makes these teens very susceptible to drugs and alcohol. Pot mellows them out, and alcohol gives them a false sense of confidence in the situations where they may feel lacking. Your "I Get It" conversation. "You know honey I get that when you are in large group situations where you are least comfortable, you might feel that drinking will make you more comfortable. That worries me, that you might feel that to fit in and be relaxed you will have to drink or smoke pot. That can be a dangerous precedent to set in your life. It is more important for you to learn some strategies to make yourself comfortable rather than relying on alcohol or drugs to do that for you. As an adult, you will be in many situations through work that will stress this part of you. I have confidence that you can figure how to be in groups and be comfortable. Things like finding one person to hang with in the beginning that you feel good with, or be the designated care taker, it gives you an important role to keep your friends safe, and they will really appreciate that. There are lots of things we can come up to help. Lets work together on this."
  • The Fun Loving Teen Who doesn't love this kid. This is the kid everyone wants to be around. They are fun, easy to talk to, gets a crowd into action, a leader, loves to have a good time. These are wonderful qualities, and as an adult will help them to be extremely successful. This is a kid with high emotional intelligence. Getting along with people is her/her specialty. As a teen, this kid will ALWAYS be up for a party!!! Your "I get it" conversation. "You know what I love about you honey, everybody always wants to be around you, including me. You are one hell of a fun person. I only worry about that now, because you are always up for a good time,and I know that sometimes can mean alcohol and drugs, whatever enhances that "good time." We are going to need to come up with some strategies to keep you safe, when your party hearty head takes over."
  • The impulsive teen These teens as children were the kids you had to remind a thousand times to "look both way before you cross" or they would have bolted across the street to chase a lost ball, or, your shoes are untied, don't run unless you tie them. This teen interrupts, shouts out in class rather than raising her/his hand, and has little patience for waiting around for anything. As a teen being asked by a friend: "Hey you wanna.... will always garner an immediate yes. This teen will not want to take the time to think much through. Now this is on top of the already teen impulsiveness that all teens have due to a developing frontal cortex. This teen is faced with a double whammy. Not only the nature he brings to the table, but also the nature that is part of his newly developing teenage brain. A potentially lethal combination. Educating your teen about his/her nature potential is extremely important here. Criticizing them over and over again for not thinking things through will not be productive. Understanding with them how this can be for them is comforting. Your "I get it" conversation: You know honey " I totally get how hard it is for you to put the brakes on something when you want to go full force ahead. You mind and your body just say GO. This worries me because now that your life is presenting you with lots of choices, your natural tendency is not think it through before acting. Maybe we can start at count to ten rule. When someone says: "hey lets do....." rather than just going for it, you take a second, take a deep breath and literally count to 10 before you act. This may truly save your life one day!"
The last category I want to mention here is what happens when teens are facing a crisis. Maybe there is a divorce or separation that is weighing on your teen, maybe a death in the family, or an ill grandparent, maybe family financial problems or a parent's job loss. Maybe a recent break-up with a beau, or a feeling that he/she has disappointed you yet again with low grades. There could be a million things that your teen might be good at masking, making you think that they are handling it. Trust me, they are probably not handling it, and low grades, nasty temper, low energy, room hibernation, never home, all can be signs that whatever the stress is, has consequences. This can be a particularly vulnerable time for a teen and drug and alcohol use. They feel bad, and booze or drugs makes them feel better, end of story. Your job is to help label the feelings given the behavior you are seeing. Making observations, not asking questions. " You know honey, I'm guessing that (fill in the blank here with your guess) that this divorce is really hard for you. I notice you spend more time in your room, and want to avoid hanging with me. You seem to be sleeping a lot. I really get that this is a tough time. I know sometimes when people go through tough times they might find some comfort from drinking or smoking pot, and I worry that when you are out with your friends, that this might become a way for you to cope with this all. I get that can be an easy way to feel better, but ultimately you have to deal with what is making you feel bad. You know you can always talk to me, but that might be hard for you right now, so I am going to set you up with some counseling to get you through this crisis. "

The bottom line here is you have to give voice and words to the underlying motivators that make your teen vulnerable to teen temptations. Just saying don't do it or else, is not a game changer.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

There Is Always A First Time: When Your Teen First Tests The "Drinking" Water

There is always the shock when you're "little baby" does the unthinkable. I don't think a parent is ever really prepared for the first time their teen is caught drinking and/or with alcohol. You have talked to them till you are blue in the face about drinking and how dangerous it is. One parent shared her story with me recently. A child of an alcoholic herself,  and who has a brother who is an addict, she had had conversation after conversation with her teen about the dangers of addiction, and the possibility of genetic addiction for him should he become a drinker or drug user. This mom just had her "first time."

