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Friday, December 16, 2011

A Little Good News About Teens and Alcohol for a Change

The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NIDA) 2011 Monitoring the Future study of eighth, 10th and 12th-graders has a little good news for parents. It found that rates of teen smoking are slowly declining but that use of other tobacco products (e.g., hookahs, small cigars, smokeless tobacco), are climbing.

Alcohol use has shown definite declines over the past five years. This year, 63.5 percent of 12th-graders reported use, compared to 74.8 percent in 1997. And 26.9 percent of eighth-graders reported alcohol use in 2011, compared to 46.8 percent in 1994.

Marijuana, however, is a different story. Among 12th-graders, 36.4 percent reported past year use, and 6.6 percent reported daily use, up from 31.5 and 5 percent, respectively, five years ago.

Perhaps even more troubling, the risk and fear associated with marijuana use has dropped. Only 22.7 percent of high school seniors saw great risk in smoking marijuana occasionally, compared to 25.9 percent five years ago.

Forty three percent of eighth-graders reported that they saw great risk in smoking marijuana occasionally, compared to 48.9 percent five years ago. Use of synthetic marijuana like K2 or spice is also climbing.

The painkiller OxyContin is still quite popular among teens although Vicodin use was down slightly. Many of us have these prescription drugs in our homes from a past surgery or injury of some kind and we forget they are there. Now’s the time to get rid of them.

Almost 50,000 students from 400 public and private schools participated in this year's MTF survey.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mommy Don't Smoke - I Don't Want You to Die


When my son was nine, and I was getting divorced, I started smoking cigarettes again. I had not smoked for a long time and I am fortunately one of those people who doesn’t easily get addicted to them. I know I am lucky in that regard, and that it is rare.


My son was in fourth grade at the time, and he and his younger sister saw smoking as something that could take their mother away from them.

So my son sat me down at the computer and showed me what he’d been learning about smoking cigarettes in school. He went on the American Lung Association site and showed me a healthy lung, pointing out its color, texture, hue, etc. Then he showed me a coal miner’s lung, pointing out the dark spots, black hues, and hints of disease.

Finally he showed me a cigarette smoker’s lung, and said “See mom, it’s the worst of all.”

I’d like to be able to say that this was my ah ha moment, the one in which I threw the cigarettes out and never touched them again, but that’s not the case. It took me awhile to stop smoking, and I was badgered by my children until I did. My daughter who was in early elementary school would cry and say “Mommy I don’t want you to die.”

My point in all of this is that anti-tobacco campaigns work. They make an impression on young minds. I know my children will never smoke and I know that most of their friends won’t either. That doesn't mean other kids don't and we shouldn't be vigilant.

But the anti-smoking education appears to work far better, in my limited world, than anti-drug and alcohol efforts.  It starts young and it scares kids. It uses science and visuals to drive home the point that smoking has no benefits and many dangers. The anti-smoking campaigns don't send mixed messages at all. If you smoke, you die. It's pretty straightforward and kids are listening.


How do we take that approach and apply it to alcohol or drugs?  Science helps. So does connecting with other parents struggling with similar issues. Visit our Facebook page and join the conversation

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How Does Your Drinking Affect Your Teens?

I drink. Not heavily but I do drink a glass of wine and sometimes two most nights. Sometimes I have a glass of wine at dinner and don't eat anything. My kids' dad drinks a bottle of wine each night. He has throughout their entire childhood. When we were together, we used to open a bottle and I'd have a glass, want another half of one later on, and it would be gone.

I have friends who drink - heavily in front of their kids. They have friends over and they get drunk. Mostly not on weeknights but on weekends a lot of beer and other alcohol is consumed. Some of these friends have problems with alcohol - at least I think they do. A number of them get in the car and drive home afterwards.

When we were teens everyone drank heavily, drove and didn't worry about what their kids saw. My research for the AAAS book Delaying that First Drink: A Parents' Guide found that parents' drinking matters. And we're not just talking about when they are teens and you're talking to them and monitoring their behavior. It starts when they are really small - old enough to know what alcohol is.

My children's father once took our five year-old son to a local wine store and the proprietor asked him what his favorite wine was. My son said Chardonnay. Don't kid yourself, they are paying attention.

The experts say, that your best bet is not having alcohol in your home or drinking in front of your kids. Ask a parent if they're going to do that and they'll just start laughing. Parenting sometimes requires a glass of wine, plus alcohol is legal. Not everyone is a yogi or can vegetate out in front of a football game. So parents do drink. Unless of course there is alcoholism in the family and they are scared of what could happen.

So what can you do to make sure your drinking doesn't encourage your teen to do so? This is what I've found:

  • Don't drink heavily in front of your kids
  • Keep minimal alcohol in the house and if you keep some, check it frequently. Wine is better than beer because kids don't drink it and you know it's missing. Beer will go to a party a lot faster than a sauvignon blanc.
  • Never, ever drink more than a glass or at most two if you're a man of alcohol and drive your kids anywhere. You may feel sober, but chances are you're not. You're also likely to be legally drunk if you get stopped. Is it worth it? I don't think so.
  • If you have friends that drink excessively get new friends or stop taking your kids to their home. Go when you have a babysitter and they don't have to see it. Even if you are not drinking much, your being there is tacit approval for their drinking. It sends the wrong message.
  • Don't be afraid to let your kids taste alcohol as they get towards their teenage years. If you forbid something, it becomes more seductive. Most of the time, kids don't like the taste of alcohol, that's why they drink beer. There's nothing wrong with letting them see that they don't like it in the privacy of your own home.
Anyone else have suggestions?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

British See Huge Rise in Teenage Girls' Drinking

The London Telegraph reports that 3X as many teenage girls have been admitted to the hospital with alcohol poisoning than boys. A total of 4,439 girls aged 14 to 17 were seen by doctors for alcohol poisoning over the past five years, compared with 1,776 boys.


In England, where teenage drinking is a huge problem, they report on and create videos about this often. No wonder. The number of young women treated for alcohol poisoning has increased by 90 per cent in the past five years, according to the Department of Health statistics.


Ninety eight girls under the age of 14 were admitted to hospital last year.Women and girls now represent more than half – 54 per cent- of all admissions for alcohol poisoning.

Those are some pretty compelling statistics. Here's an ad that will scare the heck out of parents.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWCUekDn7cw

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Are Teens Who Have Sex Using Condoms?

