When kids do the unthinkable

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Chapter 6 – Authority of the Indomitable Human Spirit 

The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture - A Parent's Voice in the Cyber Wilderness

(This excerpt from The Authority In Me, a book by Joanna about  the power of family life in the network culture, addresses the challenge of parenting when our children have fallen into the traps of risky choices and buy the lies of the network culture – and how important the voice of parental wisdom is for our children at home and in our community. Based upon personal experience and conversations with parents, children and experts in law enforcement, faith, education and health care,  this book helps families address cyberbullying, sexting, pedophiles, drug and alcohol addicition and anxiety in order to  promote personal security and prosperity in a boundaryless Internet-powered world.)

“…No matter how good a parent you are, your child is still capable on any given day of doing something despicable, disgusting, or depraved.” – John Rosemond, Parenting By The Book: Biblical Wisdom For Raising Your Child, p.36

Redemption: When Children Do the Unthinkable 

When our children do the unthinkable, like suicide, use and or abuse of drugs or alcohol, dealing drugs, burglarizing homes, or armed robbery – it is one of the most devastating things that a parent can experience. The idea of “who” their child is, a healthy, productive citizen with a good future, has been murdered by a series of poor choices that can only be owned by the child.

And from the parents’ perspective, this is where we can feel the most anxious and want to exercise more control – because our children have free will, and we fear they will not exercise it correctly. This free will is an expression of inherent authority within – which when channeled by strong character, will likely be exercised in productive and valuable ways. However, there are no guarantees. Because of free will there never have been and never will be guarantees.

The bottom line is that parents can do their best to be present in their children’s lives in appropriate ways, providing guidance, direction and instilling and shaping character through discipline and encouragement to “fly right”. And no matter how good or poor job we do, our children ultimately have free will, as we all do, and we are imperfect creatures subject to poor choices led by emotion and lies of the network.

This is why we must not become judgmental, why forgiveness is important, and why we must hold our children accountable for their decisions with consequences, good and bad, to reinforce the right decisions throughout their childhood and as they near the age of majority. This is how we shape character such that our children will be able to recover from their poor choices, which we all make to one degree or another.

This is why redemption is important.

Redemption involves forgiveness, character and community. It requires the individual who offended to own their poor decisions and offenses, repent and stand corrected. And it requires a community that will deliver appropriate consequences and allow the individual to repent and return into society corrected with a future.

However, in the parenting culture we live in, there is so much anxiety about our own children, fueled by fear of being judged as a bad parent, we are loathe to make considerations for the redemption of other peoples’ children who have been caught and or arrested doing things illegal and/or harmful. We judge and yet we fear being judged. It’s a vicious cycle that keeps the children’s secrets and leaves them vulnerable to the manipulations of their peers and the lies of popular culture.

Consequently the norms for what is legal and safe are only voiced to vilify the outted “guilty ones” and do not reinforce daily the good decisions our children do make.

In the fall of 2008, our own community local high school had a sensational story about the soccer team which had a shot at winning the national title. Six or seven of the players were busted having marijuana in their hotel rooms while traveling for tournaments. This was a scandal that hit national news, and the children and parents involved were vilified. The team was decimated and the season came to a tragic end.

At the time this scandal broke, I was working with a booster committee for youth substance abuse prevention on campus, called Citizens Advocating Safe and Healthy Youth (CASHY). Some parents whose children were not involved in the scandal were making incredibly damming statements about the young men involved and their parents. It was as if in their minds these children should be exiled because they were bad seeds. The thought that their own children never have been nor ever could become involved in smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol during a school event was impossible to them. For if they even had an inkling, a hint of a notion that but for the grace of God, they and their children could be on the receiving end of this treatment they were delivering, they would not have cast stones.

This outrage over what was adolescent rebellious activity, and possibly addiction (was my concern), was reinforced to parents everywhere. It is not safe to reveal what you know about what is going on in children’s lives in order to help them make course corrections because our community has no way of dealing with it in a healthy manner that would allow the children to be disciplined appropriately, stand corrected, and move on.

