The question: We have a 19-year-old daughter whom I worry about. Although she's a good person and has a strong work ethic, she also loves to party. She seems to drink and smoke pot a fair bit and has experimented with harder drugs. She doesn't have a clear idea of what she wants to do in life but is planning to move to a big city in the near future. I myself grew up in hard circumstances and saw many people caught up in addictions, violence and basically come to sorry ends. I had close calls myself, but haven't shared many of the details of my youth with her as I always hoped she would have an easier and less traumatic life. She thinks of me as a worrywart; I think she is fearless and naive. What can I do to help protect her from the risks inherent in her lifestyle?
The answer: I feel your pain, and your worry.
I have a 16-year-old, a 14-year-old and an 11-year-old, and I worry so hard about all of them, all the time.
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night: Will my boys be able to take potable water as for granted in their lifetimes as I have in mine? What about seafood? (Me to my boys, as they stare at me with saucer eyes, lower lips trembling: "Eat seafood now, while you have a chance, even if you don't like it! It may not be around when you grow up!") Will they find love and, if so, will it last? Will they live in relative peace or in constant fear of trains, planes, pressure cookers full of nails, and "dirty bombs" exploding wherever they go?
Basically, when I think of the future, I have to fight off a vision of my boys sifting through the smoking rubble of a post-apocalyptic world, looking for refundable bottles.
Luckily, I'm married to a much more optimistic person. My wife Pam is always urging me to focus on the positive, so here goes:
Your daughter is probably going through a phase. At 19, most of the people I knew were making less-than-stellar lifestyle choices, and most of them turned out all right: went on to become lawyers, investment bankers, documentary filmmakers, diplomats – even architects! But the pessimist/worrywart in me wants to emphasize the phrase "most of." The party lifestyle did catch up with some, and dragged them down. You definitely want to avoid that.
I don't think an authoritarian approach would do you much good. I remember enough about teenager-dom to recall that when an adult tried to tell me what to do, I'd roll my eyes, shake my giant blonde WASP-fro impatiently, stomp out of the room like a Clydesdale and do the exact opposite.
The other, possibly-not-what-you-want-to-hear news is: At age 19, your kid is no longer a kid. She can legally vote, drink, drive and have consensual sexual relations. In the eyes of the law, she is now an adult, responsible for her own decisions. Tough as it is, maybe it's time you start looking at her that way, too.
Like it or not, you are now in an advisory rather than supervisory role, which doesn't mean you can't tell her what you think. You have her best interests at heart, and deep down she knows it.
Tell her you think she's partying too heartily and dreams don't automatically come true the day you jump off a bus in a big city with $2,000 in your chequing account.
Tell her making your way in life is a lot tougher than it looks, and she needs to be moderate, hatch a plan and execute it with vigour and focus.
You haven't mentioned your own past or the people you knew who succumbed to addiction. Why not? That could be just the type of "cautionary tale" that might sink in more than any abstract, moralizing lecture.
(You're not funding any of her high-social-butterflying shenanigans, I hope. If so, cease and desist immediately.)
She may need to go to Whatever City, get chewed up and spat out, and wind up back on your couch, licking her wounds, before she starts to see the righteous sense in what you're saying.
Sometimes we as parents have to bite our lips, stand back, and let our kids make their own mistakes, painful as it may be.
Those are the lessons that really stick, anyway.
Encourage her good decisions, discourage her bad ones, catch her when she falls, help her back up on her feet. Basically, let her know you're in her corner. What else can you do?
What am I supposed to do now?
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