Like many parents, she just didn't think her 15 year was anywhere near the place where he would be interested in drinking, and thought that she had done a brilliant job of putting the fear of god in him! Like many parents, she was naive and hadn't yet "teen proofed" her home. This process involves locking up any and all alcohol in your home including the beer, and wine, and making sure that all prescription drugs are locked up as well. These are temptations that your teens and and their friends will hunt out in your home. Where else do you think teens get their booze? Anyway..this mom had a garage refrigerator that was full of beer, and one evening she came home unexpectedly and found her 15 year with a beer. As she described her own reaction, she said it felt like a PTSD reaction after all she had gone through with her own family. Many of you might have the same reaction. An OMG moment;"Is this the beginning of my son/daughters downward spiral into alcohol abuse."

OK this is a deep breath moment. I don't care how much and for how long you have been warning your teens about the ills of alcohol and drugs. That DOES NOT temper their curiosity, it may delay it, which honestly I think for this 15 year old was the case. Most kids are presented with plenty of opportunity well before they are 15. Some succumb to the temptation either at a house party, or hanging in the park with their friends, or at a sleepover where many "sins" are committed. Parents asleep, floors away, freedom to do as they please.

How you react to this first experience will be the foundation for whatever else is to come in the future with your teen around the drug and alcohol issue. So you want to take your time, and not just react with anger, disappointment and punishment. If you go to that place than your teen will go further underground with their behavior, and begin using avoidance and lying, something you want to avoid at all costs. So here is what you can do when that "first time" happens to you.

Here is your I Get It conversation: This should be said in a loving, calm tone. " Honey, first of all I am sorry we left this beer/wine/booze in the house. I think it was a temptation we didn't give enough thought to. Having it so available, along with your curiosity and desire to try it is a bad combination. I am sorry we put you in that position. (this helps to start a conversation from a supportive place rather than an angry place. Your teen will be more likely to actually talk with you) Tell us what happened, how you decided to drink? Have you tried it before? ( Assure them you will not punish them you just want to help them make better decisions, and this will help you do that. Hopefully you will get some more information here) I get you are going to be in situations where alcohol and drugs will be available to you. I know we have talked to you about how dangerous starting to use this stuff is, but I also know that doesn't help in the moment when you have the booze or drugs right there in your face. That is really a hard moment. Let's try to come up with some strategies that will help you in those times. "

At this point you should come up with actual scenarios where they might be facing this dilemma; parties, sleepovers, hang time with friends, and what they could say or do. " I can't my parents drug test me, or smell my breath, check my eyes, they are like living with cops. or I am on allergy medication and alcohol makes me puke." Provide them with a script and a way out that saves face that gets them out of the situation. Most kids do things they know are wrong, because they don't know what else to do.  And for gods sake, get everything locked up in your house!!!!!!! Make sure that you are the parent pickup person, so you can see the condition they are in when they come back from parties. If they know you are picking them up, they will be less likely to drink or do drugs.

Your kids will make mistakes, many of them. It doesn't make them bad kids. They need to know that you are on top of this stuff, that you know that the opportunities are out there, and that you want to help them make safe decisions. Having a consequence like having to stay in for a weekend is fine, but don't go overboard, and ground them for a month or longer. It doesn't work anyway, and will just make them angry with you and shut down the communication that is absolutely the most important part of this. If they think that you are always disappointed in them, they will not come to you for help. And you want them to come to you for help. Who else is there???? Stay tuned for tomorrow's blog where I will address: Your teen's personality style and how it plays into drinking and drugs

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Making The Subject Of Bullying A Family Matter

Nicholas Kristof, a columnist at the New York Times felt so strongly about bullying that he decided to run an essay contest for High School students to discuss their experiences being bullied. I was extremely moved by these girls. Read these stories with your teens. Use them as a way to talk about experiences they may have encountered, either personally or from a distance. Most kids have no where to talk about this issue. Be that place for them.

Winning Student Essays on Bullying

Now here are the winning essays:

Teenage Girls; the Cruel Super Humans from Outer Space
By Lena Rawley, 17, from Montclair, N.J.