The fear of being judged and that there is no justice in standing corrected has reinforced a code of silence.

Not long after the soccer team marijuana incident, we had an incident of a sophomore  hooked on prescription medication in the school community, and he was sent out of California in order to detox and recover. There was anger about the open way in which the mother shared information about what was going on with kids using prescription drugs. He was not alone. Many parents could not believe that children were involved in prescription drug abuse.

It was clear to me that the code of silence is being reinforced even further – a downward spiral, as there was no safe way to address the risks children are taking with drugs and alcohol without becoming demonized or a scapegoat. This is not good for the children.

The lesson the children learn is: the crime is to get caught.

There is no opportunity to stand corrected. There is no redemption. There is only defending poor choices to deflect consequences. The corruptive thinking that “anything goes” proceeds unabated, unchecked in our children’s peer communities, while the adults remain silent.

Prior to the well-publicized soccer team scandal, there was plenty of evidence that the kids were taking risks. And think about it. Did we really need evidence? We were all teenagers once.

***

My youngest son’s freshman year on campus, an article appeared in the local paper about football players being suspended for a party with alcohol hosted by one of the players while the parents were out of town.

And then in his sophomore year two very alarming articles appeared in the high school newspaper. The first one appeared in March 2007 featuring a 10-year-old girl holding up a jug of whiskey, with the title “Mom Approved?” The entire article featured how underage drinking was ok, and that parents approved it – supported by anecdotes from kids reporting the different ways in which parents have endorsed their consumption of alcohol because it would be safe if it was supervised.

A couple of months later, another article appeared depicting the police being lenient about underage drinking because it was too much hassle to make arrests when they busted up teen parties with over one hundred kids present. The message of the article was as long as you don’t drink alcohol and drive then go for it. Just be safe. When my teenager came home I asked him to read this article. I wanted to know his reaction. After reading it he looked up and said, “The police just want kids to be safe,” he said, “What’s wrong with that?”

I replied, “Two things. First, there is no safe harbor in underage drinking. It leads to very bad decisions with consequences including sexually transmitted diseases, date rapes, violence and fatal alcohol poisoning and car crashes because judgment is severely impaired. Secondly, underage drinking is against the law. Does it make sense to you that this article is promoting the idea that the police are endorsing something that is against the law and ultimately not safe?”

My son rolled his eyes and wondered out loud who would be confronted with my concern about the message of the article, the police or the school administration. In my mind, the school journalists did a great job reporting the truth about the beliefs of the youth culture on campus, and brought attention to the deafening silence of parental wisdom.

That article inspired me to contact the chief of police and join a group of parents and school administrators on campus to address substance abuse among youth in some constructive way.

This concern that the risky conduct of our children would go unchecked and escalate into loss of life or more careers and futures destroyed is happening in communities across our country. During this time, my mother-in-law sent me an article from her community in Northern California, about an unsupervised party where drugs and alcohol were present, ended in the tragic death of a very popular athlete and good student and there was a mystery about what caused his death, but drugs and alcohol were involved. This incident tore apart the school community and the friendships among families involved were destroyed.

To put all of the adolescent risky choices into context, I find comfort in Stormie Omartian’s definition of sin in her book, Seven Prayers That Will Change Your Life Forever (2006, Countryman),:

“The word Sin is an old archery term, meaning to miss the bull’s-eye. Anything other than dead center is sin. So sin in our lives doesn’t just mean robbing a liquor store, murdering someone, or playing cards on Sunday. It’s much more than that. In fact, anything off the center of God’s best and perfect will for our lives is sin. That takes in a lot of territory!” (p.17)

Being off target for the highest and best in our lives is a good way to describe the risky choices teens can make. It’s not supposed to be a “judgy” thing, as we typically treat it in our parent culture today. Rather, catching kids doing things right and wrong is an opportunity to ensure that they stay on course for a healthy and prosperous life.

