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One quarter of our teens are alcohol abusers by the time they leave high school. They are teens whose drinking habits produce poor work, excessive absenteeism from work or school, and complaints from friends and family. Alcohol-related accidents remain one of the biggest killers of sons and daughters until they pass college age.

Often a parent first discovers a teenage drinking problem on the morning after:

“Boy, do I feel terrible this morning!”

“Are you sick? What did you have when you were out last night?”

“Ah, just the same old stuff.”

“Todd, you must have had something different from the same old stuff.”

It will probably turn out that Todd was tempted by a few beers for short-term fun and now he has the day-after long-term misery.

Looking beyond the short- to the long-term consequences is one measure of growing up. Even parents can have trouble looking ahead to drinking problems:

“Let him have a little beer, what harm can it do?”

“As long as it’s in the house and nobody is going to drive, it’s OK.”

Drinking habits often produce strange excuses: “I couldn’t help it, I was drunk” is a common teenage misunderstanding of responsibility.

Traffic laws don’t excuse the drunk driver of responsibility and often teens don’tseem to understand that drunkenness is not an excuse for stupidity; it is stupidity. Nevertheless the most common excuse a teenage girl gives for getting pregnant remains, “I was drunk.”

But drinking and driving remains the most dangerous part. All parents dread that terrible phone call in the middle of the night: “This is Officer Jones of the West Virginia State Police, your son has been…”

While teens make up only 6.9 percent of the driving population, they account for 13 percent of the alcohol-related fatal crashes. In 2003, expect 17,000 deaths nationwide due to drunk driving. About 350 will be from West Virginia and 40 of those will be teenagers.

West Virginia’s legal limit of blood alcohol that defines DUI is now set at .10 percent. While our state ranks fifth with 8.24 alcohol-related traffic deaths per 100,000 population each year, our legislature refuses to lower the limit to .08 percent as most states require. Even that’s equivalent to four shots of hard liquor within one hour on an empty stomach, but our legislators evidently feel that is all right for drivers coming down the road at you.

What can parents do?

First, stay informed, on every occasion, about how your son or daughter is going to get home from a party or other activity.

Second, disallow all social events with alcohol.

Third, support and respect the laws concerning drinking and driving and the officers who enforce them – the next car they stop, just in time, may have one of yours inside.

Strict laws do work as I found out during a celebration with my wife’s large family in Norway. Her cousin accidentally picked up her husband’s wine glass by mistake and touched it to her lips. Her face showed near terror as she realized what she had almost done! She was the designated driver for her part of the family that evening and, in Norway, the road blocks and breath tests for any alcohol consumption are almost inescapable.

In the Norwegian courts, any evidence of alcohol and the automatic fine is two months salary! That can’t be brushed off even by the wealthy. Results of behavioral tests and blood levels determine the jail sentence (up to one year) to be added to the fine. The law is strict and drinking and driving is very rare compared to the U.S.

Our legislators have a responsibility to provide an effective law beyond unenforceable suspensions and trivial fines manipulated by DUI lawyers.

Some will say their freedom to judge their own drinking and driving is more important than a few deaths, but they are wrong and we should say so.

It only shows a prejudice against the young to crow about getting tough with teens because of their 14% of the drunk driving fatalities and then wring our hands and coddling the adults responsible for the other 86%.

Copy, fax, mail, or e-mail your support of more strict drinking and driving laws to your legislators today. Send your elected judges the message that enforcing the drinking laws will get your vote.

 

Dr. McIntire is the author of Teenagers and Parents: 10 Steps to a Better Relationship and Raising Good Kids in Tough Times: 7 Crucial Habits for Parent Success. Contact him through Parentsuccess.com.

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“Duncan has taken to helping in the kitchen! He’s four and yet he can really do things! He made his own scrambled egg the other morning. I told him how impressed I was, and he made one for me!”

What fun it is to impress your parents! Duncan loves to help with cooking, doing a little on his own and having his parents say how great he is. One woman counselor I know speaking at a PTA meeting said every child, teen, and adult longs to hear their parent say, “You are the fine son/daughter I always hoped for; you’re doing a great job!” There was not a dry eye in the house. Evidently many had never had the experience.