Maggie Fox of The National Journal reports on a CDC study that says . . . Most teenage boys—85 percent—use a condom the first time they ever have sex, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday. Girls follow closely at 78 percent. But they are not consistent—only about half of teenage females and 67 percent of males said they had used condoms all the time over the past month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.


The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics broke down face-to-face interviews of more than 22,000 teens for its study on sexual behavior. They found that 43 percent of teenage girls who have never been married, or 4.4 million of them, had ever had sex. The percentage of boys was similar, at 42 percent. This is virtually unchanged from 2002.

Check out the rest of the story at http://www.nationaljournal.com/healthcare/study-most-teens-use-condoms-for-first-time-20111012

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

PMS, Menstruation and the 12 Year-Old Girl




My daughter and her girlfriends are all becoming women as my dad would have said, embarassing the heck out of them. And in this period where they get their well - you know - there are so many changes it's hard to keep up. They all seem to start with the moment she loses that chubby prettiness of childhood, and you start to see shorter shorts and more legs, and she just starts to look like a completely different person.

Somehow as a mother you just know it's imminent. And I have to admit there is something incredibly wonderful and familiar about explaining the ups and downs of menstruation to your 12 year-old, a connection that a mom just can't have with a son.

All of her friends, as they grow into this next stage, get more beautiful. I don't know how to describe that beauty - budding breasts, curves, strength, dignity and volatility are all combined in one girl who seems to bloom right in front of you. Sometimes it makes me want to cry, sometimes it makes me want to scream and most of the time I'm just so glad I have a daughter. She is my best friend, and my biggest headache.

Next you have to explain menstruation as it happens or before. Of course, they get the description in health class but nothing can prepare you for that moment. Then it's no I won't tell your father, and reminding her to carry extra stuff in her backpack. A friend of mine who has 50% custody of his daughter went out and bought her all the stuff before she got her period, and then tried to talk to her about it. I started giggling at the thought, what could he really know about menstruation, and said some things are better left to the other parent.

Then it was using tampons which she had to learn fast, because she was on the summer swim team. That was a difficult moment, she was alternately scared and frustrateded and I turned to the computer for advice. The best piece I found - let her read the directions and do it herself. And from there she figured it out and the drama was over.

For a mom, the whole menstruation thing is like going way back in time. Menopause isn't pretty, but I'm so glad that part of my life is over. The whole process of walking into a CVS and sorting through the aisle of options they now have for what are the most basic of products can drive you nuts. The new marketing gimmick: They put different sizes in the same box, for different days of the month, and charge more.


Oh and that moment where you have to slap a box of "feminine products" on the counter in front of some teenaged boy who looks anywhere else but at you. Priceless.

Next came the cravings - I guess similar to the ones we get in pregnancy - icecream, dumplings, chocolate, any form of Chinese food - grease and fat and more sugar. We are not much of a sugar family, so she didn't have a lot of options but of course I went out and bought what I could.


Finally came the cramps and bloating. They both took awhile to kick in but have finally arrived with mind numbing pain. Last weekend all she wanted to do was lie down with wet heat warming her abdomen. I explained how exercise really does help and she didn't believe me. Then she put on a pair of elastic waist shorts, went out and played her heart out in a soccer game. Now she gets it.

The other night I was at another soccer game with a group of parents, and one of the moms whispered to me - did I have any? I said what, and then realized what she meant and said something about not carrying them any anymore. The the next morning I found two tampons in my purse, and realized I was carrying them for my daughter. That's coming full circle.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Is Your Teen Naughty or Nice? What are you?

In the swamp that is middle school, amidst the bullying, the gossip, the she’s a this and he’s a that, the she’s pregnant (yes it happened) and then she’s not, the my teacher is a B-word because she makes us work so hard . . . I am raising a nice girl.

She’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, she’s gossipy and moody and hormonal, but she’s basically a sweet, loving and kind kid.

In the swamp that is high school, with hazing, and lunch time ostracism and smart kids aren’t cool, and girls wheeling their babies around at back to school night, and drugs and alcohol and alcohol and drugs, and rival gangs, I’m also raising a nice boy.

Oh he isn’t perfect either. He’s sarcastic, crabby, occasionally nasty, quick to fly off the handle, takes his mom for granted, and sometimes says things that make me want to slap him across the face. But basically he too is a good kid.

And I’m not really sure how the heck I’m doing it.

Nature or Nurture - What Makes Kids Naughty or Nice?

It’s not their dad, who they barely see at this point, mostly because he doesn’t know how to fix the mess he made with them, and is too proud and narcissistic to admit he did anything wrong. So it must be me. And I’m not in the best of places emotionally, professionally, or personally right now. So why is it that our kids are turning out just fine?

I know that one reason is those early years, the unconditional love, the let’s talk about it, the positive reinforcement, the bedtime stories and nighttime rituals, the constant reinforcing that helping other people is a good thing, that it makes you and they feel better about themselves.

The saying no to everything they want, and making sure when they get something it is special and merited. The nights struggling over homework, and not yelling when they get so frustrated they just start screaming. The always listening and cleaning up boo boos.

And lots of therapy for mom.

Mean Comes from Those Who Raise You


Babies aren’t born awful people. Oh I know some of it is nature, but the vast majority of it is how they are raised.

I had a wonderful mother, even if only until I was 13. She made me feel safe, and warm and nurtured and loved. She said “Wait until you have children, you’ll understand,” an awful lot. She didn’t ignore me even after she got sick. And somewhere inside of me is a part of her that comes out as I’m raising my children. The other part isn’t so nice, but I know that and I’ve learned how to keep it in check.

Everything we do, everything we say, our children absorb. They are like sponges. When my ex-husband criticizes and berates, when he’s pejorative and snide, it’s not coming from the baby he started as. It’s learned behavior. When teens drink and take drugs and smoke cigarettes, it’s often because their parents do it too. They’ve seen their parents’ party since they were babies. And they either reject it completely, or they embrace it wholeheartedly. More likely the latter.

I can see the parents who are raising mean kids on the soccer field (they yell, and scream and their kids insult and yell and scream). I can see the parents who pick their kids apart, because they were picked apart. Parents who bully because they were bullied.

Parents who spoil their kids rotten because they suddenly can afford it or feel guilty because they’re really not there. Parents whose value systems are based on the values that make people only care about themselves. Parents who don’t realize by not saying no, they are raising a kid who thinks he's entitled to everything. Parents who hit because they were hit and parents who drag their kids through stores when they start to cry, because they were dragged.

And worst of all, those parents that don’t even recognize the behavior in themselves, and when their kids start to mimic it.

