By Dr David Laing Dawson
At the other end of the spectrum of care (from Marvin’s blog on Monday) we seem to be equally devoid of common sense, and strangely enamoured of something we call “privacy rights” for teenagers. This at a time when teens themselves are withholding very little on their snapchat and facebook posts. This at a time when a contemporaneous news report referred to a study finding teens who SEXT one another at higher risk of anxiety, depression and suicide. This at a time when we have a better understanding of the delights and limitations of the teenage mind/brain than we ever had before. This at a time when the parents themselves are not Victorian but grew up in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.
In this article a doctor is quoted as saying that often “teens are uncomfortable talking about birth control and abortion” in front of their parents. Of course they are. But that discomfort lasts mere seconds, like getting a vaccination, whereas the consequences of unprotected sex and illicit drug use can last a life time, and by life time I mean the life time of the teenager and his or her parents and sibs.
And by and large they want their parents to know what they are doing (unconsciously at least) because then their parents may be able to protect them. And I myself find it easier to get the truth out of a teenager when a parent is in the room. Alone he or she can easily lead me astray, can sell me on his good school attendance, his abstinence from drugs, his many friends he hangs with. With a parent in the room when the question of drugs is asked, the boy glances at his mother, she raises her eyebrows, and then he sheepishly tells the truth. And then the mother may tell me that he hasn’t been to school, and he hasn’t seen his good friends in two months. And now we can talk about what is actually happening, and not about the very limited (and instinctively self-protecting) world view of this teenager.
Note that from the teenage perspective words and phrases that denote time spans, frequency, and quantity are used randomly. (forever, never, all the time, every day, like once a week maybe, pretty much, mostly, basically, sure, I guess, whatever………)
If the teen suffers from an actual mental illness it is imperative the parent(s) be involved, for the understanding, acceptance of treatment, and the outcome will be much better.
If the problem is addiction or being on the pathway to addiction, parents are the strongest tool in the treatment tool box; I would go further, for alcoholism and addiction in adolescence, parents are the only effective tool in our tool box. Perhaps not parents alone but parents working with the counsellors and doctors and teachers to bring about a change in behaviour of the adolescent who lives in their house and eats from their refrigerator and pilfers from momma’s purse.
Editor’s Commercial Note: For more parenting wisdom for raising adolescents, see David’s book, The Adolescent Owner’s Manual