Since parental approval is such an emotional high point, it is a shame some parents often begrudge their children “too much” reward. Reward and reinforcement are terms that may sound too mechanical because the words imply a contrived influence on behavior. But the most frequent reward children receive is the admiration and appreciation expressed by parents. Parents who are generous with these “rewards” are more effective.

Yet many are still uncomfortable with the notion that selfish benefit is required to get children, or anybody else, to do the right thing. “They should do it because it’s right, shouldn’t they? They know it’s good for them! They had better be glad they have a good home and a chance to learn and get ahead!”

Isn’t this the way we all feel sometimes? It seems unbelievable that kids would pass up an opportunity for personal growth or fail to contribute to the family out of appreciation for the care they get.

It’s children we’re talking about, of course. Employees who are asked to work a little longer or teachers asked to carry a larger load deserve rewards for their extra work. And our boss who expects something for nothing just doesn’t understand our personal economic situation!

As a matter of fact, the higher you go, the more reward is expected for any effort – managers and school principals don’t feel respected unless they make more money. Corporate officers and members of Congress worry that lower salaries for them would bring in people less competent than themselves; and CEO’s demand golden parachutes of stock options so they will have the “proper incentive” to do a good job up there on top. So the higher ups commonly get more money and appreciation while both money and appreciation become scarce for the “less deserving” and, of course, for the kids.

Some parents object to the idea of rewarding children because it might spoil them. But remember a spoiled child did not get that way because too much was provided. Many children in families with small incomes are spoiled, and many children with the benefits of wealthy families are not spoiled. The parent’s routine reactions to the child’s behavior determine the habits. Parents who pay attention to the highlights in what their children do, will find plenty of opportunity to provide a deserved compliment. But if obnoxious behavior is “required” to get attention, then obnoxious behavior will be the rule.

Dr. McIntire is the author of Raising Good Kids in Tough Times and Teenagers and Parents: 12 Steps to a Better Relationship to be published on September 15, 2016.

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High school students looking forward to their senior year cannot easily get excited about more school work after that. Yet for those considering college, the choices after high school require attention now.

As associate dean for undergraduates at the University of Maryland, I met many students who at first resisted this idea of visiting colleges saying, “I don’t even know what I want to do.” But your student shouldn’t put off college visits because no main field of study has come to mind. Most entering freshmen are only aware of a dozen or so of the 100-plus programs most colleges offer. College is for learning about yourself and how your own special talents fit the possibilities.

Few students stick to their first career notions. Over 90 percent of college students will change their major during their college years. Half will change more than once as they explore the details of subjects in college courses.

Other students may resist these first steps toward college by flatly stating, “I don’t want to go to college,” just to put off parents’ questions or because they have only a TV view of what college could be.

To get enthusiastic about college, your high school junior needs some first-hand information. The spark of excitement won’t come from just talking with Mom or Dad about the choices of work, local college, or a school far away.

This summer is a good time for soon-to-be seniors to visit colleges. In the fall, it will be time for applications so chances for visiting will be nearly over.

Driving down to a college to “just look around” can be frustrating for both student and parent if no arrangements have been made in advance. Have your budding college student call ahead to the college admissions office and set things up. A parent can help a balking 16-year-old by providing a short list of things to say:
1. Tell them you are going into your senior year and you would like to visit the campus and talk to an admissions person.
2. Mention the major subjects you are interested in.
3. Ask what events are going on that weekend. Special events may make it difficult to see facilities and faculty, or the events coming up might give you a special reason to make an effort to go on a particular date.
4. Ask about visiting a dorm.
5. Ask about talking to someone about financial aid programs (next week’s topic) and filling out the required Student Aid Report while you are there.

Your student might also ask about meeting with students in majors that are of interest. If the admissions office can’t help with that one, you or your teen may know someone you could look up during your visit.

Ask your college-bound student to begin a summarizing chart so that both of you will have a good review sheet when the time for the final decision comes. Include places for his ratings of the programs and courses, the college town, dorms, and job opportunities. What do students say about the different meal plans available and the size of the classes? How convenient is the traveling from home to campus?

