Summertime Demons

Teens, Drugs & Healthy Parenting

Posted Jul 02, 2013

I would like to thank J.R. Lombardo LCSW for this timely contribution on parenting & teens.

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With Summer Upon Us, many parents are preoccupied with how their children are going to spend their time off. For parents of the high school  and college aged this can be especially scary because, as the saying goes, “Idle time is the devil's workplace.”

If your child has been struggling with addictive or unhealthy behaviors you may even dread summer.

We all struggle with self-doubt and being a parent can magnify this, especially if our children have difficulties. Setting limits and developing boundaries are absolutely necessary and it does not have to be a miserable experience.

Here are some suggestions:

  • As much as possible, come from a place of calm. Take some slow deep breaths and center yourself before setting or enforcing a limit. Do your best to remain calm. Even if your child begins to become agitated, make an effort to lower your voice in response. Your strength comes from your consistency and certainty, not from how loudly or passionately you present yourself.
  • Empathize with their feelings. Expressing genuine empathy for how your child feels will help them feel validated. We set limits because we care for our children, and therefore it is ok to understand and validate them while maintaining our stance in a loving way.
  • Stick to the topic and follow through. Young people use diversion and testing, and this is to be expected. Stay focused on the issue at hand without being sidetracked by other complaints, or questions about your character and judgment. Your child is not “bad” if they test your limits, this is quite normal. Be prepared to say what you mean and mean what you say and follow through. You risk losing credibility any time you do not.
  • Watch your body language. Be aware of what your body language is conveying. Giving your teen his or her personal space and keeping hands at your side (or on your lap if sitting) is much less threatening than chest puffed, veins popping and fists clenched.

Your Values Count: You may not be able to control what your child does outside of your presence but you can verbalize what your values are and your expectation for the way people conduct themselves in your home.

Some people make the mistake of allowing kids to hang out and “party” in their home, the rationale being that the parent will be more aware of what they are up to and it is safer in the home then out in the street. Please remember that you are legally responsible for those in your home and what they do after they leave (particularly as it pertains to driving).

You may also be sending a mixed message about your values regarding drug use and inadvertently be enabling the behavior. It is akin to keeping a lion in your house so as to keep the neighbors safe. Trust me, eventually that lion will eat you and then go roam the neighborhood.

It is also extremely important to take care of ourselves.

Self-care is not selfish: Many parents put themselves way at the bottom of the list particularly if they have kids that are struggling. Unfortunately, some parents were raised in an unhealthy environment where their needs were not met or where they couldn’t speak or talk about feelings or didn’t feel safe. Therefore they came into adulthood with no real way to take care of themselves.

Make self-care part of your routine. Though it may seems selfish to do things for ourselves, children benefit when parents are physically and emotionally fit. Remember how it works on an airplane, in case of pressure change you put the mask on yourself before putting it on your child, this is an apt metaphor for life. I suggest that self-care be healthy, nurturing opportunities for growth. Examples include exercising, meditating, meeting with others who share similar interests, going to therapy, becoming involved with your religious affiliation (if you’re so inclined) and participating in mutual support meetings or parenting groups.

I couldn’t end without a reminder that there is hope.

The Good News:  Parenting  involves both skill and creativity. Fear not if your interventions didn’t go perfectly, there will always be more chances to practice. Remember the expression “progress not perfection.” There are no perfect parents or perfect kids.

There are so many contributing factors to how our children will be as adults; DNA, parenting, peers, personality traits, learning styles and myriad unforeseen situations and experiences. It’s impossible to control for all things. One of the privileges of being in practice for 20 years is that I have had many occasions to meet or hear about people whom I have worked with as teens or young adults, now in adulthood and middle age. For the most part, even the “bad kids,” often turn out to be healthy productive successful members of society.

Enjoy the summer.


J.R. Lombardo LCSW has been working in the field of addiction and recovery for 20 years in various clinical settings. He specializes in all forms of addiction, including gambling, food, sex and codependency. He can be followed on: or


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