The worst I believe is parents who ignore their children, who don’t communicate with them because they’ve had a crappy day, who come home angry and take it out on them, who go to a party and don’t see their kids again unless they made another child bleed.

All your children want is the best of you – the material things really don’t matter. Remember that and your kids too won’t grow up to be mean.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Does Your Teen Have Suicidal Thoughts?

I had a discussion with my almost teenage daughter the other night about teen suicide and she remembered when she was really young her father telling her, “Nothing is ever bad enough to take your own life.”
He repeated this to my son and daughter many times evidently while we were getting divorced and my older child was struggling. He went to therapy for a year and talked with a counselor about it which helped more than you can imagine.
I have my own memory of a boy who killed himself, the valedictorian of the high school class behind me. It was the day before graduation and from what I remember, because his parents were getting divorced. He had a full scholarship to an Ivy League School waiting for him. He was such a nice kid, on the outside everything seemed fine. But obviously he was struggling terribly, and at 17 his life was lost.
I had heard that teen suicide is more common than we think, and in fact teens who drink alcohol or take drugs are far more likely to kill themselves than those who don’t. Girls are more likely than boys. Those who are bullied or those struggling with their sexuality are also at increased risk. Family trauma such as death or divorce may cause thoughts of suicide.

So while I preach about alcohol use and communicating with your kids, every parent should  remember that their adolescents may seem grown-up, but inside they’re trying to figure out their place in everything. It's confusing, scary and can be completely overwhelming. If depression runs in your family, you can get hit doubly hard.
Let the data scare you
How pervasive is the problem of youth suicide? Studies by the Center for Disease Control tell us: 

For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death, resulting in about 4400 lives lost each year.

FIfteen percent of 9-12th graders  in public and private schools in the U.S. reported seriously considering suicide, 11% reported creating a plan, and 7% reporting trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey.


Among reported suicides in the 10 to 24 age group, 84% of the deaths were males and 16% were females. Girls, however, are more likely to report attempting suicide than boys.

Native American/Alaskan Native and Hispanic youth having the highest rates of suicide-related fatalities. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9-12 in public and private schools in the U.S. found Hispanic youth were more likely to report attempting suicide than their black and white, non-Hispanic peers.

When my daughter mentioned her peers too had thought about suicide, I was horrified. The good news is she told me about it. Make sure that your kids do too.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

How Much Do We Screw Up Our Own Kids?

I am reading Andre Agassi’s bio Open and reminded of what a friend with three daughters once said as a group of us ranted about how hard it is to raise children. Her response, “No matter what you do you mess (substitute with curse word) them up anyway.”


There is truth in her comment and it’s all throughout the Agassi bio, which is about a father who relentlessly drove his son towards tennis stardom with no regard for what he really wanted. I’m only half way through, but the way that father treated his son is enough to disturb any parent. Andre’s father was angry, cold, scary, unloving and unwilling to consider anything that conflicted with his dream of what his son was going to be.

I’ve been thinking about how how much power parents have to influence the path their children take. In my experience the result of parenting it usually takes one of three:

1. Your kids end up completely rebelling and doing the exact opposite of what you wanted.

2. Your kids become their parents.

3. Or they may, as I have, hear their father’s voice in their head when they are angry at their children, watch themselves about to strike out verbally and physically, recognize it, go get help, and make a concerted effort to become a different kind of parent.

Do we have to screw up our kids?

I don’t think so. But there are so many people that I see who love their children and mess with their heads because they’ve never dealt with the place it is coming from.

Perpetuating the Behavior

My daughter and I were out to dinner the other night with a friend and his daughter, a lovely 12 year-old he dotes on. But he has a habit of getting annoyed and picking on her which I’ve seen before, and the other night I couldn’t bear watching. I think in this case, he was annoyed at me because I had a giggling fit over some ridiculous kitchen apparatus that he has and embarrassed him.

He couldn’t get mad at me, so instead he sat on a couch behind his daughter and mine as they played video games telling them what they were doing wrong. He didn’t just do it a couple of times, but over and over again escalating it so much that she finally turned to him and said “Daddy can you please just leave us alone.” Of course, then he got even worse.

I’m sure that this somehow came from the way a parent treated him, but I didn’t say anything and we left soon after.

Someone I worked with years ago was abusive. He had temper tantrums worthy of a four year old. He would call at all hours of the day and night screaming. He would ask me to do something and five minutes later would be furious that I hadn’t take care of it. Nothing I did was good enough, no matter how hard I worked. He was the definition of a bully, but we are not born that way. The kids who pick on others in school, I guarantee you their parents picked on them. All they are doing is perpetuating the behavior.

If we drink and take drugs will our kids follow?

Chances are if your parents have addiction problems you may too. But they say it’s a combination of nature and nurture and I’ve seen that in my closest friend and her family. Her father was a raging alcoholic. Her sister was a heroin addict who died of AIDs. Her brother is a raging alcoholic. And my friend is an overachieving yogi who is quite successful in the medical profession.

There were drugs in my household growing up. Three kids. Two took them. The other one rejected them completely. What we see or what is done to us does not make us who we are. Parents make choices. So do their children.

Where am I going with this?

I want every parent who reads this blog to take a deep breath and think about how their parents treated them, and what they saw growing up. Then reflect on your own behavior towards your kids. Break the bad habits you learned as a child. And be a better parent. Your kids will thank you for it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

My Teen is About to Drive - How Do I Know He Won't Drink?

When you're done reading check out the Shattered Dream video series on YouTube. Gives kids a sense of what drinking and driving really results in. 





Nothing has freaked me out lately as much as the fact that my 15 year-old now has a learner's permit. We've done two stints around a parking lot and soon will be out on the street. I avoided it for as long as possible. I'm going to keep claiming that driver's ed is too expensive without help from dad for as long as I can get away with it.

All I can visualize is that car wrapped around a tree, the understanding phone call, the scream inside my head. I just cannot go there.

Fact is this is a step I'm just not ready for. His friends will all be getting licenses. They will all be driving. How can I as a parent insure that my son will not get in a car with someone who has been drinking or that he won't have a couple of drinks, feel invincible and decide it's OK to drive home?  I don't think I can. All of the facts and the science tell me that's what's going to happen. So does my own history. And that's what scares me the most.

What Kind of Kid are You Raising?

Oh I can explain the science of alcohol and I know it will have some impact. But in that moment, whether he decides to get into that car or not isn't going to have anything to do with all of the information about the dangers of alcohol. It's going to be about him and how influenced he will be by his own desire to do whatever the heck he wants.

