Regarding Mommie Fearest, who wants to keep her kids off drugs and alcohol, you dropped the ball on this one, Mr. Right ("Mother or Smother," May 18, 2007). Yeah, she may be a little uptight, but she's still trying to do the right thing. Somehow, "Relax, good luck, get over it" doesn't constitute much of a response. You're not a parent, are you?
How did I help my two daughters through their stupid years? By telling them daily that I loved them. By telling them that I had done stupid things myself - some drugs, bad relationship choices, motorcycle-riding out of control, etc. - and was lucky to have survived them. By being honest with them about the effects of drugs and booze - some fun, a lot of risk. By telling them to exercise their right to make good decisions, as opposed to going along with the herd. By giving them examples of bad decisions made by friends of mine, with life-changing consequences - paralysis, premature death, etc. By encouraging them to set certain expectations for themselves. Above all, by setting an example of having fun and using my head.
I didn't preach. I just showed them I cared enough to set limits and to expect honesty from them. And guess what? It worked. There's a lot we can do.
As a regular reader of your column, I'm usually amused and frequently in agreement with your reasonable and fun-to-read advice. However, your attempt at humor in "Mother or Smother" was way off base and extremely bad news for kids and parents. As a pediatrician in this community for about 30 years, I felt compelled to give you a little reality check.
You wrote that there's not a whole lot we can do to keep our kids from doing things that are unbelievably stupid. WRONG! There's a great deal we can do. In public health, we talk about "harm reduction" versus "harm elimination," based on sound scientific evidence about what is likely to help teenagers reduce their risks. We might advise Mommie Fearest to sit down with her daughter when it's a good time to talk and calmly ask her what she likes and doesn't like about drugs and alcohol, whether anything negative has happened to her under their influence and what her goals are for the next few months/years.
Of course, teenagers vary in their responses to these kinds of conversations. Some will listen, some will roll their eyes. But they all still need to hear about their parents' expectations for them and the consequences of not living up to those expectations. So, give Mommie Fearest and her daughter a break, Mr. Right. Encourage a little harm-reduction, not burying their heads in the sand.
Paul Grossberg, M.D.
Jack and Paul: Believe it or not, I think we're all more or less on the same page. It's just that I added a paragraph or two. Yes, parents should do everything they can to keep their kids from engaging in risky behavior, be it drugs, alcohol or hood-surfing. But - and here's my added thought - they should also be aware that there's a point of diminishing returns, where mothering turns to smothering. From your letters, I'd guess that neither of you has ever reached that point, but I wasn't so sure about Mommie Fearest, which is why I told her she should mellow out. (The part about taking a couple of hits off the fat end of a doobie was meant to be metaphorical.) And I stand by that advice. But I will say this: The world would be a lot better off if all our kids grew up to be as reasonable and respectful as you two appear to be. In fact, you might want to get together, share notes, take a couple of hits off the...
Sorry, I'm incorrigible.
Whether you're a joker, a smoker or a real estate broker, write to: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR E-MAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.