Two painful truths I’ve learned in parenting teens are:
- good kids “do” (where the “do” manifests itself in many ways, shapes, and forms), and
- your children will make choices that disappoint you.
This shouldn’t come as any big surprise, but when (not if) something happens, we’re still bewildered.
Maybe all the signs were there, but you missed them. Work or marital issues or financial stresses or any number of distractions are blinding. And sometimes we simply don’t see what we don’t want to see.
Hear me clearly: this is no message of condemnation or finger pointing; it’s one of understanding, and, if you’re willing to receive it as intended, cautionary counsel. It’s at minimum a foolish posture to presume “My child would never do that!” – and potentially dangerous.
Disappointing choices come in broad spectrum, from academic under-achieving to zany videos on youtube. The consequences are equally diverse.
One of the most important goals in parenting is training your children to consider the consequences of their choices before making decisions, followed by allowing them to bear the consequences of poor decisions without bailing them out.
Photo by JohnONolan
For example, my oldest, late to soccer practice, rushed to get there on time rather than obeying the speed limit. He received a speeding ticket and points on his license.
Rather than us paying the fine and accepting the points (which would increase insurance), he worked for weeks to earn enough to pay for the fine, court costs, and driving school (an eight-hour course that reduced the points).
He fully understood the ticket was a result of his choices, and he alone should bear the responsibility of taking care of it. A long, boring Saturday class and no spending money for weeks will help him remember the speed limit.
The older our kids get, the more resourceful we need to be in helping them make good choices. Gradually and almost imperceptibly, there’s a shift from you making choices for them to them making decisions on their own.
Peer pressure is weighty and loud and can sometimes lead a group over a cliff, especially if a kid can’t see a way out. Sometimes a parent’s job is to help carve that way out…and it might require imagination, creativity, and on occasion, a solution that at first glance appears counter-intuitive.
My sister, a teacher with two amazing college-age daughters, suggested something that shocked me initially. But her rationale convinced me it might be a good idea:
Randomly drug test your children. My children.
At first I was offended by her suggestion–none of my kids or their friends appear to be interested in drug use. A few of their friends have experimented before, but consequences from those poor decisions convinced them not to continue.
Based on her experience and the candid feedback from her daughters, she made a compelling case:
- Kids are smart enough to know how to hide it
- Recreational and prescription drugs are easily available
- With so many children on prescription meds already, it’s not that far of a stretch to try something else; for teens (whose brains are still developing), even if it’s illegal but perceived as fun, acceptable, relaxing and/or helping them to cope, it’s worth a try.
All of that was well and good, but I was still resistent until the tipping point:
It relieves the peer pressure and gives your children an “out.”
Let that linger a minute.
Your kids might be angry or offended by a random, seemingly out-of-nowhere drug test. That’s irrelevant, because of your motive, and if you communicate it well, they’ll end up grateful.
You’re providing them the “out” they can always fall back on.
If they’re with friends and something is offered, they can honestly pass and blame their parents; this is one time where maybe they need to blame you. Of course, your hope is that they’d have the strength and conviction to “Just Say No” on their own, but I’m afraid that’s not always the case.
Word gets around. Classmates or friends will soon learn who the “strict” parents are, who dare to drug test their kids. Most will respect it and I suspect a few will wish their own parents would’ve done that for them.
If you’ve never suspected drug use, it’s likely the results will be negative. If you’ve wondered, you can blame timing for this “out of the blue” test on “this article I read on the internet.”
Parenting is never easy, but it helps to consider the counsel of others. Even when it’s not something you want to think about. Maybe especially then.
Can you think of other circumstances where you can pre-emptively provide your teen “a way out” from peer-related pressures? Have you failed to allow your children to face the consequences of their decisions? What were the results? Can you think of a time you wish you could have “blamed” your parents to get you out of something you really didn’t want to do?
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