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Amy used her new cell phone to call home every week when she started college. Her Mom would respond, “Oh, Amy, I hope you are well. We miss you so much. Little Pam keeps saying, ‘When is Amy coming home?'”

Amy endured the weekly tugs on the guilt strings for six weeks, then she came to my office to do the paper work to drop out. Her short college career was partly due to Mom’s unintentional focus on the negative.

Parents can help with college adjustment by keeping the calls up-beat, the pressure about jobs, money, and grades as low as possible.

Our surveys show that only 10% of college dropouts have grades too low. Working and living far from campus are the most outstanding differences between the successful college students and the dropouts, the surveys show. Most dropouts work too many hours at an outside job too far away.

Parents may be proud of sons and daughters who juggle busy schedules of jobs and school, but if the job takes over, the only parts of the college experience left to quit may be the classes. All the other advantages of college, ski clubs, travel groups, politically active groups, have been crowded out by job hours. Encourage your college-bound son or daughter to live and work close to the school environment and work only the necessary hours at an outside job.

Trouble selecting a major and a career is another large factor in the dropout statistics. Most state universities have 100 or more majors, but few first-time students can name 20! No wonder over 90% of freshmen change their major somewhere along the way.

Parents can help here also by talking over the majors represented in the early required courses and keeping the pressure to make an early decision low. One primary advantage of college is to educate your new student about the variety of life’s opportunities.

Students are often tempted to put off the decision about a major by leaving college for “a year off.” But if college is viewed as a source of information about choices, then staying in makes sense. Little is lost by taking courses to explore the wide range of majors and careers before making this important decision. It’s a long way from graduation to retirement!

Most colleges have career counselors who can be a great help if they are in on the early planning. With their help in the first year or two, both the student’s interests and the practical side of career training can usually be accommodated.

Habits, usually started at home such as sleeping, diet, and alcohol make up dangerous pitfalls in the college journey. College students are young enough to be one of the most healthy groups in our society, yet they have a poor health record. Parents of teens with a year or two of high school left can prepare their sons and daughters for the challenges of caring for themselves and their time and money.

The mail boxes of most college students will be filled with offers of sales and credit cards that soon require more payments that lead to more hours at work. Caution your college student to keep life simple with few obligations to make payments on cars, credit, and clothes.

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Raising Good Kids in Tough Times

By Dr. Roger McIntire

When it comes to those dangerous behaviors, drugs often produce the most tragic stories, but in number of abusers, alcohol wins. Alcohol abusers are defined as persons whose drinking habits produce poor work, excessive absenteeism from work or school, and complaints from friends and family.

One quarter of our teens are alcohol abusers by the time they reach college age. And alcohol-related accidents remain one of the biggest killers of our teens until they pass college age.

What’s a parent to do? You can’t protect your kids from every temptation, but you can make sure the right messages are sent:
1. Don’t send the message that alcohol is a problem solver: “I’ve had a tough day, I need a drink.”
2. Don’t send the message that alcohol is necessary for social situations. Using alcohol for its relaxing effect only postpones learning better social skills.
3. Don’t send the message that behavior under the influence is somehow more genuine, natural, or free because it’s more emotional and less thoughtful. Just because behavior is less filtered doesn’t make it better.

Inhibitions have been learned from experience, and thoughtfulness is the most human quality. When teens depend on alcohol to break down social inhibitions, the breakdown of sexual inhibitions is the next bad habit. Intoxication is the most common explanation given for unsafe sex in surveys of teenagers.

Now, about those drugs: Watch the money. The drug business is about money. Where can an unemployed addict get $75 a day to support the habit? Recruiting a new user – your teen – is one of the best sources of money. Pay attention to the amount of money your teen has. Drug pushers look for teen buyers with extra money, so your teen should carry only the needed amount to school or stores.

Watch your model. They are always imitating. Set an example for your teen to follow in the use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs – including medications. Teens copy. Review your habits for the sake of your teen.

Watch your teen’s habits. Paying attention can keep you up to date on any temptations. In addition to the money situation, changes in sleeping and eating habits, friends or secretiveness about friends can be a sign of trouble.

One dad recently told me he made a point of regularly calling the parents of his daughter’s friends. As a single parent he liked to compare his experiences with what others were going through.