So when we vilify the kids (and their parents) whose risky choices are known publicly, the message our children get is that there is no possibility of recovery from bad choices. The community will not allow it. We really need to be in a place where we can encourage course correction and give the children hope for returning to the community standing tall and corrected, rather than being labeled “spoiled” and dumped.

This is why God gave us parents – so that when we have fallen, and we will, there is a relationship reflecting God’s love, which has confidence in our ability to suffer the consequences and stand, corrected.

What to do? Trust and Verify

In the fall of 2008, as a part of a substance abuse prevention initiative on my son’s campus organized by boosters, the “Trust and Verify” campaign was launched to encourage parents to become more proactive in ensuring that the choices of their children are legal and safe. The campaign involves leveraging the coaches’ influence to ask parents to do the following:

Activate their parent networks. Know the parents of the children their own child has befriended and establish expectations for curfew and activities free from drugs and alcohol.

Randomly drug test your children. As a safety net, this is recommended to help children say “no” to drugs and alcohol. It is an easy out to say, “My parents test me”.

These two efforts on the part of parents are self-regulatory. The aim of this campaign was to get parents to be more proactive in the prevention of alcohol and drug abuse among our teens. To take care of business at home, so the coaches and teachers can take care of business on campus. There is no requirement to report anything to the school or coaches. Rather, the objective is to ensure that children can receive positive reinforcement for the good decisions they make every day by holding up the norms for what is legal and safe. At the moment, the megaphone of the network culture is dominated by the fringe, the small percentage advocating “new norms” that are beneath our children.

  • Alcohol is not a problem for minors, in fact, binge on – just don’t drive – everyone does it
  • Prescription pills are safe – doctors prescribe them and they are easy to access at home
  • Casual sex is no big deal, just don’t get pregnant.

The “Trust and Verify” campaign was launched in the football community with attendance by over 200 football parents and the head varsity coach. The thinking was that by leading with the football community, who has a very large and active parent base, and deep respect for the coach, there would be success with this launch to take across the entire campus.

The notice below was issued to parents on all football squads:

For the Children: Break the Code of Silence

The Elephant in the Room… The Problem…Many parents consistently report knowledge of other people’s children using drugs and or alcohol, and are reluctant to say anything to their parents – for fear of retribution to their own child at school.

What has developed is a deadly code of silence, wherein the children have come to expect that their secrets will be kept. They will be kept because the adults are afraid to discuss it.

Recent events in our own community reveal an increasing trend for substance abuse among our youth at earlier ages. The Internet and mobile phones and the constant media streams encourage our children to make risky choices every day.

Parents whose children have fallen prey to risky choices agree that communication with your child, and establishing trust with your own child is not enough. Parents, teachers, coaches and administrators must unite with a consistent message that minor’s use of drugs, tobacco and alcohol are harmful, can destroy lives and futures, AND they are illegal.

What to do?

Trust and Verify

Keep No More Secrets; Keep Children Safe.

First Steps Towards Recovering Alignment of Our Values and Actions:

  • Activate your parent networks. This is the network of the parents of your child’s friends. When your child makes plans with friends, contact the parents to verify those plans and affirm expectations about curfew, changes in plans, supervision, etc. By connecting with the other adults in your child’s life, you are creating a safety net that is much needed to help your child deal with the pressures of popular culture.
  • Consider Random “At Home” Drug Testing. Random, “at home” drug testing gives your child and “easy out”. It’s the supreme excuse for saying no to drugs and alcohol – and it sends a signal to others that you are serious about keeping children safe.

***

The Trust and Verify campaign was very well received.

The head coach and I made the presentation on Back to School night in the fall of 2008, requesting everyone to activate their parent networks and share information with respect and care to lift the children above the fray, and hold up the norms for what is legal and safe. We stressed that there is no judging, no telling parents “how to be a parent” – and that since we can all agree on what is legal and safe, we can also get proactive and set limits for our children to enforce norms to the best of our collective ability as a caring community.

Because the children matter, because their futures matter – we are creating a safety net.

The entire gym exploded with applause.

