We at Better Early Than Late would never have the audacity to tell any caregiver how best to mentor their child. We can only say that we have heard anecdotally the difficulties parents have had when trying to discuss the topic of substance use with their child. For example, one father cited that he had a very open and healthy relationship with his two sons and daughter; he said he felt he was able to easily communicate with them about his use of substances, both past and present, and felt they were comfortable confiding in him their experiences. However, he said that after he was promoted at his place of employment he was less able to engage his children because he had less time. Furthermore, he stated that as they got older (he first talked with them about substance use at the ages of twelve, thirteen, and fifteen, respectively) they were less inclined to want to talk with him about their social lives, including substance use and relationships (platonic and romantic).
“I just didn’t have as much time with them as I did before, and, even when I did, it was like they thought it was uncool to talk to their old dad about what was going on in their lives. But, I guess that was it – they wanted to have their own lives.”
- Anonymous Father
We obviously live in a world where caregivers have less and less personal time to spend with their children. Also, there is often a rebellious nature that is a part of this developmental stage; as adolescents try to solidify their independence and explore their identity, they often exhibit anti-authoritarian behavior. Furthermore, having a discussion about substance use is not a one-time event; as written in our implementation section, adolescents must be given personal attention on a regular basis for them to adequately address the countless number of topics related to substance use, as well as to continually reflect upon their decision making in this area of their life. Lastly, the emotional investment a caregiver has in their child can make it very difficult for them to maintain an objective perspective.
Unfortunately, all this makes it extremely difficult for a caregiver to gain the confidence of their child when trying to tackle difficult subject matters such as sex and/or substance use. While it is easier said than done, a caregiver should not look at this as a fault of their own, but as an opportunity to embrace a practical approach to helping their child live as healthy a lifestyle as possible. By this, Better Early Than Late means to encourage caregivers to support the idea of their child utilizing the resources we provide, namely, confidential one-on-one meetings with a third party.
In addition, many caregivers would benefit from meeting with the counselor who is working with their child. This would not be to discuss what their child has divulged, but to keep the parent up to speed on the educational information shared with the child, which could be used as a reference/foundation for the caregiver and child to have their own discussions around substance use. Moreover, in can be helpful for caregivers to discuss any feelings of helplessness or concern they might have around their child’s curiosity and/or use of substances. Again, this should not be looked at as a weakness by the caregiver, but rather as a chance to embrace a pragmatic approach to making their lives better for themselves and their child. Lastly, caregivers are more than welcome to meet with the counselor to discuss any questions they might have about how to improve their communication skills regarding the topic at hand, as well as learn how their own use of substances, no matter how much or how little, could be having an influence on their children.