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There’s No Foolproof Way to Raise Teens: Warning Signs of Trouble

Before she checked out, the mom exclaimed: “I can’t believe his drug test was dirty. He promised me he would never use drugs!”

In my husband’s private pediatric practice, I’d heard these comments frequently. I’m one of his medical assistants, as well as a mother and a pastor. And, in each instance of a parent groaning in dismay, there’s another parent with a judgmental comment ready to bite.

In this case, the eavesdropping parent was next in line and quick to offer a self-satisfied smile before she checked out. “Too bad some parents don’t know how to raise kids. I know that if you raise them with strong Christian values, they don’t make bad choices. I, for one, blame the parents,” she continued. “You know what I mean, don’t you? Why, you and the doctor have raised honor students. You must be so proud!”

True, we’d raised honor students. Never mind that our youngest honors student accomplished two years of high school in one semester because she was using drugs and rarely slept! I thought she was both hormonal and driven. How many times did I look the other way and miss the warning signs, believing that surely she wouldn’t lie to me?

That was until things got very suspicious. Allow me to explain.

Warning Signs Right Under My Nose

One time, when I washed the window in her room, the screen pushed completely through. It had been slit, with perfect precision, around three sides to allow access to the great outdoors. When I asked her about it, she said that Chance, her cat, had slit it with his nails! That’s right – the cat that was declawed on the front. (It will never cease to amaze me the stories that teens try to convince us are fact.) In my naiveté, I merely responded with putting window gates over her screen, thinking she would know that I was on to her and not try to test me again.

One night, we’d said goodnight and had been to bed for about a half hour when a loud, rattling sound permeated the vent in our room. What in the world?

I grabbed my robe and a vase, just in case, and quietly slipped out the door. No intruder would meet me unprepared! When I flipped on the hall light and looked toward the noise, I saw my daughter’s rear end stuck in the window opening with her legs flapping up and down trying to push through. I watched in disbelief as she broke through and fell out the window. I ran to the front door, ran outside, and met her as she fell to the ground. A car out front screeched away.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Huh?” she queried, as she brushed dust from her pajama pants. “Oh, hi Mom. I was just coming out for some fresh air.”

“That’s weird,” I replied. “When I want fresh air, I usually go out the door!”

She was slowly walking toward something on the ground to her left: a pack of cigarettes just waiting to be grabbed. Grab them, I did.

“How’d these get here?” I asked.

“Someone drove by and threw them, I guess,” she said, with a defensive look that begged to be challenged. I didn’t know whether to laugh at the bizarre situation or cry with the realization that she was obviously smoking.

“Well, since none of us smoke, I’ll just throw these out,” I said, and into the house I went, followed by my daughter, who couldn’t figure out if she was in trouble. It was when I took them to the sink and soaked the pack with water that I saw how desperately she tried to appear as if she didn’t care.

It eventually came out that her childhood friend had brought them to her, always her savior, and that all of her friends were smoking by then.

Had I been more aware of her desire to push the limits, maybe I would have been more alarmed by the warning signs.

And I might have expected that it wouldn’t stop with cigarettes, but could escalate to marijuana, then cocaine, and eventually, to my beautiful daughter developing into a full-blown meth addict.

Remember the lady with all the answers in my office, the one who relied so completely on raising kids with Christian values? Well, just for the record, all of my teen’s friends at the time attended our church youth group.

There is no foolproof way to stop your teens from making bad choices. With some kids, open dialogue is enough, but with others, a higher level of awareness is in order. No parent wants to believe that their child is making bad decisions. Sometimes, their choices are exactly that. Theirs.

Cookie Leonardelli is a senior pastor and the author of You’ve Got to be Kidding!, her first published work. Leonardelli lives in New Mexico with her husband of more than 30 years, her extended family, two dogs, two cats, and a wild rabbit, named Rupert.

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