After the presentation, some parents approached me about concerns that children receive serious retribution on campus for parents that say anything to other parents. “It’s already happened to my child,” declared one mother, with an expression of anguish that told me the memory was fresh. Several other parents gathered to express similar concerns. We talked about the possibility of establishing some ground rules, but months later I realized that there would never be enough ground rules to protect everyone from all of the ways we tread on one another when it comes to children and risky choices.

The next day I received numerous emails hailing the meeting as a breath of fresh air, with “thank you!” and “finally!” And the amusing but insightful rumor on campus was that the coach is making parents drug test their children and turn in the results; which was not true.  However, in my view, this rumor expressed the deep desires of the children to have limits set, and relief that there would be a possibility that the adults would step up and address the risky conduct they were witnessing across the campus by taking preventative measures to be present and enforce limits — but not feeling free to confess what they are witnessing to anyone, much less their own parents.

And for those kids who did tell their parents about drug and alcohol abuse, I used to get phone calls asking me to not say where the information came from because it would mean social suicide for their child. There was sincere desperation in their voices, which I understood completely. And the truth of the matter is I could do nothing about it anyway, unless I or my child was directly involved.  All I could do was encourage parents to talk to one another and refrain from gossip. Nevertheless the anecdotal content has been helpful in shaping advocacy efforts for youth substance abuse prevention in our community.

After the Trust and Verify meeting, more parents were dealing directly with one another. I received more calls about how people were doing things differently, and lives were being affected.  And it wasn’t easy. I witnessed some extraordinary courage by parents and children to advance our state of community to a level of caring that required fearless collaboration — not easily mustered. And there would be some instances of retaliation on campus. But the children survived and the parents tell me their children are stronger for it. Eventually truth prevails. And having the “cover of coaches’ request” helped.

At schedule pick up day on campus, as a parent volunteer I manned two tables next to one another, one for the football boosters and the other for CASHY. In between them was a pyramid of drug test kits which the substance abuse prevention committee was selling to accompany the Trust and Verify parenting campaign.

One of the parents purchased a drug test kit for her son – which were in bright shiny yellow bags. She overheard the other kids on his squad commenting, as it didn’t take long for kids to recognize the “drug test kits” on campus.

“Who gave you that?” asked one teammate.

“My mom,” answered her son.

“Why did she buy it for you? You’re not the one who needs it.”

And then the teammates started to name the kids who would need the drug test kit.

After a minute or so one of the teammates declared, “If they make this mandatory, our season is finished.”

The children are living in a world where a parent community giving voice to the norms for what is legal and safe by and large does not exist to support their good choices, and this type of talk reflects that fact. When adults keep secrets, then the limits are no longer present: they are meaningless words and lectures. The children are on their own in their peer worlds, more vulnerable to the risky choices wherein other parents are perhaps also keeping our own children’s secrets.

The applause in the auditorium concluding the Trust and Verify kick off affirmed for me that there is indeed a silent majority that desires to set limits for our children because we care. However, the code of silence has a firm grip and it is a very real force with which to be reckoned.

This code of silence among parents is a stronghold that I know will take faith and persistence to break free from it in any community. Like continuous improvement in manufacturing process – it cannot be completed in one night, or day, year or event. It’s a state of being; a state of mind; it is constant. Trust and Verify Parenting requires forming solidarity around our core values on every front. And having coaches or other key influencers in the community asking for parents’ help to be proactive in communicating with one another (but not tattling) and in doing so recognizing that most of the time our children are making good choices.

Let’s support them.

Months later in a booster committee meeting with some substance abuse prevention folks, a representative from Bodin, a consulting firm for individual education and intervention treatment plans, was astonished to hear me describe the “code of silence” because she was only familiar with that term used in gang communities. There is a type of death that happens when you are outcast by your peers because of something you or your parent has said or done. And in some cases, it escalates into bullying and intimidation that reinforces the notion that parents don’t want to know, so don’t bother telling or they will shoot the messenger. My family has endured this treatment, and I am convinced that it is vital to break the code of silence because all our children, making good and poor choices, need to be held accountable because their lives and choices do matter, especially when there are negative consequences involved.

