Audio Journal

Episode 12 - Parent Playbook - No Unforced Errors

How to avoid mistakes that put your parenting game at risk.

This Audio Journal series focuses on what it takes to coach your family through the Opioid Crisis with the right game plan, a playbook, an understanding of your opponent and help from your "assistants" when it's called for.  This episode will focus on how to avoid unforced errors that put your parenting game at risk.

I watched Auburn and Alabama slug it out in the Iron Bowl with three touchdowns coming from errors made by both teams.  Unforced errors can make the difference between a win and a blowout.  Think about all the games that have been won or lost based on turnovers, missed assignments, dropped passes, or interceptions.   Often these unforced errors result when players or coaches don't stick to the game plan, are unprepared or just not paying attention.

There are number of unforced errors that parents make that are critical mistakes leading to big problems when it comes to drugs and alcohol.  Let's look at those mistakes and ways to avoid them.

The first unforced error is chalking up your child's troubling behavior to growing pains or just being a teenager.   You've been living with your child for years, watching how they behave, perform in school, and if they comply with the rules. But then all of a sudden, things start to change.  They start to get defiant and disrespectful.  They have huge mood swings.  They begin to hide out in their room and keep you away from their friends and what they are up to.  They dress differently and their friend group has changed.  Are these signs of teenage growing pains?  Maybe, but if your child's actions start to disrupt your family life, cause you to be suspicious and distrustful, or cause them to underperform in school or in their favorite sports team, look deeper and get an outside opinion to see if you have a bigger issue than that of just being a teenager.

Another unforced error is to fail to secure items in your house that your child should not have access to.  If you drink and have bottles of alcohol lying around, it's time to lock up your wine and your liquor cabinet.  Substance misuse often begins by sneaking alcohol from your supply and refilling your bottles with water.  If you have unused prescriptions from a doctor or dentist's visit or a stay in the hospital, safely dispose of those expired medications or lock them up.  You don't want to be your child's drug dealer. 

And unfortunately for some families, you need to stop leaving cash or valuables lying around.  This was one of my unforced errors and my daughter Laura took leftover Vicodin, raided my wine cellar and took money out of my wallet.  I left my car keys on a rack by the door, enabling her to sneak out at night, take the car and meet up with people she shouldn't have been with.

And what about the error of trying to be the cool parent.  I've talked to many parents who believe that it is inevitable that their teenagers are going to drink or smoke pot, so why not keep them safer by having them experiment with those things at home.  Big mistake.  Exposing the teenage brain to substances while it is still developing is a sure-fire way to risk your child may be the 1 in 10 that will develop the disease of addiction. It's important that you understand the science behind adolescent brain development and what substances do to short circuit the normal brain development process.   My daughter began using drugs at age 14, developed the disease of addiction, and fought it for 15 years.  Her brain development stopped about that age making it much harder for her to become a functional adult.

And what kind of signal are you sending to your child when you allow them to break the law by using alcohol before they legally are allowed to so or to smoke pot when it's still illegal in most states?  And don't believe for a minute that your kid can't get addicted to marijuana.  It's much more potent than when you were in college.   It's never cool to let your teenagers use drugs and alcohol in your home or to participate with them.

In addition to trying to be cool, another unforced error that parents make is trying too hard to be liked.  A football coach never thinks about whether his players will like him less when he sets up the starting lineup, makes a substitution, or sits someone on the bench.  Coaches can't win if you second guess all your decisions, benchmarking them on a popularity index.  The same is true in parenting.

Expect your teenagers to dislike many of your decisions when you have to make them in order to keep your kid accountable, have them comply with the rules, and keep them safe.  So, don't hesitate to put them on restriction, take their phone, and confiscate their car keys if they break your rules.  And what if their behavior is sending up warning signals that cause you to suspect they are using drugs?  Then, get much more aggressive with your responses.  Search their room, drug test them, monitor their electronics, and restrict who you let them connect with. Remember that you are a parent first and foremost, not a participant in a popularity contest.

One of the biggest errors a parent can make is being too ashamed to ask for help.  You will know it when things have gotten beyond your control.  I knew it when Laura was 15.  I tried to lock down the house and alarm the windows, but Laura continued to sneak out.  I took her to school, only to have her walk out the back door and fill her water bottle with vodka that she bought from the seniors.  And finally, she went missing for days.  I was mortified by her behavior, but knew I needed help and I involved everyone I could to give it to me.

I understand that many parents are ashamed that things have gotten so out of control and the good kid their family, friends and neighbors knew is doing things that are terrifying.  But the mistake is hiding, waiting, or failing to disclose what you are struggling with.  Remember, you've likely never seen situations like this before, so call for backup.  You have school guidance counselors, church leaders, friends, family, therapists and a host of others ready to step in and assist.

And last but not least, it's always an unforced error when you fail to get the facts so you can make better decisions.   In the mid-2000's we founded and ran a licensed adolescent treatment program and worked with hundreds of families whose teens were out of control, using drugs, and in need of an intervention.  They seemed in shock when their teenagers spilled the beans to us, revealing what they were up to and how they had kept their parents in the dark.  We realize where there is smoke there is fire, and the fire is a lot hotter than you realize. 

Parents have quite a few tools to find out what their kids are up to, but often fail to use them. A simple drug test you buy from CVS or Walgreens will give you an idea what substances your kids may be using.  Monitoring your child's electronics will let you know who they are texting, what they are saying, if they are researching subjects on the Internet that are drug related or if they are connecting with their drug dealers.  Use the tools, get the facts, and then make better decisions.


Teams that have unforced errors like turnovers, dropped passes or stupid penalties often lose the game because of those mistakes.  Parents can't afford to make those mistakes because the stakes are so much higher. Don't chalk up troubling behavior to teenage growing pains unless you have all the facts to support that conclusion. Make your home a safe place by removing or locking up items that can cause trouble such as unused prescriptions or alcohol.  Don't try and be the cool mom and dad letting your kids drink and do drugs with you or in your home.  And don't try and go it alone without asking for help when things have become beyond your control.

When my daughter Laura got into trouble at age 14, I was naïve, took my eye off the ball and made quite a few unforced errors. Those errors allowed her to get away with her drug use long enough to become addicted and struggle with the disease that took her life 15 years later, only 2 years ago.  Unforced errors, no matter how innocent they may seem at the time, can have deadly consequences.