Pubdate: Sat, 19 Apr 2003
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2003 The State
Author: Alyson Ward

Hey, Mom/Dad, Did You Ever ... (Have Sex, Drink, Do Drugs)?

When you were 16, you probably weren't thinking about whether you'd have a 
16-year-old someday. And now that you do, if your teen years involved any 
drinking, drugs, premarital sex or other, um, extracurriculars, you 
probably don't want to volunteer the details of your escapades.

But what if your child brings it up? You know, comes right out and asks 
you, "Did you ever '.'.'. ?"

That's one tough question.

Talk to a handful of experts and you'll get more than a handful of 
suggestions - some of them contradictory. But here's one thing you should 
do: Plan now how you will respond to questions about your past. You don't 
want to be caught off guard.

"At the spur of the moment, I think people just deny things right away - or 
they over-explain," says psychologist Lauren Solotar. "And to either 
extreme, you can do something to the relationship."

The first step a parent must take is to decide how much information to 
share. This is the hard part. Experts disagree on just how much you should 
tell inquiring kids about your past. Here are your options:


Deborah Phillips, the creator of Coach-Parenting, a set of parenting tools 
and services, says you should tell all, in the interest of being "open and 
honest about everything."

That means sitting down and saying, "Yes, I had sex when I was 17." Or 
"Yes, I tried marijuana, and here's what happened," she says.

Here's why: You don't want your children to hide things from you, Phillips 
reasons, so don't hide things from them. Just tell the truth and be willing 
to answer any question.

"Your role as a parent is to teach them how to make good decisions," 
Phillips says, "regardless of whether every decision you've made is good."

She says that instead of covering up your past, you should set a good 
example now by being truthful. And don't set limits on what you'll discuss; 
it only prevents your child from asking you questions later.

She suggests that no matter what you tell, keep a bottom-line message in 
mind: Let your child know how you feel about drugs or sex or whatever he 
asks about. Use the conversation as an opportunity to share your expectations.


That's the advice from Roni Cohen-Sandler, a psychologist and author of two 
books about rearing daughters, the best-selling "I'm Not Mad, I Just Hate 
You!" (Penguin, $12.95) and the new "Trust Me, Mom - Everyone Else is 
Going!" (Viking Press, $24.95).

"Kids follow what you do," she says. "They pay attention to your behavior 
more than your words. If you admit that you deceived your parents or you 
lied or snuck around, you're saying this is normal - 'I did it; you can do 

Parents often think that "if they tell their kids about their past 
experiences, their kids will think they're cool," she says.

That's not necessarily so. And anyway, it's important to remember that 
"you're not your child's peer - you're a parent," Cohen-Sandler says.

Making your life an open book ultimately hurts and confuses your kids, 
Cohen-Sandler believes.

"I never want to suggest outright lying, but I think we have to have an 
agreement that what I did or did not do is really not appropriate for us to 
talk about," she says.

She says that if you do talk about it, you should keep the focus on what 
you felt, not what you did:

"You can share with your teenager: 'I remember facing the same dilemma. I 
was kind of tempted, I wanted to say no, but I was afraid I would lose my 

Or you might say, "It really doesn't matter what happened 25 years ago. 
What's important is that if you do this, you're endangering yourself, and 
it's too big a risk."


Perhaps the easiest solution is what family-communication expert Anne 
Lucchetti calls "using honesty strategically."

Lucchetti, an assistant professor of speech communication at Texas 
Christian University, acknowledges that when kids ask tough personal 
questions, "sometimes we have to withhold information."

But don't shut down the conversation and refuse to answer, either. Remember 
that often they have a good reason for asking personal questions.

"I don't think the answer is what's interesting," Lucchetti says. "It's 
that they asked the question."

She says that you can turn the question around to find out why your child 
is wondering about your past. Maybe she's tempted to try smoking, or her 
friends are starting to have sex, and she's using the "Did you ever?" 
question as a conversation-starter.

Edward Christophersen, a child psychologist and author of "Parenting That 
Works," agrees that parents shouldn't get carried away with answering 
questions about their personal histories.

"If parents didn't talk so much, they wouldn't get into so much trouble," 
he says. The key is to give short answers.

"Make sure what the question is that they're really asking, give them a 
short, accurate answer, and then wait for the kid to ask a second 
question," he says.

That second question may not come.

"If the kids say, 'Did you ever drink?' you say, 'Of course we drank, but I 
didn't drink 'much,''" Christophersen suggests - and then let it alone.

"If you just stop talking, a lot of times that's all kids want to know."
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