Privacy and Parental Authority

In addition to the code of silence preventing the expression of the voice of parental authority, we can also confuse trust and faith. Often, our children implore us to “trust them” and not do the parental thing – i.e., check with other parents about where the children are, with whom and when to be expected home. For many, this idea of parents talking with one another about what the kids are up to seems old fashioned or over protective.

In this regard, the distinction between faith and trust is important. If parents are to have custodial influence to reinforce good choices, the idea that children have privacy from parents in the home must be debunked. Kids need to know that trust among humans and human institutions are always verifiable, while faith we place in God because it requires no proof.  By allowing our children to roam in their social circles without verifying that what we expect is actually happening, we are leaving our children vulnerable to enormous pressure and risky circumstances.(See Appendix D, Custodial Networking).

Many parents believe that their connection to their child via a mobile phone is sufficient communication. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mobile phones afford our children maximum exposure to drugs, alcohol and exploitive sex.

The world our children navigate offers an exposure to drugs and alcohol hyped in cyber communications and witnessed off-line on campus and social gatherings. The network culture amplifies things that sound good but are not true such as it is ok to drink underage, just don’t drive; or prescription drugs are legal and safe because doctors prescribe it, it is easy for our children to become caught up in beliefs that are dangerous and beneath them.

Accordingly, law enforcement officials encourage parents to understand that their children do not have legal rights to privacy from parents in the home. In fact, it is the job of the parent to be in their minor child’s business. It is the protective cover of parental authority over a minor that is needed as a safety net on many fronts, including confronting the drug culture every day. “Parents need to understand that your child’s room belongs to you, not to the child,” said Sheriff Ed Bonner, Placer County. “There was a time when children had to come to a parent for information and access to resources. Today that is no longer the case and the parents need to be on top of what is going on in their children’s lives.”

In his book, High Society: How Substance Abuse Ravages America and what to do About It (2007, Public Affairs), Joseph Califano explores the drug culture in America revealing roots and beliefs as far back as the founding of the country. One key message is that parental influence is the most critical to children leading healthy lives into adulthood, unaltered by drugs and alcohol – impacting their futures.

“Underage drinking and marijuana use are not just a teen problem. They’re a parent problem as well. Many parents are enablers of their children’s alcohol and drug abuse. Over the course of a seven-year study of the class of 2005 at Staples High School in the Connecticut gold coast town of Westport, students repeatedly told Columbia University researcher Suniya Luthar that their parents were “way more tolerant of substance abuse” than of behavior such as rudeness, academic failure, and stealing. Too many parents had a ‘kids will be kids’ attitude about their children’s drug use, not appreciating how quickly casual use can escalate to serious consequences if they use drugs. Parental disapproval, she stressed, is ‘the one variable that will make a difference.’ Almost half the Staples students saw their parents as permissive or uninvolved.” (pp.46-47)

It’s difficult for many of us to fully appreciate how much pressure and influence the drug culture presents today, especially to young minds, because we have grown up in it – and young people are the primary targets for purveyors of drugs and alcohol. Many parents struggle with the dilemma that they are feeling like hypocrites, frowning on alcohol or drug (marijuana) use because their youth involved substance use/abuse of some kind. And some parents really don’t believe there is any harm in underage drinking and marijuana use. They are more fearful of “street drugs” like crack or heroin.

There are two problems with this thinking. The truth is that as parents, we are role models first, which means that we hold out for the highest and best for our children, regardless of what we did in our youth. Hopefully we are not permitting and promoting every stupid or illegal thing we may have done in our past. The important thing is to reserve judgment, but hold the line on correction and restoration if our children fall into drug or alcohol use and abuse.

Secondly, the drug culture today is very different from our adolescent days. The marijuana is more potent, and the kids are binging (extreme drinking).  And with the rise of prescription drug abuse among youth who gather it from the medicine cabinets in our homes, the modern “drug addict” looks a lot like your child.