As much as you think your teen will never abuse alcohol or take drugs, you need to know the signs. Unfortunately all teens show some of these signs from time to time, and it doesn’t indicate drug use. The difference that deserves attention is a cluster of abrupt changes in these signs:

1. Unusual, unexplained need for money, or money missing from the house.
2. Changes in friends, eating habits or sleeping that don’t make sense.
3. Lack of concentration, extreme agitation.
4. “Cold symptoms” that just don’t go away -red eyes, runny nose, increased infections.
5. Changes in appetite, cravings.
6. Changes in fatigue, hyperactivity, appearance, becoming sloppy.
7. Unusual clumsiness, shortness of breath, coughing, peculiar odor to breath or clothes.

One mother’s story began: “John started going with those older kids last summer and suddenly he didn’t care how he looked; he was sloppy, always sniffing, getting up later every day, and he lost interest in everything – even soccer!”
This mother found drug paraphernalia in her son’s room the first time she looked! The cluster of changes in social habits, attitude, and self-care was enough for her to investigate.

Send your parenting questions for Dr. McIntire by e-mail to sumcross@aol.com or visit ParentSuccess.com on the net. He is the author of Raising Good Kids in Tough Times and Teenagers and Parents: 10 Steps to a Better Relationship.

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What is Child Abuse?
By Dr. Roger McIntire

Caught on tape hitting and punching her 4-year-old daughter, Mom X was charged with battery to a child, the local paper reported. Mom X’s lawyer said they would plead guilty and hope for mercy from the court. She could serve three years in prison.

Thank heavens the little girl is under age. If she were over 18, the sentence could be worse. And if she were under 2, the sentence for hurting a defenseless baby might be worse also. But between 2 and 18 there is a gray area, at least at first, before they get big enough to hit back.

Certainly the courts would not punish a parent for spanking a child unless the spanking left marks or bruises. Cuts and bleeding are out, and anything sexual is out. I guess the message is you can hurt them, but you can’t damage them.

Staying within the law, a parent hitting a child may satisfy his or her own frustration and may feel that justice has been served, but have we made any headway with the child? He or she would certainly learn how to mimic hitting and slapping. You could count on that coming back to haunt you.

We all face life’s daily stress. Mom X was shopping with an out of control 4-year-old who had run off twice. Before Mom “lost it,” what alternatives could we have suggested?

She could have called an early halt to a shopping trip that was getting worse by the minute: “I guess this was a mistake, we are going home.” I’m sure Mom wishes now she had done that. She would have to drag her balking child back to the car, possibly through a crowded mall, but at least the child wouldn’t be learning the bad habit that she could act up at will on shopping trips.

Some “Get Tough” advocates would defend Mom X’s hitting, but they are on the wrong track for several reasons. First, a child faced with physical punishment becomes afraid. Learning slows and creativity stops because it’s too risky to stick your creative neck out if you might get hit for your mistakes.

Second, the hard-line approach will be, must be, inconsistent. A parent cannot, and should not, be consistent with punishment. Without the inconsistencies of warnings, threats and postponements, the rules are too inhuman. Yet with the “verbal decorations” the inconsistencies change the focus from “What’s the problem?” to “Who will win?” The game and the power struggle begin.

Third, slapping, spanking or hitting a child is, of course, insulting. They belittle the child and lower his value of himself. That’s why adults are so insulted if you try these punishments on them. The child defends himself, attempts to escape, or tries to “win” the game. Parents can “win” the power struggle, but for every winner a loser is made. And losers eventually call in absent.

But even when they lose, children imitate. Mom and Dad set the example that physical abuse is a good (used by Mom and Dad) way to deal with people.
The adult alternatives are much better. For example, if you come to my house for dinner tonight and spill your drink at the table, you don’t expect me to say: “Hey! What do you think you’re doing? You’re so clumsy! Now pay attention to what you’re doing or I’ll send you home!”

What nerve! Treating a guest like a child! What happened to “making amends?” “The benefit of the doubt?” You expect me to belittle the problem.

“I’m sorry, do you have a towel?”

