The Learning Curve

Q: My son, Eric is 14 years old and the first of our three children. He is well-behaved, respectful and does well in school. Last week, I was cleaning his room. To my great surprise, I found a small plastic bag of marijuana in his drawer. When I confronted him about it, he admitted to “experimenting” with his friends. Then he added, “Grandma says that you smoked pot when you were young. Is Grandma right?”
Unfortunately, Grandma is correct! What can I say to that?
– Leslie in Leawood

A: If Grandma is correct, you should answer this question, and other questions like it, as honestly as you can. However, as is true with other matters such as your financial affairs or your sex life, you need not provide more detail than necessary. You are entitled to your privacy, just as your children are entitled to theirs. You might also tell Grandma that if she tattles on you again, it’s off to the nursing home! Just kidding.
After acknowledging your past behavior, you should make it clear to Eric that drugs were bad for you, why you stopped and that you hope he will learn from your mistakes. When children are young, they are protected from many of their own mistakes. As teenagers, they need to learn that actions have consequences. With some actions, like drug use, the consequences can be dangerous and permanent. You have the right to set rules for Eric
about drug use and penalize him if necessary, just as your parents would have done with you.
Another issue here is Eric’s attitude toward you as his parents. As children become teenagers, they are no longer in awe of their parents and may no longer see them as role models. This can be hard on the parents.
Although it is no fun to lose favor with Eric, it is a part of the normal process of his growing up, achieving his own identity and separating himself from his parents. Thinking that he can do better than you is a healthy thing. You might even use Eric’s independence to his benefit. You could say, “Eric, you could do what I did growing up, learn the same lessons I did and wind up exactly like me. How would you like that? I had hoped that you would do better.”
On the positive side, things will get better. As Eric gets older, he will find that being a parent and making a living is not so easy and become more appreciative of what you have done. As Mark Twain said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.”

words by Susan A. Horen

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