How the ‘alpha’ cyber parent keeps children drug-and-alcohol-free

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Cyber Tuesday on The Fish 103.9FM Family Morning Show

Dr. Angela Chanter, Co-Director of Therapeutic Solutions 360 and Co-Founder of Full Circle Treatment Center in Roseville.

Dr. Angela Chanter, Co-Director of Therapeutic Solutions 360 and Co-Founder of Full Circle Adolescent Services in Roseville, treats youth with mental health issues, including recovery from addiction, as a family matter.

Her patients suffering from anxiety, depression and drug addiction and their families are not protected by healthy incomes and affluent life styles. “When parents who care deeply about their children ask me how much money it will take to help their child get well, I explain that it is more a matter of personal investment on their part to engage and understand their role in the healing.”

Chanter observes that the issue of bonding with teens is a matter of navigating injury, or rough patches, kids experience during adolescence as they begin to separate from mom and dad.

Pre-teens and teens may express their feeling of injury by withdrawing or expressing hostility to any parent attention. Often there is confusion between private and secret, and trust and faith. Children expect to have privacy from parents (which permits risky secrets), and they equate trust as an expression of affection or esteem, much like we place our faith in God.

Who is the “alpha”? Parent or child?

So parents need to first be clear about their role as the custodian.  As the guardian they have a responsibility to know their child’s business and respect their privacy, but not grant it. There is a difference. Respecting their privacy means that you do not share inappropriately with others that which is personal and is not your story to share without permission.

According to Chanter, when parents give in to the pressure to grant privacy and blind trust because their teenagers are so capable and independent, there is tremendous risk.

“If the parent doesn’t navigate that injury and disconnects, then the teen is left emotionally alone and gives cause to feeling like they are the ‘3rd parent’ and entitled to be independent [thus] causing parents to [then] react harshly or to disconnect further,” Chanter said. “The interesting back side to too much independence is underlying anxiety that the youth are ‘bigger’ than their parents. Kids need alpha parents who honor the wisdom their children do possess, [and who] set clear and fair expectations.”

According to Chanter, being present in their child’s world on and off line is required in order to better understand your child and to be intelligent about communicating with him.  “Knowing their [SnapChat], Instagram, Twitter, texting, and email accounts, and all that is newly surfacing in the [social network], is a place parents need to understand with regard to how the applications work and have access to view their child’s communication.”

Why the children may not be alright

Jodie Stevens with Dr. Angela Chanter (center) and Lisa Daggs, taping an episode of “Reality Check” radio show that airs Sunday nights on The Fish 103.9FM. Dr. Chanter talks about the importance of parents being the “alpha” in the parent/child relationship.

Rocklin resident, Jodie Stevens, the hostess of The Family Morning Show on The Fish 103.9FM, is in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. She co-hosts with Lisa Daggs, a recovery radio show called “Reality Check” that airs on The Fish Sunday nights, 7 p.m.  “My parents were very good at providing all of my material needs, in addition great scholastic opportunities. They encouraged sports and other extra curricular activities. They worked very hard to make sure we had the finer things”, Stevens said. “But there was little if any discussion about character, sex education, religion, values, politics, feelings, and ethics.”

According to Stevens, having everything provided for her made delayed gratification, which is an important life skill, very difficult. “My parents were primarily concerned with providing us material things,” Stevens said. “And I think that my Mom was so concerned about providing for us and making us happy that she was almost afraid to discipline.”

Stevens’ experience is a timeless portrait of how it is possible to miss the mark with our children no matter how hard we work and how good our intentions. Children from affluent homes are indeed experiencing issues associated with mental health crises and drug addiction.

Alan Baker, of Granite Bay, California
Co-Chair for the Coalition for Placer Youth Steering Committee

Alan Baker is the Co-Chair of the Steering Committee for the Coalition for Placer Youth, devoted to youth substance abuse prevention strategies for families and communities. “The culture of affluence provides the material needs and wants of children, but can pose a challenge by giving parents a false sense of security,” Baker said. “Children wind up getting deeper into addiction. There is a delay in getting help because there is a tendency to deny evidence of use and abuse and the denial is reinforced by the family shame associated with drug addiction.”

According to CPY local survey data of Placer County youth, the average age of first use of alcohol and drugs is 13. “For the most part kids are making good decisions every day,” Baker said. “So let’s support them by holding up the norms for what is legal and safe.”

In plain sight

Kathie Sinor is a health educator at Granite Bay High School and a member of the Coalition for Placer Youth Steering Committee. “I work with ninth graders, and there is tremendous stress and anxiety over their futures as they believe they must succeed exactly like mom or dad,” Sinor said. “Children need to learn coping skills to handle stress in a healthy way, or they are at risk of self-medicating to treat anxiety and depression.”

Kathie Sinor, Health Educator at Granite Bay High School in Granite Bay, Ca.

