(The Vancouver Sun, March 16, 2001)
Q: My 17 year old son, a grade 12 student, has recently bought a car which he seems to think is his ticket to unrestricted freedom. He has a job at a restaurant with coworkers a few years older than him. The problem is that after working until midnight, he wants to be out until two or three a.m. so that they can play pool, go to a friends house for a video and son on. Understanding his need for freedom, I am uncomfortable with him hanging out with older people at that hour of the day. Any suggestions?
A: Recognising your sons need for independence will only help you to work through this difficult situation with your son. While challenging, it is also a completely normal stage of development for your son to step away from his family and create a separate identity. Examine exactly why you dont want your son out until two a.m. It is because he is sleep-deprived? Is it affecting his school work? Is he too tired for extra-curricular activities? Then, voice those concerns to your son. Rather than imposing rules, share your points of view (dont forget to give him equal air time!) with the intent of identifying the goals you both have in common. Then, negotiate a solution based on these commonalities. For example, we assume you both value him having a sense of freedom and independence, you both value his safety, and you both value his sense of well-being. Possible compromises based on these three common goals may include having friends over to your place for a video, limiting late nights to weekends, or allowing the occasional late night only if that other areas of his life, such as spending time with his family, are not neglected. Identify the warning signs that late nights are negatively affecting him, and agree to renegotiate should these become apparent.
Q: I was doing the laundry the other day and found a cigarette in my 13 year old daughters jean jacket. In a complete panic, I put the cigarette on her dresser, hoping that she would bring it up later. It has been one week and she hasnt said anything. What do I do?
A: First of all, prepare yourself for the three most common excuses given in this situation by a teenage girl: 1) "My friend borrowed my jacket so it must be hers. Ill have to talk to her about the dangers of this filthy and expensive habit." 2) "In my heroic attempt to banish smoking at school, I was confiscating cigarettes in the smoke pit and must have forgotten to throw that one away." and 3) "Ive been set upits all part of a conspiracy plan plotted against me by my brother. Just wait til you see what he does next!" . All joking aside, you need to approach your daughter immediately– clever marketing strategies have rendered young girls her age the fastest growing group of new smokers. Start by calmly telling her what you found, and give her a chance to respond. Dont be afraid to identify "no smoking" as a family rule, present the reasoning behind it, and clarify the consequences of breaking this rule. If you smoke yourself, counter this conflicting message with an age guideline (i.e. when you are 18, you can decide for yourself if you want to smoke), keeping in mind that the most powerful message for your daughter would be for you to take a stand against it yourself. Be careful not to let the conversation turn into an interrogation of whether she does or does not smoke. Instead, focus on how you can prevent her from smoking in the future. Rather than just emphasizing the long-term consequences of smoking, point out more immediate unattractive effects like bad breath, premature aging, and yellowing teeth and fingers. Take advantage of materials provided by community resources such as the Canadian Cancer Society and the B.C. Heart and Lung Association. Their videos and in-class educational programs are very effective.