Teenage girls are cruel super-humans from a distant galaxy sent here to destroy us all. They have the self entitlement of a celebrity heiress and the aggression of a Roman Gladiator. Like vampires they feed off the blood of the weak. They’re pubescent monsters. Adolescent boogeymen.
While my observations may be coming from a point of bias, that doesn’t mean they are faulty in accuracy. As a teenage girl myself, I think I know teenage girls quite well. Not only was I a former teenage mean girl, but I was tortured, tormented, isolated and socially maimed by them as well.
When they acquire a target, teenage girls, with the determination of a private assassin, will stop at nothing to take down their target. They’re relentless. They’re cruel. Their methods are insane. They are never to be underestimated. In middle school, I made the mistake of underestimating the power of these skinny jean clad monsters. I thought I was safe, I thought myself impervious to their cruelty. I watched them do on to others as they would later do on to me, and felt no fear.
I was a fool however, for teenage girls pick their targets by familiarity. They are less likely to torment someone small and insignificant and more likely to viciously turn on their friends. Preferably the weakest link in their group, prey who is easy for them to catch and take down.
I was the weakest link. I was the wounded gazelle. And thus, I became their target.
It was eerie because, when my eventual demise began, I had no idea what was going on. Yes it was slightly fishy that they had stopped calling me, stopped saying hi to me in the hallway, but I assumed it was just nothing.Again, I was wrong.Once the period of silence came to a close, all hell broke loose. Vicious rumors began spreading around and dirty looks and foul words were thrown my way in the hall. I was forced off the lunch table and into social leprosy.Exactly a week after phase two (social alienation) had began I received an email from the ringleader of the group. I opened it up to reveal a headline that bluntly stated, “Fifty Reason Why We Can’t Be Friends With You.” Underneath the headline, as promised, were neatly fifty reasons, ranging from my body to my personality to my clothes, that clearly stated the reason for my alienation.I felt sick. But I wasn’t going to let them get me. Those hyenas didn’t deserve my tears. I deleted the note, picked up the pieces and moved on. I found friends who were kind and accepting. Friends who wouldn’t devour their own. My experience, while evidently not ideal, is something I would not change. I don’t see it as a stain upon the fabric of my life, but more like an embellishment. A decorative brooch I wear with pride, a brooch that cries, I overcame bullying, so can you.

Too Late
By Alyssa Ahrens, 17, Indiana

A young girl walked through her high school halls, clutching a book tightly against her stomach, as if it were a shield. She has her hair loose, allowing the tendrils of it to gather by the sides of her face. Another shield. She stares pointedly at the floor, taking quick, hushed steps as she reaches the stairs. Gingerly, she climbs up them one step at a time, looking about her for that frighteningly familiar face. She feels the clamor of the students around her, brushing past her, fighting their way through the crowded hallways. The world turns into blurs around her as she sights a face at the top of the stairs, lounging against the corner in the stairwell, smiling as it recognizes its prey. It’s too late to turn around. It’s too late to hurry past. She’s been spotted… Too late. Too late. Too late. Hands grab her book, and she is pulled to the corner. Cruel eyes crinkle in laughter. No words are spoken. In the breath of a moment, the girl’s hands are empty, flailing in the air for purchase as she is tumbling, falling backward. Her head meets a sharp corner, her hand hits the wall with a sharp crack. With pain erupting in her, she slides down the rest of the steps. She hears something skidding across the floor by her head.
It is her book. Her useless shield. There is one more flash of that gloating smile before it rounds the stairs. A few kids glance at her. One hands her book to her and gives her a hand up. The girl takes a quick inventory. Her hand hurts, head is throbbing, and ankle is on fire.
Nothing broken. She is pushed forward by the teacher behind her, her voice chiming “Time to get to class,” methodically. This girl is me. Just another student. Just another victim. For 8 years, this is the world I have lived in. For 8 years, I have skipped lunch to get to the safety of the library, bury myself in books, and count the days till graduation. As of today, it is 64. I used to have five very close friends, friends who endured the same Hell as I did. Every day. Words like bullets, raining down upon you till there is nothing left. Those words hurt me worse than getting shoved down a flight of stairs ever did. Those words, that smile.. those are what make me wake up at night screaming. Those are what I see when I look in the mirror. Nothing. Worthless. Loser. Sometimes they told us we were better off dead.
Two of my friends followed their advice. One never saw the age of 14, the other never got his license.
Never say that they are just words. Don’t think it’s our confidence that is the problem. It is the bullies.
It’s too late for me. Too late for a lot of kids. Nothing will undo the years I have spent questioning what I did wrong. But for millions of other kids, it isn’t too late.
Bullying starts early and gets worse. Tackle it in elementary school. It isn’t cute. It doesn’t mean that the girl likes that boy or vice versa. It is bullying. It is dangerous. And it needs to be stopped. Before it’s too late.

