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Vices: Adolescence and Parents

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It’s a fact of life that teenagers are likely to experiment with sex, drugs, alcohol, clothes and makeup on the fast track to adulthood. The question is what are you, as a parent going to do about it? While all parents will agree that something must be done, they’re not sure what exactly to do.

The problem that most parents face is that they just cannot accept the fact that their ‘babies’ are smoking, drinking, indulging in heavy petting, or worse, even ‘going all the way.’ They have just one thought in their minds that children this age should not be doing these things. Beyond that, they seem to become incapable of thought and action. They just want to bury their heads in the sand and hope that the problem will sort itself out. At a loss for words, parents often unknowingly build an invisible wall between themselves and their teenage children. And this is exactly what a parent should never do.

The dictatorial approach

At times like this, playing the great dictator can backfire. Using words like, “because I said so” as the only explanation is bound to encourage defiance. You will have to come down from your “I’m older so I know best” pedestal and talk to your teenager in a language that he can understand. You have to communicate to him that you are both on the same side and that you sympathize with his need to be ‘cool’ and be one of the gang, but at the same time you are concerned about him.

Lectures are a surefire turnoff for the average teenager. After all, it is not like they think smoking and drinking is good for health. And the fact that they do it behind their parents’ backs just shows that they are well aware that parental approval for smoking dope and drinking beer is not forthcoming.

Why drugs and alcohol?

There are several reasons why a teenager may take drugs or alcohol. Some teenagers are just bored and like to experiment, while others do it to be accepted by their peers. Teenagers who are shy, lonely and lack self-confidence often find that drugs and alcohol transform them into life of the party. For them, these vices are the key to social success. When they are ‘high’, teenagers find that they are more assertive and their troubles seem far away and unimportant. They take drugs and alcohol to escape from family problems or to relieve the tension of performing well academically and otherwise. In the ultimate analysis, it is the ‘kick’ or the ‘buzz’ that they get that makes them go back for more.

What you can do about it

The first thing that parents should do is to bring up their children with good values. If children are confident, feel that they can trust their own judgement and are taught that it’s all right to do their own thing, it will make them more resistant to peer pressure. Parents should convey to their children that they shouldn’t be afraid to say ‘no.’

Parents should set an example by not drinking excessively and cutting down on their smoking. They should serve non-alcoholic beverages at their parties in addition to alcohol. They should not encourage their children to take sips from their drinks.

It may help to talk about drugs and alcohol in a general way to avoid putting your teenager on the defensive. You can talk about someone who has a drug problem or the time when your colleague misbehaved at the office party because he had too much to drink. The minute you act like sex, drugs and alcohol are taboo subjects, you are cutting your child loose in the big, bad world. Parents need to be well informed about the kind of drugs that a teenager is likely to have access to and be aware whether alcohol is the norm on social occasions.

If you suspect that your teenager is smoking or hitting the bottle, there’s no point coming down on him like a sledgehammer. Get to the root of the problem. You need to talk to him about why he feels he the need to smoke and drink, despite being aware of the consequences. You should try to keep an open mind when talking to your teenager. Make an effort to remember your own rebellious phase as a teenager (don’t say that you didn’t have one). While you may not agree with your teenager’s way of establishing his independence, the feeling is the same.

When you adopt an open attitude, you are also keeping the lines of communication open. Thus, your teenager will not hesitate to come to you for advice or just to talk. Try not to be judgmental and disapproving. It really doesn’t help. If your child develops a serious addiction, be prepared for denial, defiance and irrational behaviour. You should seek professional help, but remember that your child will not respond unless he feels ready to be helped.

Adolescence is a period of contradiction for teenagers. While they want to spread their wings, they also want their parents to guide them, though they would never admit it. Parents should take heart from the fact that even though their teenage children might act like know-it-alls, they crave parental guidance as they stumble and fumble through new experiences.

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