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Seven Critical Questions for Teens: Question #6

May 6, 2012

The 6th critical question for teens from Jeffrey Leiken ( is one that can dramatically impact their lives:  What role will alcohol, drugs and sex play in my life?  Now this one is a game changer.  At-risk behavior like drug /alcohol use and sexual activity are very closely tied to a teens’ view of self.  If my view of self is negative, then I am much more vulnerable to trying at-risk behavior in order to feel better.  It comes down to the self identity that a teen forms.

Here’s the good news and the bad news from tons of research: the #1 factor that influences identity in teenagers is their relationship with their own father. As someone who has worked in schools for the past twenty years, the correlation between teen behavior and relationship to father is quite obvious. I have not met a ton of kids who are really messed up that have a great relationship with their father and on the other hand, I have not met a ton of kids who are really together, who have a terrible relationship with their father.

So, it appears that our kids involvement with sex, drugs and alcohol is related to our work as fathers.  Here are three tips to help on the journey:

1.    Talk to your kids early and often about sex, drugs and alcohol.  Start in elementary school and build the conversation through high school.  Remember, the car is a great place to talk to your teen about these tough subjects.

2.   Take a definite stand on the issues.  Do not fall into the trap of, “I smoked pot in high school, so I a cannot say anything to my kid.”  YES, you can!!!  You are an adult now, not a kid.  You need to speak from wisdom, not from history.  Your kids do not have to make all the same mistakes that you made.  None of us live lives that are perfectly aligned to our values, that is not an excuse to keep our mouths shut.

3.  If/When your kids screw up, talk in terms of growth and lessons moving forward, rather than shame and guilt inducing lectures.  This is tough, because when our kids screw up, it is tempting to verbally pound them.  Yes, it feels good to unload, but does it accomplish your ultimate goal?  Always protect your long-term relationship with your teen.

Dads, there are high stakes on this one.  When we have solid relationships with our teens, good things tend to happen in the areas of sex, drug and alcohol.  When our relationships grow cold or nonexistent, we open the door wider to risky behavior.  Our kids want to know who they are and if we do not tell them, they will search for other people/activities to fill the void.  Fathers matter and that’s a good thing!!!

Patrick Donohue is a Life Coach in Oak Park, IL.  If you would like a complementary session to see if coaching is for you, click on the link  Sessions can be done in person, on the phone or via skype.

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