Compounding the lack of life experience to overcome stress and adversity, youth in affluent homes have easy access to prescription pain pills and alcohol. “One of the predominant trends in our county is prescription pill addiction which can lead to heroin,” Baker said. A Press Tribune article on July 19, 2013 details a June arrest of a heroin dealer in a middle class neighborhood in Roseville that brings this problem to light.  “The perception is that heroin addiction is something that only happens in poorer communities.”  (To schedule a parent talk about prevention strategies for your home go to: Coalition for Placer Youth).

Debbie Simpson, of Lincoln, knows all too well the agonizing pitfall of an abundant supply of prescription pain pills in affluent society, as her youngest son, Steven (23 years old) is in recovery from addiction to drugs that started when he was 15 years old with prescription pain pills issued to him.

Steven was an ‘A’ student, doing well in AP classes, an accomplished athlete, and had plenty of friends.  “At that time I was CEO of my own company and my husband is successful in the financial industry,” Simpson said. “We had plenty of money and we gave the kids too much because we could. It was a way of easing my feeling of guilt that so much of my attention was devoted to the business.”

Debbie Simpson, of Lincoln, Ca., with her son Joseph, who invented the world’s smallest safe to create a prescription pill bottle with a combination lock, in response to his younger brother’s drug addiction that started with pain pills available at home. Check out: The Locking Cap.

According to Simpson, Steven’s addiction was kept hidden during high school, and it wasn’t until he went to college that they realized something was wrong.  In an effort to help prevent other teens and families from falling into the pit of addiction, Steven’s older brother, Joseph, invented the world’s smallest safe to function as a prescription pill bottle with a combination lock on top. To learn more and order: The Locking Cap.

Teen drug addiction prevention has become the Simpson family mission. “Our teens are not educated about the dangers of prescription medication,” Simpson said. “They believe it is safe because they are issued by doctors. And I as a parent didn’t believe drug addiction could happen to any of my children because they are all good kids.”

And so it remains that no matter where you live and how much income you have, the human condition is fragile and requires healthy bonding and relationships in order to be resilient and secure in a world that is full of uncertainty and adversity.

Not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 1Peter 5:3

Tips to be the ‘alpha’ parent

  • Check your own motivation as a parent. Are you aiming to be “liked”, to avoid confrontation and discomfort? Do you expect to have control over your child to keep her safe? Or are you aiming to instill discipline with a compassionate heart for your child’s freedom; freedom from the manipulation of the device, the drug, and the bully? To learn more go to: Fresh Start.
  • Staying in the parenting lane on-line means: lurk only mode.
  • Pick your moments to “like” something your child posts or shares, and do it infrequently. It is their social network, and you are not their friend. You are their guardian.
  • In person, “like” the things about your child that reflect the quality of character you seek to instill, such as honesty, compassion, and kindness.
  • If you catch your child posting things or engaging in communication that is not in alignment with your family values, then correct him off line and give your child an opportunity to turn it around and stand corrected.
  • Wireless connectivity enables children to access all manner of social network apps which do not require parental consent or notification. The most important connection between the parent and child, therefore, is in the domain of hearts and minds bonded around beliefs and values. Your family culture is the most important connection of all.

How to know if your child is using or abusing drugs and alcohol

Over the past decade of fieldwork exploring how the network culture impacts family life, I have learned some things from our youth.  One of the most profound things that teens have shared with me regarding substance abuse is that parents should never assume.

When we are acting on assumptions, we are not relating. And in not relating, we are leaving our children isolated and vulnerable to relating to the risky beliefs and values such as getting high. That said, let us consider the art of knowing whether your child is engaged in substance abuse as discussed below.

Know your child, their interests and concerns.

According to Chanter, knowing your child’s music and friends is a “huge window into their inner world”. Even if parents don’t appreciate the same music, it is crucial to see music as an expression from their child and if the music is too disrespectful from the family culture, removing it before it is grounded in their lives is important.

“If your child has a rhythm with friends and school and sport and hobby and you are connected to them in their world, then you would know. It is as simple as that,” Chanter said. “Stay connected to your child and if they pull away with premature independence and secrecy, then you have to have your finger on the pulse and get inside.”

Listen. Our children’s childhoods are informing them very differently than those of the previous generations. The best way to really listen to your child, so they know that you “get them” is to get interested in who they are and what is happening in their lives. Do not minimize their problems; do not try to manage their preferences. Let them do most of the talking.

Establish that trust is always verifiable; while faith is reserved for God.

“It is a difficult dance between invasion of privacy and connection,” Chanter said. “A beautiful family value of drug-and-alcohol-free living for youth, with clear consequences for experimental use and abuse, and a policy of drug testing as establishing ‘trust points’ will give youth two gifts. One, they will be able to reject using because ‘their parents are freaks and drug test them so they can’t use,’ and two, if they do use they will be caught with proof and then the family can determine how to address that youth as an individual and [together] learn how to navigate this very difficult issue.”

If you discover your child using drugs or alcohol, or have strong suspicions, do not panic. It is an opportunity to learn something about your child, get support, and deepen bonds.  For parents or teens who have more questions, contact Dr. Chanter at:

Parent Resources



Joanna Jullien
(Photo: Christi Benz)

Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM, Tuesdays. Her next book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media will be released in the fall 2013.



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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna ( 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.