By Lisa Gibalerio
Like most people, I sometimes worry about things I can’t control.
A few bad headaches in a row can leave me with a niggling fear that I may have a brain tumor. When I’m traveling on the highway with a car full of kids, I can become anxious that someone in another vehicle will text or will have had too much to drink. I worry about the cost of college, about a possible war with Syria, about ticks finding their way to me as I weed my garden.
It’s true that I can’t control most of the things that I sometimes worry about. But – and here’s the rub – I also can’t completely control the fact that I worry about them. The anxiety itself is sometimes beyond my control.
Anyway, as a parent of teens and pre-teens, this question of control has been pressing on my mind lately.
Last week – just as I was reading in the Boston Globe about the young woman from Derry, NH who died of a drug overdose at a Boston club – I got an email from a friend of mine. She was clearly distressed. She had caught her 17-year-old smoking pot.
As she wrote to me:
“I am furious. I have talked to him his whole life about drugs and I guess he doesn’t give a damn about what I said. I took his computer and phone away that second. If this isn’t nipped in the bud right now, if he doesn’t get the message right now – who knows where this could lead? I told him next time I will call the police myself. I truly don’t think I am getting through to him, but I don’t want a kid with a drug problem.”
My friend is a woman who does not have much support in life, and specifically, on the home front. She is a hard worker; employed, enrolled in school with the goal of improving her employment opportunities, raising the kids. In her email, I heard concern, fear, and a sense of desperation at the fact that she knows she ultimately cannot control this situation. If a 17-year-old decides to smoke weed – or drink alcohol or whatever – there is not a lot a parent can do to prevent this from happening. At a certain point, we are no longer in the driver’s seat.
When our children are little, we execute control where we can. We purchase the best car seats and bike helmets we can afford, we place balanced meals before them, we sunblock them on sunny days, we stress the importance of flossing.
Unfortunately, just as the stakes get higher, we begin to lose some control.
My 15-year-old has begun to go to movies and other social events with his peers, in other words, he’s going off with teen drivers. How do I know these young drivers will drive cautiously? I don’t know; I can’t control it. How can I be sure said drivers won’t text or drink while driving? I can’t be sure; I am not in control.
I told my friend she is doing what she can to ensure a healthy outcome for her son. The consequences were swift and, in his case, meaningful. After a lifetime of education, she made her expectations clear and set the tone of zero tolerance.
What more can she do?
My sister uses a “home invasion” metaphor for parenting teens in these high stake areas. Her metaphor goes something like this:
“You can’t control it. If someone wants to break into your house, he will. But, you do everything you can to make it more difficult for an intruder. You lock windows and doors, use an automatic timed light, leave the radio on, etc. In other words, ultimately, you can’t control the outcome, but you can make it more challenging for the would-be robber to access your home.”
It’s similar with our teens. We provide a steady flow of education, put up roadblocks in the form of curfews and making our expectations clear, enforce consequences when things go wrong and then start the process over again.
I guess the same applies for those other worries of mine. I’ll exercise what little control I can and hope for the best.
And we all thought the toddler years were draining.