It’s really not about us, it’s about the health and future of our children.

According to Califano, the hope is that if our children can reach 21 years of age without using or abusing drugs and alcohol, they are likely to live lives free from substance abuse.

“Before graduating high school every American child will be offered the opportunity to smoke, drink, get drunk, and get high on inhalants, marijuana, or other illegal or prescription drugs. Most girls and boys will get such offers many times, from classmates, friends, older siblings, usually beginning in middle school.

The choice these kids make may be the most important decision of their lives.

Why?

Because a child who gets through age twenty-one without smoking, using illegal drugs, or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so.

All the drug pushers – from illegal street dealers and Columbian cartel bosses to unscrupulous bodega retailers and tobacco and alcohol industry executives – understand this…

Most adults can trace their substance abuse demons to their adolescent years. Two-thirds of patients entering treatment for drug dependency were already abusing illegal drugs in their teens, before they had graduated high school or dropped out. More than nine of ten adult smokers were hooked before reaching twenty-one. Teen drinking is the number one feeder of adult alcoholism, and children who start to drink before age fifteen are four times likelier to become alcoholics than those who don’t drink before they turn twenty-one.” (pp.37-38)

***

Prior to my youngest son’s graduation from high school, I became a founding member of the Coalition for Placer Youth  which was formed in the summer of 2008 out of a county-wide grass roots effort to partner with school officials, law enforcement and concerned parents to promote a “substance abuse free” culture and community that reinforces the norms for what is legal and safe.

CPY is a community-wide response to the alarming statistics and real-life hometown experiences of youth alcohol and drug abuse. U.C. Davis Medical Center Trauma Center reports a 30% increase in alcohol-induced life threatening events of kids between 12-17 years of age from 2004-2007. During this same period, the trauma center reported a 60% increase of incidents in the ER by youth 12-17 years of age intoxicated with blood alcohol levels from .13 in 2004 to .16 in 2007.

Volunteers of the coalition, including law enforcement, educators, medical professionals, parents and teens, have witnessed and experienced first hand how the drug and alcohol culture amplified in “friend communities” of children, and endorsed by the few parents who permit and/or encourage it (as indicated in the high school newspaper articles referenced earlier), have wrecked lives and destroyed futures.  We participated in this effort because our youth needed to hear the voice of wisdom expressed in constructive, positive and sincere ways.

In the Fall of 2009, CPY was awarded a federal grant from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy recently awarded a local Placer County coalition $625,000 for a period of five years. Working in partnership with the Placer County Department of Mental Health, the grant is funding education and awareness for promoting the grass roots vision for a healthy community free of substance abuse. “Community” is the operative word here, because we cannot expect our children to have a journey into adulthood free of addiction and death if the community does not support it.

Since formation, CPY has organized community forums and engaged youth to talk to the adult audiences about their experiences with drugs and alcohol, and the importance of the parent role.  These forums were very informative and insightful. The advice from youth who abused substances as well as those who did not is consistent:

They want parents to be involved in their lives in ways that support their independence and provide guidance – not oppressive.

  • Don’t assume that because your child hangs out with the kids who earn good grades or are the top athletes that there are no drugs or alcohol involved.
  • Also don’t assume that because a friend is using drugs or alcohol that (s)he is doing it.
  • Know your child and have honest conversations about your concerns.

Fear-based, knee-jerk reactions are a turn off and will shut down communications. Giving your child a chance to explain what happened to get at the truth will open a channel to explore next steps for the best interest of your child and your family – including counseling and medical help if necessary.

When we don’t have conversations about expectations for kids to be drug and alcohol-free, our children treat our silence as condoning – whether they use or not, our silence sends a signal.

