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Adrian Sobolewski
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An important life skill is to recognize 
when trying to handle it
by yourself will make things worse
                    Marc MacYoung

 

Never Make Your Kids Afraid
To Call You For Help

On this page:
"Don't Do The Dumb" | Snowballing trouble  

I often joke that I'm so lazy I married a woman with children. In fact, being a step-dad to four teenagers was one of the hardest 'jobs' I've ever had.

Having said that, there was The Deal. It went like this.

"Look, you're underage. Booze and drugs are illegal for you. I'd prefer if you didn't do them, but I know that isn't going to happen. So here's the deal. Don't get hammered any place where you aren't safe and plan on spending the night. If something happens and you need to get out of there, call me. I'll come get you. No penalty. No punishment. I'll let it slide because I don't want you driving drunk or stoned -- or riding in a car with that kind of driver. So, if you call me for help, you get a pass. But, if you don't, and you get busted for DUI or public intoxication, you're on your own. We won't bail you out."

Of the kids who lived with us, no DUIs. The others, not so much. Better yet, nobody killed in a drunk driving accident or died from alcohol poisoning. Did it mean I had to get up in the middle of the night and drive through weather? Yes. Was I happy about it? No. Did I have to wrangle drunk teenagers? Yep. Did I want to say something? Oh you betcha. Did I? No.

Why?

Because it was more important my kids weren't afraid to call me for help when they got in over their heads. That is, as you will soon see, more important than not 'doing the dumb.'

"Don't Do The Dumb"
That's a saying I picked up from a friend. It's pretty good life advice. It's very much something we'd love for our children to learn by just us telling them. However, it doesn't work that way.

From another friend I got the following quote:
Just because something is dangerous, doesn't mean you'll automatically get hurt if you do it. I have found the young, inexperienced or just the imagination impaired often take this to mean there is no danger at all.

As an adult you understand that things don't always work out the way you want them to. Part of maturity is weighing other possible outcomes, risk vs. reward, and adjusting for complicating factors (e.g., the difference between just driving and driving on ice). We've been 'thinking' this way for so long we just take it for granted -- and we assume other people will do the same.

Another crack I make about the young is that the inside of their brains are still pink. That actually has hard science backing it up; not just psychology, but neurology, especially the brain's development. See there are 'connections' in the human brain that are not completely formed until we're in our mid-twenties.  How many times have you looked at your kids and barked "WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!"

Guess what the answer isn't. It's not 'they weren't thinking.' The actual answer is, "They are physically incapable of thinking the way you are asking them to." Until these connections are formed (created through experience) they simply aren't there. This doesn't mean they're dumb. Neurologically speaking the pathways and connections you have, they don't. Think of it in terms of bridges across a river that you built long ago, but are still under construction with your kids.

Life has taught you, not to go down certain paths of behavior. Sometimes those learning experiences weren't pleasant. (Tolkien's "The burned hand teaches the best. After that advice about fire goes to the heart.") When you consider options, you may not consciously remember the 'this is why.' But subconsciously these 'bad' experiences influence your decisions. Often to the point where you can't consciously explain why it's a really bad idea, you just 'know' it is. As such, you just don't do certain things.

The young don't have this 'collection of subconscious weights' influencing their decisions. This especially when it comes to 'new experiences.

Stop and think about this. It's important. Well use drinking too much as an example. Odds are your parents told you not to. But, assuming you're not an alcoholic, what experiences did you have that really influenced your decision not to drink too much?

To you, drinking to excess is a known experience -- including hangovers and how things can go bad under those circumstances. This even if it wasn't you. (Remember your friend who threw up in the car?) Also as a functional adult, you prioritize other things. You put those before the fun and games of being hammered. Even if you choose to occasionally drink to excess, you have protocols and standards in place (e.g., if you're out, spouse drives home. If you're divorced, you stay home, etc).  But again, experience has created pathways and you've developed habits to handle it -- including not doing it except under specialized circumstances.

Kids don't have these ...yet. They don't have the understanding of the 'down sides' weighing into their decision making process, or the habitual safeties. So they don't see the 'why not' -- especially when it comes to social interactions and fun. Teens struggle not only with identity, but social status issues. That's why they're so susceptible to peer pressure. That often makes for 'bad' choices and behaviors. (Or as we used to say, "Oh no. Not another learning experience.")

What teens also don't have yet is experience handling extra-ordinary problems. These are the kind of things that happen, but don't necessarily happen every day. (Why do you carry jumper cables in your car?) This leads to an attitude of "it hasn't happened, it won't happen." In heuristics, it's called normalcy bias. When things go sideways, people with this attitude are caught flat footed and don't know what to do. So they often do something that makes things worse.

(There's another called "Neglect of Probability." That can be understood as when making decision we ignore probability and hyper-focus on desired outcome. This especially is important when it comes to forbidden fruit. Even if they've heard about bad things happening from this behavior, they ignore that and tell themselves _______ is how things will turn out.)

So warnings and advice lack the weight of experience when it comes to decision making.

What kids DOhave experience with, is getting in trouble and being yelled at. Don't think this doesn't weigh on their willingness to call in the cavalry.

Snowballing Trouble
Here's something to think about. The problem isn't just doing the dumb. What escalates things is doing more and more dumb. Then when trying to fix it or avoid consequences doing even worse.

Let's use the "I'll come get you" example. Is under-aged drinking 'dumb?' Yes. But going out in public while drunk is even dumber. So too is getting false ID to assist in underage drinking. Is binge drinking to the point of black out even dumber? (BTW, this -- and going out in public in this condition -- is being normalized on university campuses and college towns. It's led to not only more traffic deaths, but rise in alcohol poisoning and deaths from choking and hypothermia from passing out in snow banks.) Since binge drinking is becoming a peer pressure standard another form of dumb is not calling for outside help when someone passes out. In fact, there's strong resistance to the idea because -- they'll get in trouble. To the point of kids actively discouraging each other about calling in emergency services in medical emergencies.

Beginning to see why you don't want your kids to be scared to call you if they've done the dumb? Them willing to call you is the best way to keep the dumb from snowballing.

There's going to be enough bad experiences that arise from this kind of behavior. Just don't make it so your kids are so afraid of asking for help that they end up dead or in jail.

Of course, despite having said all this, you're under no obligation to tell them ways to lessen the misery of a hangover. You are after all the parent.

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