My Hurt
By Madison Jaronski, 15, New Hope, Penn.

Tears have been flooding down my face; breathing is a task that now seems impossible. I draw my legs closer and closer into my chest as I try to transform the pressure into reassuring comfort. I begin to slowly rock myself and by now my tears have colored my pillow black. The lights are off and no one is home to hear my helpless cries. Thoughts are running mindlessly through my brain but the only word I manage to create is why. Why me? Why has this happened to me? Why has all of this happened in one year? One year. Those thoughts only seem to make me cry even louder. All the memories from past incidents now rush to my mind and I am now consumed, lost in my own sea of tears with nothing or no one to be my boat to take me to shore. I honestly can’t recall how long I lay there that night. Any sense of time has vanished months ago for me because it does not matter what time or day it is: I knew I would be bullied. As I reflect upon this year, all of my accomplishments and enjoyable moments are overshadowed by the pain and harassment that was thrust upon me. Just looking at my surface, you would see, a confident young woman, as sturdy as a rock. You would never think that I was broken, broken into a million pieces like shattered glass, all because of the work of a group of senior boys. You would never think that I have starved myself multiple times due to my desire to fade into the backdrop of the world. Whenever I build up the strength to tell someone about this year, I get the same old fake response “Oh my, how horrible, I am so sorry. But don’t worry, I have been bullied too so I understand.” The thing is though; that statement is never comforting because right then I think “Really… You have been verbally attacked while walking in your hometown and school? You have been betrayed by some of your closest friends? Spent many late nights to early mornings crying yourself to sleep? You have been publicly harassed? And still at the end of all of it, got blamed for every last thing too?” Nobody ever answers “yes” back. Never. I hope I just took some of you back and made you realize that bullying is specific. No two acts of bullying are the same because bullying is always personal, always meant to strike home with that individual person, to make that individual feel as if she is completely worthless to the world. That is what a group of senior boys did to me this year, and I only got through this year because I had my closest friend right by my side, a beacon through this storm.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I Love These Parents

Saying, "I made a mistake" to your teens is not easy. Saying, "I made a mistake by giving you a smartphone" to your teen,  is asking for World War III. But that is exactly what these two amazing parents did. Here is their tale. Several weeks ago I gave a talk at a middle school. As usual, I gave my "thoughts" on why smartphones should be a graduation from high school gift, and not before. For my "thoughts" on this matter, visit my archives for many blogs where I have expressed my rather strong opinion. Anyway, friends of these parents(the ones I love) had been in attendance, and had paid particular attention to the smartphone advice. The following day, the seminar attendees called this couple, who they knew had provided all four of their preteen and teenaged kids with smartphones, and relayed my advice about smartphones. Their children's ages ranged from 10-16. When these parents heard this, they thought about it and decided that even though they didn't even know me, they would follow my advice. Talk about blind trust.

So here is how it all went down, and why I love these parents. The dad called his carrier to ask advice on how best to handle the cellphone shakedown and exchange. After a lengthy conversation with the local branch manager of his carrier, they told him to come in and they would help him to choose new phones. Here is the best part. When the dad walked into the store, and introduced himself to the manager, the entire store of clerks gave him a standing ovation!!!!! They slapped this guy on the back, and congratulated him for making this tough decision, saying ;" We wish all parents would be this brave and smart!" Imagine, a store now losing money on 4 smartphones and data plans, praising this parent for making such a brave decision. Brave, what's so brave you ask? Well, as you can imagine, when the teens were told of the switcharoo, they were jumping all right, just not jumping for joy. Smartly this dad used a number of 'I get it" statements with the kids. "I get how angry you are, I know how much you love your phones, and really it is all my fault, I just didn't think it through. I didn't get how important these phones would become to you, and how much time you would be spending on them. I am really sorry to do this bait and switch. It's totally on me. " The parents didn't get angry when their kids exploded. They anticipated it, and were prepared to stay calm.

