When parents don’t have a clue

Topic / Culture

Teen drinkingYesterday I was working in my office when I received a text from my 15-year-old, Alyssa:

“Be prepared to yell at me when I get home because I’m gonna get in huge trouble.”

How do you respond to that?

My first thought was, “Am I that much of a yeller?” (I guess I confessed to that in the article I wrote last week, “Yelling Works”). But then my thoughts immediately wandered to, “What the heck has she done?!!”

Alyssa turns 16 this month and she’s a really sweet kid. The most trouble I have from her is when she forgets to do a chore or when she’s being rude to her brother or sister. I’m really blessed when it comes down to it -— she and her two siblings are very little trouble. But, as a parent, your heart still stops when you get a text like that.

I guess I’m a little over-sensitive to this right now because of my recent interactions with parents at many of my parent workshops. I’m finding that a lot of parents have been surprised by their teenagers lately… and not in a good way.

Two weeks ago a mom pulled me aside after one of my workshops and told me the story of her 15-year-old daughter who attends a local Christian school. Her daughter seemed fine. “She just was busy babysitting and hanging out at her friends’ house a lot.” Turns out that she became addicted to amphetamines (prescription meds stolen from a medicine cabinet where she babysat). Mom didn’t have a clue.

This mom isn’t alone. I can’t tell you how many times parents have come up to me and told me, “I had no idea my daughter was into this!” And then they tell me a sobering story of how their daughter starting hanging out with the wrong crowd, began drinking socially, drinking opened the door to some drug use, and now she has to be admitted to a drug treatment facility.

Parents seem to never see it coming.

Numerous adults are oblivious to what is happening in youth culture today. Drinking is on the rise again with young people, especially young girls. In a recent “Partnership for a Drug Free America” study, the number of middle and high school girls who say they drink has increased by 11 percent in the past year. Fifty-nine percent of young girls say they drink (we just wrote an entire Youth Culture Window article on this subject).

It’s hard being the “outside observer” to all these stories. Half of me thinks, “Never my kids!” But the other half does a reality check: “Don’t assume anything Jonathan!”

And that’s just it — parents shouldn’t ever just assume that their kids are beyond getting into trouble. Parents need to be in their kids’ lives enough to know where they are at, who their kids’ friends are, becoming familiar with the music their kids listen to, and knowing the TV shows they watch—even co-watching with them.

Don’t misunderstand: this doesn’t mean over-react and imprison your kids in the basement -— far from it. You don’t need to be a helicopter parent, but I think that so many parents are afraid of being too clingy or strict so they do the total opposite. They let their kids do whatever they want.

As I was doing research for my parenting book, “Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent”, I discovered more and more studies revealing how a large number of parents in America “lower the bar.” Parents are scared of being disliked by their kids, so they make the popular move and lower their expectations. Research shows that the consequences to this kind of parenting are costly. (I go into much greater detail about this in Chapter 5 of my book. Here’s a glimpse of that chapter.)

The best present that a parent can give their teenager is to “be present.” Parents who invest time into their kids — talking with them, hanging out with them, co-viewing media together — these parents are much more in tune with where their kids are, who they’re with and what they’re doing. These parents can make more informed decisions when helping their kids learn to make choices.

Confessions of a parentParents that rely on a three-minute, “How was your day?” conversation each day might be surprised one day and receive a text much worse than the one I received yesterday. (Turns out that Alyssa and her sister got into a big argument and exchanged some mean words. Whew! They’re out washing the dog together right now, spraying each other with the hose!)

Be present.

Jonathan provides parents with sensible real world advice on how they can “be present” and build values with their kids in his hilarious yet practical book, Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent.

Posted on July 27, 2011

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