I went to the Internet for answers and I found the usual hyperbole about not permitting your teen to drink, locking away all the alcohol, don't drink yourself, etc. That's all fine, but if a 16 year-old is determined to do something, short of locking him in his room which he will find a way to get out of, it's not about convincing. It's about instilling values in your son or daughter from day one that they live by and so do you.

If I've had a drink and my kid needs to be picked up somewhere at the last minute, I tell him to sleep over or take public transportation. If we go to a party I make a point of only having one drink. And I let them know and see that too. I even stopped taking my kids to parties at the home of a family that I know drinks way too much, as do most of their friends. They are nice people and I enjoy spending time with them, but my kids don't need to see that.

Yet I know my son's friends are drinking and although I've never seen him wasted he probably is drinking too. I don't think he is drinking that much, but I'm sure there is some. We all try things as we grow up. Because I'm supposedly an expert on this subject, I know it's the American obsession with abstinence that in part spurs  binge drinking. In Europe where you can have wine at dinner in your mid teens there isn't this wild, let's get wasted kegger thing that happens in college. The more kids hear no, no, no, the more they tell themselves yes. So I don't yell and scream and say no, no, no. I make sure they know they can tell me anything and I'm sure I'll be praying some too.

Did I mention that I lost a good friend in high school and a new acquaintance in college both because of drunk driving? That every time there's a big accident involving a high school kid who is drunk I use it as a teachable moment. Is my son listening? He's 15. His brain is focused on clothes, girls, friends and school. There's very little room in there for common sense or anything that doesn't have to do with himself. As a 15 year-old in a Partnership at Drugfree.org put it discussing the parent child relationship at that age, "You are an ATM machine."

Who has some influence?

Perhaps the most persuasive bit of information he got was from the 9th grade health teacher. Mr. S is not a parent. He's a man in his 30s who coaches multiple teams, talks about his own late nights though not in detail, has multiple girl friends because he's really good looking, and is so funny and refreshingly honest the kids adore him.

He brings people into the classroom to talk to them about stuff they shouldn't do like drinking and driving, taking drugs and having unprotected sex. He brought in a guy who was a quadraplegic from a car accident where everyone was wasted. He brought in a heterosexual male with HIV, and had him talk about how he got it. He brought in someone who had spent several years in prison for drug dealing. The list goes on.

After each one of these people visited that health class I was told who came in, what they said, what it was like to experience their experience, and this was from my son. This health teacher used real people and they made a strong impression.

Other teachers should do it too. And if I can find people who will tell my kids stories about their own experiences - I'll get out of their way and let them.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Teen Parents: Kids See 50% More Sex on TV than on the Internet

When my son was about six and we were just beginning to figure out if he should be allowed to go on the Internet past the Disney Channel, we had an incident.

We went to NYC for a weekend and he was cranky and a bit nuts all weekend, crying at odd moments, and just all around behaving like a pain in the butt.



He was burdened with something but for the life of me I couldn't get him to discuss it.

By Sunday night the secret was too much to bear, and he confessed that he'd gone to a web site (a very benign one) and a picture had popped up of a woman fully clothed and he clicked on it. He was sent to a porno site where naked women did things with naked men, that I didn't ask him to describe. The visible shudder and more tears were enough.

He was so upset that when I was trying to get him to explain what he saw, I asked about farm animals, men with men, and finally it became clear it was at least heterosexual in nature, and not terribly kinky. But for a little boy, who had broken a cardinal use of parental permitted Internet usage, it was a solid teachable moment.

Control Internet Viewing - He's Almost 16, Really?
My son is almost 16 and controlling what he sees on the Internet is a long gone thing. Has he ever looked at porn? Probably. Does he watch it regularly? I don't think so.

A new study in USA Today reported from the American Psychological Association's annual meeting this month in DC, may explain why. Michele Ybarra, president and research director of the nonprofit research organization called Internet Solutions for Kids, based in San Clemente, CA, said that many adult assumptions about what kids see in terms of sexual content on the Internet are just plain wrong.

While parents believe that kids growing up with technology are exposed to a lot of sexual content online, Obarra says the truth is that young people are much more likely to be exposed to sexual material through television and music than they are through websites and video games.

Her research suggests that exposure to sexual material is highest with TV, at 75%, followed by music, at 69%. The Internet is the least common way kids are exposed to sexual material, at 16% to 25%.

Ybarra presented data from a yet unpublished study, which will appear in the journal Pediatrics and was begun in 2006. It includes data from 1,588 kids who were ages 10-15 when the online survey began. The aim is to identify the associations between violence in new media and seriously violent behavior.

To read more about the study go to http://yourlife.usatoday.com/parenting-family/story/2011/08/Kids-see-more-sex-on-TV-than-online-research-suggests/49843626/1

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hot Flashes and Teen Hormones

Those of us who waited until the very last second to have children find ourselves in a double whammy. As our children are entering puberty, and teen hormones are raging, so are our own.


Since menopause is only discussed in hushed whispers, with anyone not experiencing it turning away llike you are cursed somehow, I’m writing this for the rest of us.

Menopause is a tough time for women, we are emotional, our bodies eject heat like a rocket propelling itself towards space, and our waistlines disappear as weight seems to attach itself, as if through some sort of scientific sludge process, to parts of our bodies we never thought possible.

At the same time, that young boy or girl who said I love you all the time, liked to spend time with you, wanted your help and approval on schoolwork, and made you feel like parenthood was all worthwhile, has become a nightmare. Oh there are still flashes of the sweet, loving child in the alien teenage being who suddenly lives in your house. But they are rare and fleeting.

You become the chauffer, bank account, major embarrassment, and most grunted at person in your own house. And that’s on a good day.

I’ve heard that boys are better than girls in their teenage years, and I hope that’s true because the boy I have makes me want to tear my hair out. He’s obnoxious, cutting, sarcastic, selfish and so obsessed with how he looks or wants to look, that I just want to transport him to thirty years from now so he’ll have a new respect for his mother. Will someone please build me a time machine so my son can see that what goes around comes around?

So how do these two edges of the hormonal spectrum live together, without hurting each other? Not easily. Fortunately, once menopause starts you are done with the “I should have had more children” phase, that plaugues women in their late forties when it was still kind of possible. So at least the dilemma of whether to make more kids is over. We have enough trouble dealing with the ones we already have.
But let’s face it menopausal women are moody. We don’t sleep without pills. We scream at people and then don’t know why we did it. Oh the hormones help, but they don’t make it go away. I still sweat like I’m in a hot yoga class after a glass of wine or an Advil.

