Teach Your Children Well


Dear Dharma,

I need to find a way to talk to my teenage daughter.  When she was younger, we were fairly strict with her, but she was such a good kid.  She’s super smart and was easy to discipline, even though she always had a sharp witted attitude.  While she was younger, it didn’t seem to matter that much, she was very bright, and it was more amusing than worrying.

Now she is a teenager and has hit the ground running.  She’s running off with her friends to all hours, even on school nights and doesn’t take us very seriously.  I think I have fallen into the trap of wanting to be her “friend” and that might be backfiring.

The latest thing (and what sent me to you) is that I have found out that my daughter might be doing drugs.  I am heartsick over the train wreck I can see coming.

How do I address this potential teenage disaster?

Just Say No!

Dear No,

The main ray of hope I can see in your letter is that you recognize that trying to be your daughter’s “friend” isn’t working.

I’ve been told on more than one occasion that because I don’t actually have children of my own that my thoughts on the matter are invalid.  Except that… aren’t kids just people?  I’m a people… and I’ve been a kid.  I know kids, I know parents.  I’ve interacted with kids and parents, and I’ve seen them interact with each other.

Sorry – I know I haven’t even begun to address your very serious concerns, I just felt I needed to get that out of the way so that you know your source of advice is coming from someone potentially “unqualified”.

I’ve had many conversations with both parents and non-parents about this recent shift in parenting where being “liked” and being “friends” takes the place of “parenting”.  Wikipedia says that “Parenting or child rearing is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, financial, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood.”

That sounds like a fancy way of saying “give guidance, set boundaries.  Teach your children right from wrong – otherwise how will they know?”

Generations before us didn’t care about being liked.  Right?  Did your grandparents give a flying flick if your parents thought they were cool or not?  Climb that family tree as high as you like, you’ll find that to be a common theme, guaranteed.  They taught and demanded things like respect and manners.  They taught the value of hard work.  They set boundaries and enforced them.  They demanded performance – just like the real world before them was going to. That was their job. To teach kids how to live successfully in the real world.

And it’s the job of kids to push those boundaries, so they can find out what they are, how much they can get away with before the parent steps in and says “nope, no way, kiddo.”  Even though said kid doesn’t much care for this, it definitely creates that “aha” moment as they learn what is acceptable and not.

So the good news is that kids are still doing their jobs.

Some parents? Not so much.  That’s the whole “please be my friend” thing coming into play.  The thing is, kids will have lots of friends in their lifetime, but they will only ever have two parents (well, maybe more, as families are fused together, but…) – and they need the guidance parents are supposed to provide as much as anything else!  It’s such a disservice to your kids when you decide to abandon that post in trade for being cool.

Your question – how to address your daughter and the possibility that she is doing drugs…

First off, I’m hoping you and your spouse are on the same page on whatever actions you decide to take.  It will be so much harder if you’re not.  Assuming you are, you both need to go back to being parents and establish structure.  Being out at all hours needs to be curtailed.  Expectations need to be set – we all do better when we know what people want from us.

Obviously the drug issue needs to be addressed – although you said she “might” be doing drugs… Of this you want to be sure, non?  Read through this website – Parenting Teens.  And yes, take the quiz.  It might help you see some things more clearly.

The worst thing you could do here is nothing.  Don’t get caught up in feeling like the bad guy because in the long run it doesn’t matter.  The wellbeing of your daughter is the priority and establishing successful communication is key. There’s no shame in seeing a counsellor to get some assistance with that if you think it would help your family navigate these tricky teenage waters.



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  • kaileym says:

    yeah the whole friends not parents switch is strange isnt it. and it has only been recently!!! mabye in the last 20 years? any thoughts as to why???

    • Dharma says:

      I honestly don’t have a clue why… it’s like parenting was a certain way for hundreds and hundreds of years, and then all of a sudden, millions of people collectively changed it. I think it’s the generation that had children in the late 80’s and beyond… (just guessing as to the timing) So maybe we look at what was going on in the world in those decades that would illicit such a shift?

  • anon says:

    Raising kids is tough, but most people figure it out on the job with no real training. all we have is the example our own parents gave us,for whatever that was worth! Since the desire to be liked is pretty much hardwired into us, it is the path of least resistance to be a friend to your kids. You forget that you have to teach them to be people first,and that takes a lot of effort.

    The hardest thing is to let them make their own mistakes, you hope that they are small ones with big lessons, but sometimes it’s something big. This is a conversation you can’t put off, if she is doing drugs you need to stage an intervention. I am not a ooh drugs are evil, but anytime it is kids, the damage they can do is real and much more concerning. A 40 year old who smokes up every weekend probably is making an informed choice, and doesn’t have to resort to anything illegal to support their habit. A 13year old? There are way too many skjetchy ways for her to be getting drugs, and none of them involve informed decision making. Best case is someone’s spreading the rumor that she is doing drugs (you heard it from someone right?), worst case…well really is as bad as you want to imagine.
    Talk to your child, as the adult in the relationship,and make it clear you are motivated by concern and love for her.

    • Dharma says:

      I like your point about making informed decisions. Totally a difference between a 40 year old and a 13 year old and what would be considered an “informed decision”.

      And making it clear it is about love and concern is paramount – being the “parent” as opposed to the “friend” doesn’t negate a loving environment.

      Thanks for your comment Anon!

  • anonymous says:

    Your advice is right on today Although some parents don’t realize they have become their kids friend….perhaps that is another topic….there is wisdom in knowing the difference…and a very fine line these days, for sure. There is always the fear that the kid will hate you for life…non?

    • Dharma says:

      Thank you. And an interesting point that parents might not even realize that fine line has been crossed – a bit like it sounds in this letter… “I think I’ve fallen into the trap of becoming the friend”.

      I think almost every kid hates their parents at some point – it’s almost like it’s part of their job description. It might take some time, but they almost always grow out of it… some time in their 20’s. Yeah, it can be a long haul… 🙂

  • […] side note, I started to suspect I had gone down this path before – and yes, yes I have… Teach Your Children Well carries a very similar theme and I’m equally as miffed now as I was […]

  • Anonymous says:

    I don’t have kids either, and for this reason! I don’t want the responsibility of rasing someone else! It’s hard enough raising myself! I think that she needs to set some rules and stop trying to be her friend! My parents were my parents, not my friends and they did a wonderful job raising me! They just need to put some fear into her! Worked for me ?

    • Dharma says:

      Yup, raising kids is a huge responsibility and one that can’t be taken lightly. Being friends would be easier for sure, a lot less conflict. But the end result is a generation of entitlement, which I’m pretty sure we are already smack dab in the middle of…

      Thanks for the comment!

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