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(Photo courtesy of Story Images)

If my kids go to one more funeral of someone they know, I'm going to shoot myself and then my kids will have to go to my funeral.  Seriously.  My 22-year-old daughter went to three funerals this summer alone.  Count them:  THREE FUNERALS.  One of her good friends said at the last one, "Could someone please get married so we could go to a wedding for once?"

Each one of my four children has been to half a dozen funerals each.  I find this stunning.  Honestly, I am more than twice their age and the only person I knew from high school who died, passed away from an undetected heart abnormality in his thirties.

All three of the premature deaths of my daughters' friends were due to a combination of alcohol and prescription pills.  A fourth one died last spring after accidentally overdosing on Poppy tea leaves he'd ordered from an Internet source.  (Did you know that over 100,000 Americans die a year from prescription drugs?  That’s more than twice as many who die in car accidents.)

My daughter dryly told me, "Yeah, just call our generation, "Generation RX".

And where exactly are these kids getting their hands on the OxyContin, the Percocet, the Valium, the Xanax?  Uh huh.  You guessed it.  Their parent's medicine cabinets.

A couple of years ago I went to the home of one of my clients.  When I'm working with families, it helps me to see the physical environment, the space in which families spend so much of their time.  She was showing me her master bathroom and a medicine cabinet was open.  I couldn't help but see multiple prescription bottles.  The woman had four teenage boys and I told her, "You should lock these up.  One of your boys or one of their friends will find them, I guarantee it.  You really should keep these in a safe and private place."

She scoffed at me.  "Oh my sons and their friends would never do that!"  Okay, I'm not a pushy person (well, that's not true but I wasn't in this case).  After all, I'm not God and I'm no psychic so I let it be.  Not surprisingly, a month later she confessed that some of the painkillers were gone.  

One of my children recently complained to me that her high school educated about the dangers of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and heroin (and speaking of heroin...it's made a comeback in this college town.  Kids are sniffing it like glue).  But they teach nothing about the dangers of prescription drugs, and especially the potentially lethal combination of alcohol and pills.

Is this unique to Boulder, an affluent college town?  Or this a more universal trend?  As parents are aging, we are relying more and more on pain pills, tranquilizers (Lord knows I've used those!) and muscle relaxers.

I'm making no indictment on this younger generation; my focus is on the parents who are in denial.  The parents who say, "My Susie would never do that."  I've sat with many parents who are adamant that their teenagers aren't having sex, drinking or doing drugs and all I can say to them is, "If you believe that, then you are doing a great disservice to your child.  If you honestly believe that your child is doing none of those things, then chances are you have a child who has gone underground, a child who lies."

There is nothing more dangerous to a teenager than a parent who refuses to see the reality that is going on around them.  

Years ago when my oldest son was 17, one of his best friends almost died from an overdose of alcohol and passing out in a hot tub.  His drunken friends (my son was not one of them but could have been) were too out of it to notice.  Eventually someone became aware and he was rushed to the hospital where they fought hard to revive him.  They succeeded but he spent five days in the hospital, so close to death was he.

After this happened, we had a large group of the friends of our two teenage sons and their parents over to our home. One of the parents was a forensic investigator of fatal car accidents.  We had a long dining room table and the man with the gruesome job placed the recent pictures of a teenager who had been decapitated in a car accident, spurred on by a combination of alcohol and pain pills.  Viewing the pictures was optional, but most of the young men solemnly went around the table, staring at the pictures in shocked silence.

The boys sat down and we talked to them in earnest.  We told them we knew they were teenagers, we knew that rebellion and experimentation were a normal part of being a teenager.  We reminded them that we had been teenagers once.  We told them we weren't there to lecture, judge or scold.  Our only goal was that they stay alive.

So we came up with realistic plans.  Call a cab, call us.  We won't question, we won't judge.  The surprising thing was that every boy expressed that there was no way in hell they would ever call their parents.   They couldn't stomach the thought of their parents seeing them drunk or high.  So we readjusted the plan.  Call a cab, call another parent, call a sober friend.  Call anyone and stay alive.  

They did.  

This is one of the many reasons why parenting isn't for sissies.  For one to truly be a good parent, the wise parent knows they cannot control, hover, or restrict to obsession.  Oh but the line is a faint one for the wise parent who also knows the need for boundaries, consequences and accountability.

The tricky task of parenting a teenager is to know how loose to keep the rope.  The painful work is to learn to let go, release and allow life to teach once they've said what they could say, educate, and inform.  I don't imagine there are too many parents of teenagers who are atheists.

If you're the parent of a teenager, keep your eyes wide open.  Denial serves nobody and in the case of a teenager, it's downright dangerous.

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Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Cynthia Schmidt wrote Aug 26, 2010
    • Thank you for bringing this up! We see it on Maui, too. My husband and I have nothing in our medicine cabinet. The only thing I take is an asthma inhaler every day and Joe doesn’t even go to the doc for anything - and he’s 60! But his 29 year old daughter has run the gammut with prescriptions she’s been given by her doc. It’s horrifying!



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Rebecca60 wrote Aug 27, 2010
    • I have written a book , "Generation RX, Kids on Pills, A Parent's guide" on this subject- It is a very real concern.  

      I see kids coming in both in my private practice and at the methadone clinic who didnt realize that their oxys and percs are the same to their body as heroin.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Vikki Hall wrote Aug 28, 2010
    • Scary!
      Both of my daughters know kids their age that have died from various preventable things.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Suzann wrote Sep 1, 2010
    • Great blog, Mary. And Term, at least your daughter is okay. Tough price for dear Aunt Pam to pay, and she is in my prayers.



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