The following is a guest post by Adi Jaffe, a Doctoral Candidate at UCLA and author of allaboutaddiction.com.
Parents often ask us what they can do to prevent their children from becoming alcoholics, drug addicts, criminals, and the likes. I’ve been all of these and more, and so I’d like to share my insight with you now that I’ve made it over to the other side: You can’t prevent anything — but you can educate, inform, prepare, and support.
My family breaths success; it also breeds its. My father was a star athlete who turned into a star doctor and a star family man. My mother always helped me get the best grades in school, even if it meant that she ended up doing my art projects for me. I’m not sure if it was my perception or my parents’ actual wish, but I always felt like unless I saved the world, I would end up a nobody. A recent article I read in a monthly psychology magazine (see my post, “More money more problems? Rich teen addiction“) talked about this sense of perfectionism in our culture and its effect on teen depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Did you happen to know that they’re the highest among more affluent adolescents?
Advice #1 Shooting for good performance is important, but focusing on it as a sole measure of success can lead to trouble.
I got gifts for grades, and the best gifts came only with the best grades. Anything short of perfect was pretty much frowned upon and considered “less than my best.” It became impossible for me to actually enjoy anything but the school subjects I excelled in (math, physics, chemistry). It wasn’t until I graduated from college and did some of my own exploration that I learned to appreciate art, English, and history as worthwhile pursuits. This constant need for perfectionism also lead to the repression of many issues in my family.
My parents fought often when I was a kid, screaming loud enough for me to take my sister away often and go play. We never talked about the fights. We never talked about my stealing either, whether I was stealing from my family (mainly my father’s porn) or from the neighborhood toy store. The one time I got caught, my father sternly told me to return my new toy and to never be caught stealing again. I began stealing away from my neighborhood; it would be years before he’d hear about me stealing again.
Later on, when my mother would find my weed in my room, she would hide it, so that my dad won’t find it. He would get mad. We call that enabling. When I was caught stealing at my work, my father didn’t want to tell my mom, so as not to upset her. We call that denial.
Advice #2 Don’t let your sense of pride, or your ego, prevent you from dealing with real issues with your children. They may not like you in the short run, but if problems aren’t confronted early on, it may set a horrible precedent.
By the time my parents were forced to confront reality, things had spiraled way out of control. They received a call from my LA lawyer telling them that their son had been arrested for some pretty serious drug dealing. My bail was set at $750,000. No one can ignore that.
My parents did the best they could. I know that. Still, I can’t help to wonder if worrying a little less about how things “should be” and a bit more about the reality of their deviant son may have prevented the latter part of this story. Then again, there’s no guarantee of that either.