Four years ago when my eldest child hit 9th grade,,the reliable connection that I felt with my friends, and that my kids felt with theirs, began to fall apart. Seemingly out of the blue, alcohol, drugs, depression, and anxiety dominated the conversation in our community village. And yet no one seemed to REALLY want to talk about those difficult topics. It was almost like, hey, If we ignored this, maybe we will just push through it and it won’t happen to my kid. Please…not my kid.
By the time sophomore year came around, friends started saying,
“Well, they are going to do it anyway, so best they do it at my house.”
“I want my kid to know how to drink before he goes off to college.
“My kid gets good grades, I can’t get mad at her for partying.”
I heard it all.
But my situation was different. And that’s where the disconnect started.
My youngest brother became a stoner by his junior year in high school. By his senior year of college, he was a heroin addict. I will not bore you with my family history, but basically, great family, great parents, grew up in an affluent area.There did not appear to be any reason that my brother would become a heroin addict, none. But he did.
I have had enough therapy, drug and family counseling, AA, Al-anon to know that not every kid who smokes pot or drinks beer in high school will become a heroin addict, but what I do know for a fact is that alcohol and drugs stunt brain development. It teaches the teen brain to need “something” to cope. Not being able to cope with stressors and tough adolescent feelings is what leads to longterm alcohol and drug use. What happened to my brother is that he went off to college with no coping skills. He became lost and overwhelmed, which created anxiety and the rest is history (a sad one).
I’ve heard recovering teens say...
“When I couldn't study. I just got some Adderall from Jimmy.”
“ I would work so hard in school, I was so stressed out, I needed to relax”.
“Everyone is doing it”
The last comment…”everyone is doing it” is what has bothered me the most for the past four years. Given my experience with my brother’s drug addiction, and watching it wreak havoc on our family, the idea that so many teens are learning to cope with their lives by self medicating absolutely terrifies me.
I am not willing to take that chance with my kids. In our house we have the “no tolerance” rule and we stick with it. What does that mean? You use alcohol/drugs=nothing:
No Fancy trips
No College Tuition
I have been called crazy, stupid, snobby, unrealistic, holier than thou, and a horrible parent. Some think I ruined my kids ‘high school experience. Bottom line I wasn’t willing to risk my kids' brain development. Plain and simple. It was not that I was judging others who were allowing their kids to party, I was just desperately trying to understand how others were ok with taking that risk.
In our house today, we talk. We talk constantly. At first my kids hated this and we would fight about it, knock down drag out fights. Teens do not want to talk to their parents. Everyone knows that. Eventually they gave in because we did not give up. We forced them to stay connected. I am not saying we have a perfect relationship, I am just saying we have one.
If you are my friend, we talk. We talk about everything good and bad. We talk with compassion, concern and love. We are just desperately trying to keep our teens safe and support one another.
Slowly, I rebuilt my village, it feels so much better to be connected. I made many mistakes while trying to keep connected to people and stay on the same page. It took me some time to understand those who chose to allow their teens to party. But I do understand. They are trying to navigate through these teen years the best way they know how.
I know I made it extremely hard for my kids in this town to pilot through high school, and I still do. They lost good friends along the way because of the choices we forced them to make each weekend. It is exhausting all around.
My kids will be going off to college soon. Although we had so many sad, painful times, I have no regrets. Their brains have had a chance now. What they do from here on out is up to them. I can only hope they trust and rely on their coping skills. They have been taught to meditate and take time out for a mindful moment each day. They have learned to talk, be open. They believe in connecting with people. They look for ways to find happiness from within instead of looking for outside forces. They do not pretend to have it all together. I thank my brother for these lessons. Out of tragedy there has been some good.
I am grateful to the South Bay Families Connected (SBFC) project for connecting me with educational events and with other parents. It is so much better to be connected than disconnected. SBFC has taught me how to be a better parent and navigate these trying times.
As far as advice goes, to the parents out there who have not yet embarked on this journey... hang in there! It will be alright. Stay connected! Connected to your kids (even when they don’t want to), their friends, and your friends. It might be painful for awhile, but everyone wins in the end. Read the SBFC website blogs and take advantage of all of the resources the website and education events it offers. I promise you will benefit from it. And to the parents who came before me, or who are still in the trenches with me, know I am here if you need me. Let's go grab coffee
A SBFC Ambassador & Co-owner Fit On