Having gleaned this insight from youth in the community forums, in the fall of 2010 CPY launched a “proactive parenting” presentation being offered to schools and parent groups at no charge. This presentation arms parents with the insights and inspiration needed to maintain open communication and strong leadership with their children about the very real pressures they experience on campus and in their social circles. The presentation talks about parents “taking a STAND” for the sake of the children:

  • SSecure, monitor, dispose (drugs and alcohol at home)
  • TKeep in Touch with your teen
  • ADon’t provide alcohol for teen parties
  • NNetwork with other parents
  • DDrug test your teen

“I wish parents could realize our children live with enormous pressure, and this could easily be their child,” said Kris Allen, a Roseville, California resident and member of CPY who is planning to schedule a presentation with the parents of her teenage daughter’s peers.

In addition, CPY formed a subcommittee active in addressing youth prescription drug abuse. A current youth trend involves taking pain killers from medicine cabinets at home and abusing them for recreation and/or self medication. CPY lead a very successful campaign to by promoting National Take Back Day September 25, 2010, staged by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to prevent medication abuse and theft by collecting expired, unused, and unwanted medications from homes.

“The take-back effort consisted of 12 drop-off locations across Placer County, and more than 4,000 sites in all 50 states. More than 3,300 pounds of prescription drugs were collected at the 12 Placer County locations. That equated to more than 14.1 percent of the 24,725 pounds collected in California. Nationally, more than 242,000 pounds were collected. All medications collected were incinerated.

On October 13, 2010, President Obama signed the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act into law. This law allows DEA to create a permanent solution for disposing of prescription drugs in a safe and responsible manner every day. Until this solution is finalized and in place, DEA plans to continue having one-day take-back events like the one held on September 25th.” Source: CPY Press Release November 10, 2010.

In my experience over the past five years, youth substance abuse prevention is a matter of heart and mind – it requires rapport wherein children believe they matter at home, on campus and in the community at large. When children are not anchored in a culture of wisdom that reinforces they are too important and their futures are too precious to risk and/or squander on drugs and alcohol, they are subject to the whims and beliefs of popular culture that are beneath them.

And it is worth repeating that then, even then – there are no guarantees. It is not a matter of good parenting or bad parenting – it’s a matter of character, free will and the grace of God. All we can do is create a home and community environment that encourages and supports the healthy choices made every day.

And if our children fall into addiction, never give up on them.

In the voices of two young people in recovery from drug addiction, we can hear the elements of faith and character instilled by their families – a source of strength in the fight to escape the “dark pit” – as one of the moms explains.

Two very insightful voices of teenagers, one who grew up in Rocklin, California (now 25 years old serving 13 years in Folsom prison for armed robbery) and another now 18 years old in Ft. Meyers, Florida, who was arrested for drug trafficking at 16 years of age, both came from stable homes with two parents, in tact marriages, and traditional family values, demonstrate how faith and character are vital for not only survival, but for victory and redemption.

Both started smoking pot in their early teen years. Both are in recovery and have taken responsibility for their actions, and are demonstrating a breadth and depth of character that is possible by the grace of God. They have futures now because they have found their authority within to express their true voice – to make new choices and redirect their paths one day at a time.

As a result, they have emerged from the dark places they traveled, with a resolve about what is right and wrong and a commitment to live their lives in the light, not with secrets in the dark.

It has been an amazing experience having conversations with these two young men, who articulate their values with confidence and conviction. They have parents who have forgiven and who are willing to let go of the past, including their own expectations of who their children would become, and embrace their futures. These young people have taken the reigns of their lives and I believe are destined to do great things to contribute to their communities and society.

Their stories illustrate why parents must never give up hope for their children’s futures, how these particular children were blessed with parents who instilled core values which they could rely upon to rise out of the pit of despair and move toward a path of redemption with a bright future.

Ryan’s Story

Jeff’s Story

***

Why forgiveness matters

As evidenced by the recovery stories of Ryan and Jeff, the topic of forgiveness is important because in a world with free will, we are always at risk of offending one another. Whether the transgressions are big or small, it is inevitable and frequent. And each individual has the inherent authority to forgive. Each one of us must decide whether to release the emotional bonds of anger and resentment, or not.

More on forgiveness and why it’s a power thing.

***

The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture – A Parent’s Voice in the Cyber Wilderness

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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna (jullien@surewest.net) and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.

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