May We Never Forget
By Shane Watson
Photo by Aiden Chapparone
Each week I speak to groups of parents and school faculty members about substance abuse prevention. During the presentation, there’s a particular slide that often seems to get a significant reaction from those in attendance. It’s based on research findings from the Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. The slide shows a disconnect between parents and kids when it comes to the idea of children using drugs to cope with stress.
A mere seven percent of parents believe their child would use drugs to cope with stress. Meanwhile, 73% of kids with substance abuse issues attribute their drug use to stress. Those statistics, in and of themselves, show a significant misunderstanding. However, the reaction that often follows the revelation of those stats only further illustrates the misunderstanding.
Upon seeing the slide, a lot of parents ask, “Stress? What stress?” After all, we’re the ones working late, paying the bills, making dinner, driving the kids to and from school and practice, dealing with traffic, worrying about money, and wrestling with life’s other major responsibilities. We’re the ones responsible for keeping our family safe and providing for them.
While this is all true, it doesn’t make a child’s stress any less real to them. Do you remember what it felt like to be a kid? Do you remember what it was like during those awkward years, when you hadn’t yet formed a self-identity and desperately wanted to fit in? Can you recall how much gravity the words of your peers had? For some of us, those words carried so much weight, they felt like they had the ability to break us.
Keep in mind, we’re talking about these things happening to those who lack the wisdom, knowledge, and self-confidence that come with experience. As adults, we can pass the stress we encounter through those filters we’ve acquired. They allow us to take things in stride, to take things with a grain of salt, and to know who we are in the face of adversity.
Communication is a major part of the solution to many of life’s problems, and an important aspect of communication is the willingness and ability to understand the other person’s perspective. An effective way to attempt to understand your child’s perspective is to put yourself in their shoes, and consider how you would have felt at their age and in their situation.
Take yourself back to that age, that grade, and the feelings which surrounded them. Even if for a moment, recapture those feelings. It will be a quick bridge to empathy, and a start down the road to better understanding.
While it may be hard to bring it all back to the surface this many years later, may we never forget.