TEENAGE STORM WARNING: WHEN THE ROOF LEAKS...

Once there was a poor starving graduate student (me) who rented an apartment in a one hundred year-old trapezoidal building (the architectural design of that period). The landlord reluctantly accepted $75.00 per month for the privilege of existing in this flat, in which he provided a space heater for five rooms, sparse furniture in the "contemporary good-will" motif, and a milk-glass front door stenciled, "For storage only" (which raised some questions about the previous tenants!).
 His concern for safety and comfort were exceeded only by the manner in which he responded to emergencies. The apartment roof leaked in many places. Each time there was a storm, the landlord brought empty coffee cans for the purpose of collecting raindrops. So skillful was he at placing the cans, timing their filling so as not to spill a drop, emptying and then replacing them, that he made this rather frenetic task seem mere routine. However, to his chagrin (and my amusement and curiosity), it was not uncommon that on each stormy occasion, a new leak would be discovered; one more problem to juggle into the act.
 What was interesting to me, a student of human behavior, was that on each occasion I would ask him why he chose to ignore repairing the roof and instead concentrating his efforts on catching raindrops. He replied, "Because the problem is not outside--the roof--that would be a waste of my time.  The problem is in here, trying to avoid a flood. Besides, this building is over one hundred years old, what do you expect from the roof? Trust me, I've become an expert at catching the raindrops-- been doing it for years, and you haven't had to bail out yet!"...
 A frequent concern among parents of teenagers is their exposure to, and use of, alcohol and other drugs. Typically, the reaction among many parents has ranged from denial that such a problem could possibly exist in their household to outrage at the mere thought of its occurrence. "Why are you doing this?", frequently follows the initial shock. However, as in most instances, a "why" question is an understandable emotional reaction which will not buy any useful information.
 Teenagers engage in alcohol and drug abuse for any number of reasons, most of which are at best conjecture. Nevertheless, the statistics on the number of teenagers charged with driving while intoxicated, or arrested for possession of drugs; or for drug-related crimes; and the number who are hospitalized for drug over-dose, illustrate the need for more effective communication between parent and child. Often, parents equate "effective communication" with "tightened control" and detection of evidence. Thus, it is not uncommon for a mother to comment on her child's eyes, or, upon suspecting some form of abuse, to check the teenager's personal possessions for alcohol, pills or drug paraphernalia. Unfortunately, prophylactic interventions of this type merely catch the raindrops, while the storm rages on and on...
 When considering effective communication between parent and child, the question of "right verses wrong" is not germane. Rather, it is important to pay attention to what is useful in achieving a desired outcome. The use of drugs and alcohol is so pervasive among teenagers that it can be incredibly cumbersome and frustrating for a parent to attempt to find each shred of evidence, having become a self-appointed house detective. But before you run out of "empty coffee cans", rest assured that there are more meaningful ways to shelter your children from the storm by establishing effective communication.
 Try on their perception of the situation: What are their views and feelings about what they are doing? What are they attempting to achieve? Perhaps, a sense of "belongingness?" Is there something else they could do instead to achieve the same desired outcome? Discuss this with them extensively in terms of what they would need to do and what they might expect as a result. How do they feel about their parents' views on drugs and alcohol? Where are the points of agreement; disagreement? Assuming that your son or daughter may have already indulged, is there anything that you as a parent could share with your teenager from personal experience? Would you as a parent be willing to swallow hard and admit (if such be the case) that you are relatively less informed about drugs? In the latter instance, would you be willing to learn from them so as to better understand their needs?
 Perhaps establishing effective communication will not totally eliminate the problems of adolescence, but it may promote a better understanding and improve the quality of life within your family.