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Drugs and Parenting

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My 14-year-old son came home high the other night. What should I do? I feel like I can't punish him. How can you punish someone for doing something you do yourself?

A: How can you tell your son that what he does is wrong if you clearly don't believe that it's wrong for you? Would you be a hypocrite if you tried to stop him from doing drugs?

First, let's establish some guidelines here: You are his parent and in that role you take on certain key responsibilities regarding his physical, emotional, and spiritual welfare. He is 14 and is engaging in illegal activity. This is not about your drug use -- addictive or recreational -- it's about your son's impressionable, peer-influenced, confused mind, body, and well-being.

If you believe that you have no right as a parent to advise your child against any potentially dangerous activity that he is engaged in because you are or have been engaged in it, then you have abdicated your role as a caring parent. Too harsh? I don't think so. I have counseled far too many adolescents in therapy who have told me that they wish their "Sixties parents" had not been so "cool" about their drinking and drugging. They wish their parents had talked with them and given them some guidelines, advice, and limits about drug-taking rather than adopting the attitude of, "Hey we did drugs (are doing drugs) and we're fine -- you'll be fine too."

I don't know why you use drugs and I am not going to engage in self-righteous condemnation of your drug use. But I will remind you that your son does not have the breadth of life experience or drug-taking experience that you do and cannot be expected to make decisions in this regard that are in his best interests. He needs your help in this area and if he is coming home high and allowing you to see him in this state, then he's sending you a message. Take his cue: Please see a therapist yourself about your confusion on this issue and then be the parent that your son needs. If you are going to use this same standard with any and all of your son's actions and behaviors, he's unfortunately going to have an adolescence that will be far more scary and dangerous than needs be.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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