The one positive thing I can say, is that women in menopause get the hormone thing. We may have long ago forgotten what it feels like to be an actual teen, but we know what raging hormones do to us. And we have to learn to control that craziness. Not just to work and function in a world that is afraid to acknowledge menopause exists, but to deal with our teenaged children.

So let’s look at this menopause thing versus teenaged hormonal thing in a positive way fellow mothers of a certain age. Let our own hormonal mess act as a constant reminder of what our teens are going through. And if we take a deep breath, before we scream at our kids, we’re likely find a better way to deal with them.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Summer Love, Drinking and Drugs - That Transition Year

Research shows that the transition from middle to high school is an extremely vulnerable one for adolescents. In our book, Delaying that First Drink: A Parents Guide, I interviewed two recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, both who began drinking early in high school.

Both were quiet somewhat reticent, but very bright kids, from families with major addiction problems. The young guy said what tipped him over the age was transitioning from a private, very small middle school, to a high school with 900 kids. The young woman said she went to boarding school for high school, developed a new group of friends who were heavy partiers, and fell fast and furious.

I've been thinking about high school and drinking a lot because I've a 15 year-old son whose friends are definitely drinking. Awhile ago, I put what was left of a case of beer in the basement and found a couple of empty cans in a bathroom. He explained the cans (he had an ill-fated party months ago and no one really uses that bathroom), but when I checked on the case it was empty.

Yes you heard me, empty. My son was at a friend's house and I called him and told him to get home immediately, which he did. His explanation: He is not drinking because he had tried it and had a really bad experience with it. His mom has a similar story from high school. But in order to get into high school parties,  they have to pay at the door or bring booze. So he's been sneaking the alcohol out and using it to get in.

Did he get in trouble? Of course. Did I freak out completely? No. Why? Because he's a good kid who gets good grades, is holding down a full-time job for most of the summer and I don't see any evidence of alcohol or drugs when he comes home at night. 

So what's a parent to do. I don't know. Talk, watch, listen, trust to some extent, read the Facebook pages to keep up. Teenage boys don't exactly confide in their moms, but we do talk and the lines of communication are always open. Keep them that way.

Oh and yelling and screaming really doesn't work. It just starts bitter, angry fights that can cause really lasting damage to your relationship. Instead, take a deep breath, walk out of the room and talk when you are both calm. It's much better and life is a lot less stressful.

Monday, July 4, 2011

It's Your Brain on Drugs Stupid

A new report out from Columbia University's drug czar CASA Columbia surveyed 100 students and found almost half are drinking, taking drugs, smoking cigarettes or a combination of all three. 

Yet I don't see any of this in my home. Am I blind? Am I crazy? Are my kids just not interested? If one in two kids are a mess than what of all my son and daughters alcohol sodden, cigarette smoking,  (well she's a little young) drug ridden friends. Sorry folks haven't seen it. 

Not that I'm denying it happens. I wrote a book about it - I know it does. But CASA Columbia does love to get attention by being alarmists. Pure academic researchers don't agree with them on a lot of things. Judge for yourself. http://www.casacolumbia.org/templates/PressReleases.aspx?articleid=641&zoneid=87


Anyway the point of all this is It's the Teen Brain Stupid. We've been talking about this for over three years. The teen brain isn't finished yet. If it ingests substances it's not supposed too, ones that are meant to alter it's perception and focus, it freaks out. The majority of kids who end up addicted to alcohol and drugs, start that process in middle or high school. That should be the wake-up all. 

Remember that old ad - This is Your Brain on Drugs where they fried an egg. One of the simplest, most effective at getting its point across ads ever. Well what it didn't tell you - because at the time they just didn't know - was that the frying process of your brain will affect you far into your adult life.


Here's an excerpt from the CASA press release:



The CASA report underscores the fact that addiction is a disease with adolescent origins. The underdeveloped teen brain makes it likelier that teens will take risks, including using addictive substances that interfere with brain development, impair judgment and heighten their risk of addiction.

The CASA report reveals that:
  • 75 percent (10 million) of all high school students have used addictive substances including tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or cocaine; 1 in 5 of them meets the medical criteria for addiction.
  • 46 percent (6.1 million) of all high school students currently use addictive substances; 1 in 3 of them meets the medical criteria for addiction.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Moment Every Parent Dreads

There is a moment in every teenager's life when they know they've made a terrible mistake.

Sometimes it's the moment when you get into the back seat of a car and realize the driver is really drunk.

It could be the moment you decide to stay in that car because you're sure it will be OK.


The moment when you're at a party and the room is spinning and the boy is saying all these wonderful things and before you know it the moment is over.

Or it could be the moment when you are the designated driver but you look down when your IPhone buzzes and you slam into the car in front of you.

The Worst Moment in the World

Parents have those moments too but all the fear is about their children. There's the moment when they realize that they can't reach their child no matter how urgently they try. The gut feeling that the next call they're going to get is something really bad. Parents know - it's the moment when your entire body starts shaking and you know something has happened to your child.

You know because you are connected to that child in a way that no one else is.

We heard a story about that moment the other night at the local pool from family friends.Every year at this time, there is the same story, kids whose lives are just beginning a new chapter, who go out and drive a car drunk, or get in a car with someone who shouldn’t be driving.  Every year some extremely promising teenagers are senselessly killed because of it. 

I could recite the story by heart. There’s a photo or video of a mangled car entangled with another one on a road. The kids are described as “good kids,” who didn’t get into trouble, played sports, had scholarships, and were headed off to college in the fall. 

Their are parents and relatives fighting back tears, taking their :30 to describe the life of the child they’ve lost. Their goal is to warn other parents to be more vigilant. I tear up just thinking about it. 

This time it was relatives of people we knew.

The post-high school parties

The week or two post high school graduation we as parents are distracted and tired, they've just conquered end of school madness. They need a break. Prom night we think about, we monitor, we make sure there are designated drivers, that we know where our kids are and who they are with.

Those other nights, when all the kids are getting ready to go away, or start their summer jobs or just split up for most of the summer, we pay less attention.Make sure you are home by 11:00 we say and when they come in a bit later, as long as they've called and explained why, we try to get a hug and say good night.

Everyone is at loose ends and this is a time when we should be vigilant, if for no other reason than teenagers think they are invincible. Maybe it's all the superhero movies, maybe it's just being in a body that can do anything, with a mind that test drives all the time.