“No problem, I’ll take care of it…”

We deal with our mistakes together as a third thing, not you, not me.
Ignoring is also a better alternative, but with children, it has to be used carefully because the bad behavior has been part of a habit to get entertainment or attention from Mom and Dad. The plan can backfire when the inconsistencies creep in. If the usual amount of acting up will no longer get attention, the child may increase the volume. Parents may revert to punishment for this higher level and then return to the ignoring rule later only to go back to punishment when the volume again reaches pain threshold.

To make the ignoring plan work, you need to emphasize the positive things the child does to get legitimate attention.
When bad behavior can’t be ignored and opportunities for encouragement are not enough, time-out is a good alternative. A little cooling off on a chair or in his/her room as a kind of punishment can work well if the threats and arguments are kept to a minimum.

The trick here is to keep the time-out short. A dramatic long isolation will require too many threats and arguments. But short time-outs are no big deal, and parents are more likely to be quick and consistent.

Many parents have found the act of starting the time-out, putting the child in the chair or room, is the effective part. Ten or 15 seconds is enough for two-year-odds, and one minute is enough for older pre-schoolers. The message is sent when the prompt decision is made at the count of three (or ten if they need a little more chance to do right).

Some parents won’t like these alternatives because they will not produce instant change, but then physical punishment won’t produce magic either.

The best parental strategy will include praising the good, ignoring the tolerable, and reacting with logical, mild, and consistent reprimands to the intolerable. This plan will give the children a good model to follow as well as a way to learn and still risk the creativity we all want our children to show.

Dr. McIntire is the author of Teenagers and Parents: 10 Steps to a Better Relationship and Raising Good Kids in Tough Times.

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Imitation is the most common human behavior. Not that we don’t think for ourselves, but in the volume of everyday activities we follow habits and leads from others. The family atmosphere develops from these regular reactions and imitated attitudes.

Parental reactions, critical and angry or fair and loving, are copied by the children in their responses back to the parents and on to others. These recycle through the family, and everyone reaps a little of what they sow. Give a Nice Day!

Everyone has seen parents who are always riding their children: “Blow your nose.” “Tuck in your shirt,” “Don’t touch,” and so on. On the other hand, we have all seen parents who never react and let their children run wild with no consideration for others or their property. Both extremes lead to problems.

Where, in the middle ground, is the right style of correction?

Most parents know what bad behavior is and they have no trouble recognizing it. But when asked what good behavior is, their answers become vague. A good exercise for parents is to list the specific good behavior they are looking for: doing something for his little brother, taking his dishes in from the table, getting dressed in the morning. With such a list of specific actions in mind it’s easier to “catch ’em being good!”

Parents can also develop a better feeling in the family by planning their responses to the childrens’ behavior. They can select which behaviors to encourage and which to discourage and decide to ignore the other troublesome behaviors for the time being. This plan cuts down on the temptation to constantly ride their children with complaints and criticisms.

Parents who frequently praise and encourage their children usually have a positive, and less frantic, family situation. A mother who balances criticism with encouragements and frequent compliments is more influential and closer to her children than Mom, the critic.

If you are a single parent, it may be all the more difficult to say to yourself, as a spouse might: “Don’t let me pick on the kids; stop me and point out the good things I do.”

In reacting to everyday problems, children most commonly imitate the adults they are with at home and school, and they imitate the style more often than the actions. Attitudes toward others, conversational style, and temperament are the durable characteristics of teachers and parents that are copied.

The disposition to punish and correct others can be learned just as easily as the disposition to encourage others but the results are vastly different. Punishment creates tension and sour feelings in the home and only shows that out of all the responses the child could have made, he has chosen a wrong one – try again. Little information is available in that.

Praise and encouragement makes for a happier home and tells the child that of all the things he could have done, this is one of the right ones.

A rewarding reaction is more difficult for parents because it takes time to decide what to reward and how to do it, but you will have a more pleasant job as a parent and you will have a child who is still informative, friendly, responsive, and not always wanting to go somewhere else!

Careful, the children are always watching.

Dr. Roger McIntire is Retired Associate Dean from the University of Maryland and author of Raising Good Kids in Tough Times, Teenagers and Parents. Contact him through CCBS or go to Parentsuccess.com.

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