These parents called to meet with me just after this momentous event. But honestly, they had done everything right, and I didn't have much to offer. I asked how they had made the decision in the first place to give the kids smartphones. And here is what they said: " We wanted our kids to be on the cutting edge of technology, and thought these phones were part of that. But then as soon as the kids got their phones, we saw a marked decline in the time the family hung together, each kid hidden away in their room, downloading their personal preferences, whether movies, games, music, TV, or facebook, and becoming glued to this tiny screen." The dad admitted he probably wouldn't have thought to take them away until he heard from his friends about my seminar.

I have a lot of respect for these parents. It is not easy to give something so addictive to kids, and then take it away. The good news is after the initial shock the kids were all fine. They still had A cellphone they could text on, and when they "got" that this was non-negotiable, they let it go, and moved on. After all, really, there is more to life than a smartphone, believe it or not!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What To Expect From Your High School Graduating Senior This Summer

NOTHING!!!! No really, I mean nothing! Here you are, feeling all warm and fuzzy after graduation last weekend. Nostalgic for your little girl or boy, all grown up and off on a new post-high school adventure. You pull out all the old photo albums and gaze longingly at the years that have whizzed by, and try to prepare yourself for life's next stage, having a child move away from home. You find yourself welling up with tears, as you do your son's/daughter's laundry, or pick up the dirty dishes they have left on the floor of their room or in the family room, knowing that in just a few months their room will no longer have that whiff of dirty laundry as you walk by. Everything annoying and maddening your graduate did before graduation, now seems sweeter and memorable.

OK, so maybe that only lasts a few days. Because, the expectation that your now high school graduate will suddenly become equally as nostalgic as you is blown to pieces by the seemingly instant sense of entitlement he/she seems to be exhibiting. Where is the thanks for the wonderful party and gift you gave to him/her?  Where are the thank you notes for the generous gifts given by the cast of thousands that came to your graduation party and includes their friend's parents, your friends, family, neighbors, and anyone else who has ever known them. Suddenly, your graduate is nowhere to be found. You are left in the dust, with "bye, won't be home for dinner, maybe sleeping out, don't know when I'll be home!"

You are dumbfounded, thinking that their last summer home will be filled with family dinners, cozy family movie nights, a family vacation,  and shopping trips to Bed Bath and Beyond. If only they would stay home long enough to make some plans. Well, kiss those plans goodbye, because all their nostalgic moments are being saved up for and with their friends. The friends they will be leaving in only a few short months, maybe never to be heard from again, or at least until Thanksgiving. Prepare yourself.  Your graduate will be glued to their friends this summer. They will take top priority over everyone and everything. And if you don't understand the importance of "the last summer before college," your feelings will be hurt over and over again. My advice, don't take it personally. The drama of and the process of saying goodbye to high school friends takes a good two months. Of course they will miss you too, but you never really go away, and truly, many of their friends will. How many of you still have close relationships with high school friends, that is before facebook brought everyone right back to you.

Your teen's absence this summer will feel like a betrayal. Don't let it become a source of anger between you and your teen. Use "I Get It" conversations to help them to understand what you are feeling by understanding what they are feeling. " I get saying goodbye to your friends is hard. I know how much you will miss them, and probably worry that you won't find anyone as wonderful as (fill in the blank with some real names) I get you want to spend as much time as you can with them this summer, and I want you to do just that. But honey, your old ma/pa is gonna miss you too. I hope that we can find some time together as well before you go. Let's figure out how best to do that"

Your teen is also hiding away a lot of anxiety and worry. Worry that they will not be happy, worry that they will be homesick (yes they really do worry about that even if they aren't saying it), worry about keeping up with all the school work without you around to keep them on task, worry they won't know how to deal with money issues, laundry issues, and all the other millions of things they know they can depend on you for. And you know how your graduate will deal with all this worry? By being a big pain in the ass! They will seem like they are irritated with you, bothered by you and will set up all sorts of fights with you. Don't bite! Rather than looking and feeling like a needy little child, they will behave "as if" they don't need you at all, and will set up all kinds of arguments to prove that point. It's easier to leave angry than sad.

Also your graduating teen may now feel that rules no longer apply to them. After all they are 18 and all grown up. In some ways, they are right. In only a few short months they really will be on their own. So rather than having a bunch of rules this summer that they will flaunt. Take it day by day. Let them know that you "get" that they want to be independent this summer, but you still need to know that they are safe. Set up a system (not rules) so that they can keep you posted and in the loop so that you won't need to be checking up on them. The rules they will resent, but a system seems less controlling. They are teaching you to let go. Let them!