Really Mom?

I told my son the story we heard at the pool and in all his 15 year-old, I’m learning to drive this summer, I’m so cool teen-dom, he didn’t want to hear it. The conversation went something like this.

My son: “I’ve heard that story before mom. My health teacher told it to us.”

Me: “These were real kids, kids that are relatives of people we know.”

My son: “In my health teacher’s story the kids died.”

Me: “The parents were trying to reach him and they tried his cell phone over and over again and then finally it rang and it was the police.”

My son:  “I’ve heard this story before mom. It’s exactly the same one my health teacher told us.”

Me:  “I just want you to remember that you will be driving soon, and your friends are driving and if you are ever in a situation where you shouldn’t get in a car with someone who is drunk, you can call me and I will come and get you.”

My son:  “OK mom, I’m going to go to bed now.”

The teflon teenager

All teenagers are bionic. They believe this as much as they believe that their friends will be their friends all their lives. They believe it because they look in the mirror every day and see themselves grow and change and become more beautiful. That others notice that too.

Teenagers also think they know everything. Actually that's not true, teenagers know they know everything.  They are right, you are wrong. So why should they the weigh the alternatives when they get into a situation that would make their parents cry? Instead, they make split second decisions that can cost them the rest of their lives.

We can't be there in that moment.

The face of that mom

I often tell my kids the story of a boy named Jay that I knew in high school, a smart, funny, popular boy I always had a bit of a crush on. We had just graduated high school and he was driving home from the beach with a group of boys he’d hung out with since kindergarten.  They were smashed into by a drunk driver and Jay was killed. Everyone else was OK.

I tell my children about another moment, at the funeral of the boy, how even at 17 years-old; I looked into his mother’s face and saw the emptiness, the shock, the lifetime of regret and sadness. How her face that day, will always stay with me. How I can never imagine it being my face.

Making the right decision

The grandmother in the group of us who were talking about the car crash, said her rule 25 years ago was simple. She told her kids, “If you ever can’t drive home, or the person who is going to drive you home is drunk, don’t get in the car. Call me and I will call come and get you”. NO QUESTIONS ASKED. A

And they did it – they met her in parking lots or shopping malls or outside of places they shouldn’t have been. But they called for a safe ride home. 

The 12 year-olds who heard this story at the pool will remember it when they’re 18. My son was listening even though he acted like it didn’t matter. So here’s a teachable moment for all of you. Use it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

I Have a New and Overwhelming Respect for Single Moms



For the past month, and I’m beginning to think forever, my kids have lived with me and had no contact with their dad, nor he with them. They all need to communicate and each side has dug in. He is the grown-up. But let’s not get into that.

The point is that I have become completely responsible for two kids on an income that cannot completely support them and with a schedule that is becoming more and more about them, and less and less anything having to do with me, my professional career and any form of a life other than theirs. It’s a nightmare. 

The role of primary parent is not new but it's never been all encompassing. I'm the one who helps with homework, drives them around to most places, tracks their whereabouts, listens to the ups and downs of their day to day lives, and provides a shoulder to cry on when things go wrong. My ex never understood that kids need a parent who isn't working all the time. But I did. That's one reason why they're here with me right now.

But I got breaks. When we were married and he was here I could run to the gym or a business meeting. After we got divorced they went to their dads every other weekend and a couple of nights a week. And I saw enough of them that I didn’t feel like I was missing anything – mostly because they came home every day after school. 

What does a Single Mom do when she just cannot be home?

We did a research project recently with a school where one of the teachers wanted to teach the kids about the science of alcohol and drugs. Many of the kids were from highly impoverished families. His point was that the kids were about to go home and many of them would spend the summers without any supervision because both parents had to work all the time. He hoped that a final lesson on why they shouldn’t drink or do drugs right before school let out would make them think twice. I hope he was right. 

For several years I’ve had the luxury of working at home to make sure that my middle schooler and high schooler did what they were supposed to do after school, went where they were supposed to go, did not bring friends home to do whatever with them in my house. I am home over the summers.  I’ve been lucky. 

When Your Husband Pays the Bills

I don’t regret no longer being married. I have been envious of my married friends for a long time – they work, they don’t work, they work part time, they don’t work, the husband gets promoted and they get to not work. Oh they all pitch in, but as we get older and our kids go to school and have more and more activities that someone has to take them too, the moms who are home get stuck with it. And they at least have a second, and usually larger income to fall back on.

Oh the on again and off again working moms gripe and moan about how much they have to do. But they don’t have to do all of it and hold down a full time job, and pay all their own expenses and those of their kids. They may cut back some but they are solidly middle class and don’t really want for anything.

Sorry but the violins they are playing are out of tune for me.

What About Poor Women Who Do it All

So I got to thinking about the other single mothers, the ones who are far less fortunate than I am. The ones who don’t own a home, who struggle to put food on the table, who can’t give their kids anything that they want rather than just not all of it, who don’t have time to sit and do homework, who don’t get to see their kids until 8:00-9:00 at night, if they make it home before bed.

The moms who have had far fewer choices and opportunities than I have. The ones who sit down with their kids over a bucket of KFC when they are so tired they can barely see straight, and attempt to have a family dinner.

How hard it must be for them. Here I sit in my life which is complicated but could be much, much harder, talking about why we should keep our kids away from alcohol and drugs. So many of these women would love to have the time to ruminate about what it takes to do that. And they are struggling to keep their kids straight while they try to just get by.

I wrote a story about a woman the other day who kept getting fired from her entry level job because she had a daughter with disabilities and she required extra time and care. She had to be picked up from school, she couldn’t go home by herself. The men she was working for – and yes they were men – kept telling her she wasn’t a dedicated employee. Wrong. She could have been both a great employee and a great mother, if they’d only understood that her life mattered too.

I’m afraid this has turned into a rant and that’s not what I wanted. But I do want to tell all of the single mothers out there that I was wrong. They deserve medals. They deserve brass bands and singers who tell them how wonderful they are. They deserve a break. They deserve the safety nets that the federal government has provided them.  They deserve kids who stay away from alcohol and drugs. They deserve better. They are heroes.

I’ve finally begun to understand just how tough their lives are. I'm writing about it so that others might listen. At least that’s a start.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Mom's Thank You to Justin Bieber

Which Of These Two Would You Rather Your Daughter Idolize? 


I never thought I'd say this, but we watched Justin Bieber's Never Say Never movie last night and then this morning Rihanna sang her S&M glorification on the Today Show - and I get it now. Why do moms support what is now called Bieber Fever?

First of all he's immensely talented and will only get better as he gets older. But that's not why. It's because so much of the music our young girls are listening to is about abuse, and random sex, and setting people on fire and rape and it's endless. The messages that these young female pop stars are sending to our girls are horrific. Let men beat you up, hurt you, just go back for more (Rihanna).  Of course, you should go out and pick some guy off a dance floor in a club and have sex with him in the bathroom or your car or wherever you can find that gives immediate gratification (Brittney). And what about getting raped by an alien and how sexy and wonderful that would be? (Katy Perry).

I realize that this is the stuff that sells but Justin Bieber sells too. And you can't shut the awful messages off. They're everywhere. How do you tell your 11 year-old daughter who knows all of these songs word for word and sings them constantly how totally screwed up that is? Where are all those conservatives and liberals too while pop music is literally instructing our girls on how wonderful it is to be hurt?

But not Justin Bieber. He's about the music I grew up with. Love and romance and your prince will come and you can do anything you want as long as you try your hardest.  How can we moms not embrace that? A quick comparison of Justin Bieber versus some of his female pop star rivals.

Here's Brittney - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jrZqdLVGxw

Here's Justin - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ExWsVFJlFo 

Here's Rihanna - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zh5LMOX-N18

Here's Justin - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Z5-P9v3F8w 

What more can I say? Thank you Justin Bieber for at least letting me remember what it was like when we sang of love, and a bright future, and all of the good things about youth. And for giving my 11 year-old daughter positive messages and someone to idolize who acts like and sings about what it's like to be a normal kid.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Constant Stress of Raising a Teenaged Boy


How much should you trust your teenage son? Remember when he was just a sweet young boy? Kind of hard these days isn't it?  

Up until recently I’ve trusted my 15 year-old son a great deal, at his request and to keep the peace in my house.

 I let him handle his own grades and don’t check up on every assignment because he says as a sophomore in high school he should be responsible for that. Then the mid-terms came in this month, and there were four Cs. 

He is taking very difficult classes, but every kid is different and for my son to get four Cs it means he has done absolutely nothing. So now he has until Monday to turn in all of his assignments, and then we will go through Edline together. We’ll see what we find.

I also trusted him that he was where he said he was mostly because I had to pick him up and often drop him off there. So far that seems to work.

But lately I just feel like something is changing.  It seems like lies flow as easily from him as truths. 

So I did what I rarely do, and searched his room and found nothing. He left his cell phone in the car yesterday and I read the text messages – nothing. No sexts, no talks of drugs or drinking or wild parties. A couple of “we’re going to a girl’s house” when the evening was supposed to start out at a boy’s. But the girls are watched like hawks – I know because I watch mine. So I haven’t found anything that has happened.

I also read his Facebook page which has an awful lot of girls on it and one intriguing post from April within the same minute “I’m in a relationship,” “I’m single.” I have to assume it was a joke.

He does talk to me, not so much about the personal stuff, but about school, project he’s working on, the lacrosse team he’s trying to put together, etc. 

He’s impossible a lot and fighting with his father who I am no longer married too, in the bitterest of ways. It’s so hard to know how much of this is just 15, and how much might be attributed to other things. I don’t see any indication of drug or alcohol use (he is on the It’s Academic Team and is a storehouse of more information than a human brain should be able to hold).

One thing I’ve learned with the fighting is to not get drawn into the vortex of the argument. Say what I have to say, tell him the conversation is over, and walk out of the room. If he tries to come back and fight again, just continue not to respond. This will eventually lead to an apology and things will be OK again.

The fighting with his dad escalates because his dad picks fights. And everybody gets madder an madder until it gets really scary. 

This is kind of a rambling post, but to all the moms of teenagers out there, I feel your pain. Don’t forget that it’s a phase and it will pass. Just watch, listen and communicate. And try not to lose your temper.

Your kid will make it through and so will you.

 
They say the girls are much worse.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

When Parents' Battle - Kids Often Turn to Alcohol and Drugs

A woman who has Stage Four cancer and is fighting for her life was dumped by her husband, and sued for custody of the children in a North Carolina court. The father has seen his children 2-3 times for one night in the last couple of months. 


Despite being sick, this mother has attended every school event, taken her kids to their various lessons and friends’ houses and practices, and given them all the love and energy she has to give. He worked for a management consulting firm and traveled all the time. She is raising those kids. And he’s taking them away from her, probably out of anger, and probably because he’ll find someone else and it will be her job to raise them.

The woman with cancer’s husband was abusive, physically and emotionally, and she cheated on him. He won the custody battle and the kids will be moving to Chicago. I think they are 5 and 9 or something like that. I was appalled as are many others, who’ve been listening to her make the talk show circuit. From what I gather he is using the kids as a pawn to hurt her while she is dying. They don’t want to leave her and are traumatized.

Even if you are divorced for awhile, parents still get furious with each other. I went to my ex-husband the other day and asked him to increase his child support, which  simply doesn’t cover his share of the kids’ expenses. Right now financially, he is way ahead of me. As the kids get older their expenses go up. I was reasonable and calm, and talked about trying to work it out between us.

I thought we had come far enough that we could behave like two reasonable adults.  Bad idea. He exploded. “I am not your friend, I don’t like you, I am not responsible for the choices that you’ve made in your career, I’m going to call my attorney,” which of course he did. Now I'm going to get dragged into a lawyer's office again, which of course he knows I can't afford. I don't know how he lives with anger like that.

Talking to the Other Parent Without Rage

The mother who is dying was asked how she talks to her kids about their father. She said that her son asked her “Why does daddy hate you, and you hate daddy.” Her response was “I don’t hate daddy, I just don’t like the things he is doing.”   

She then talked about how she is trying NOT to turn her kids against their father because they love him and that relationship is important to them. That sounded very well scripted to me. We all get upset when we feel abused by another person, a man in particular. And that’s very hard to hide. 

My kid’s father makes a big point of saying that he leaves the kids out of these things. But the truth is they overhear unintentionally, they listen at doors, they see their mother crying, and they feel their father’s rage. Kids figure it out, and they know when you're not telling them the truth. As they get older, I think it's better to be honest without including all the gory details.

Family Trauma Can Lead to Drug and Alcohol Abuse

There is a lot of data out there that shows kids who experience ongoing family trauma are much more likely to use drugs and alcohol. I did. It’s an escape, a way of feeling better for a short time. If they have the addictive gene or whatever it is that causes some people to abuse alcohol or drugs, this kind of family trauma can easily push them off the edge. 

No divorce is easy and I’m not saying that if two people are truly unhappy with each other they should stay together. The kids they raise will be awfully screwed up too. In fact, divorce can be a good thing because your relationship with your children becomes solely yours once the other person is gone. You are free to be a happy, healthy parent on your own. 

But with divorce, comes consequences. As my son's former therapist told us several years ago, "It's not that you are getting divorced or already are. It's how you treat each other that they will respond too." In other words, if you want to screw up your kids, behave terribly towards the other parent. Chances are you'll successfully scar them for years to come.

So to all of you who are getting divorced, or even have been for quite some time, remember this. The way you act towards each other, gets absorbed every day. The worse you are, the more likely your kids are to turn towards drugs and alcohol to dull the pain. Is fighting with your ex worth that? I don't think so. But obviously some parents do.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Teen Decision-Making Hampered by Brain Development


Your teen may look all grown up to you but his or her brain is not. Next time your teen stresses out and does something she shouldn’t have that requires making a judgment call, try to remember this is your teens’ brain on normal.

Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health compared the brain activity of healthy youth with healthy adults in an effort to gauge their responses to a perceived threat. People looked at a series of photos and immediately recorded how afraid they felt. 

Here’s what they found.

Teens ability to size-up a situation is limited

Teen brains process fear differently than those of adults. Why? Adults use three parts of their brains to make decisions about fight or flight, teens use two. Both use the hippocampus, or the part of the brain that stores memory and the amygdala which activates the "fight-or-flight" response to stress. 

But teen brains don’t make complete use of the late-maturing dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). The DLPFC helps with decision-making, because it is deeply involved in helping the brain categorize information and objects into different groups. In adults, DLPFC activity increases as their brains registered more fear than safety. In teens that doesn’t happen.

Ever notice how your teen stresses over decision-making more than you do? That’s because his or her brain didn't register all of the information given and process it quickly. As a result, teens are more likely to take a situation at face value and less likely to question a situation that feels normal but might not be. 
Ever wonder why your kid has to do all those organizational charts in elementary school? It’s to jump
start the DLPFC function. 

So the next time your teenagers make a bad judgment call, remember it’s not completely their fault. And talk to them about decision-making, explaining why they should take a moment to think about what they do or say, before they act. 

Research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. You can find a link at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/science-news/2011/teen-brain-less-discerning-of-threat-vs-safety-more-vulnerable-to-stress.shtml. Researcher is Jennifer Lau, Ph.D., of Oxford University (formerly at NIMH).
 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rebuilding the Parent/Child Bond over Homework



Last year, I worked on a project that swallowed all of my time. Emails came throughout the night that had to be answered first thing the next morning, I got calls very early in the morning, there were many requests for weekend conferences, it was sort of what I imagine working at the White House would be like. When you work with people like that, it's hard not to work like that as well. For weeks, I didn't even have time to leave my office.

I finished the project and learned a very valuable lessen about business and the types of projects I should work on. But the most upsetting part was the effect that working like that had on my relationship with my 11 year-old daughter and 15 year-old son. My daughter was starting 6th grade, and I was so busy I forgot about her middle school orientation. Just plain forgot. And she reminded me too.

For some people work is their life and that's a choice they make. They decide not to have children, or they do and follow an example set by their parents that seems natural to them. Their kids are raised by hired help or hopefully the other parent who doesn't work like that. For single parents it's even harder, and I know they struggle with finding time for their kids. But even a few minutes a day of your complete attention is better than someone who is either not at home, or not paying attention when they are.

I don't believe it takes a village to raise a child, although if you have enough money you can certainly hire one. But I do believe if kids have two parents, both of them should be there as much as they can. My mother died when I was 13 and my father disappeared into a new marriage. I know what it feels like to not have parents. You go out and search for the love and attention you are not getting in ways you shouldn't or you turn to drugs and alcohol to make yourself feel better, which works for a short time but then does not.

I explain this not to rant, but because our family lost a great deal of trust last year. Even though I was present, I was barely there. I spent the mornings of our summer vacation working. If my cell phone had worked in the Vermont valley we stayed in, it would have been worse. I missed a lot of school events and activities. Dinner was thrown on the table, and often interrupted. My kids felt abandoned and quite frankly, they were.

The repercussions from that time are going away and I saw it the last two nights doing school work with my kids. I was struck by how much power there is in those types of interactions between parent and child. The need to study for a test, which my daughter was doing, or prepare for a mock legal case, which my son needed, are moments when you can strengthen your relationship in ways that many other interactions can't. And I think that's one way we can keep our kids from turning to drugs and alcohol to search for something they can't find at home. It's also a way to demonstrate love in a less obvious, and intrusive manner than trying to get them to talk with you, when they simply don't want too.

My son's project was to argue a Supreme Court case that lifted the ban on handguns in the District of Columbia. He had a plan for how he would argue his part of the case. He knew what to do. What he needed was someone to sit with him for a couple of hours and go over the questions he would ask, the answers that might be proffered and the logic of his argument. It was late and we were both tired. I made a few suggestions, some of which he took and others he didn't. In between, I scrambled to find and clean his dress clothes, which I didn't know he needed until 8:00 at night. And I didn't complain because I didn't want to interrupt the moment.

I pretended to be witnesses and he did direct and cross-examinations on me. His enthusiasm was contagious. When he came home yesterday afternoon, and the first thing he said was that his team won and he got an A, he was so proud, I had tears in my eyes. Why anyone would choose work over that moment, I cannot imagine.

Last night my daughter had a test to study for on economic systems. They've been learning the basics all year, learning about different types of economies, market-based systems, authoritarian systems, etc. Although she knew quite a bit of it, there were some things she just couldn't quite get through her teacher. She was able to admit that to me, and we figured it out together.

The teaching materials, as is quite a bit of the sixth grade curriculum, were poorly written and not very clear. But we spent about an hour going through it and then tackled Chinese dynasties, which believe it or not were easier. She's also a very smart kid, and remembers everything, but sometimes she just doesn't understand a concept and is not comfortable asking about it in class. She needs examples and explanations that make sense to her. We discussed supply and demand using the example of the IPad one and two, and how Apple drives demand for new technology. She got that much more quickly.

Unlike last year, I was able to give them my time and undivided attention those two evenings. They were  once again confident enough I'd say yes, to ask for it. They both finished their school work knowing they would do well the next day. And I realized that not only had they forgiven me, but that our relationship and family is once again what they know they can count on.