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Challenging Behavior in Elementary and Middle School
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Selected Work by Judy Sklar Rasminsky

Tormented by Worry

The Gazette, Montreal, December 16, 1996
Personal essay, 950 words

Is it the newly discovered anxiety gene that makes me worry about my children, or am I merely the victim of a disease endemic among parents? Even when I know that my children are on the right track, absolutely to be trusted to handle whatever comes their way, it is still possible to shake me into fantasies of horror.

Ever since 1975, when my older daughter’s 6-year-old friend was run over by a bus on her way to school, I’ve known that bad things happen to good people.

I have seen the children of my friends and the friends of my children turn into alcoholics, space out on drugs, develop eating disorders and depression. They have totalled cars and attempted suicide. They have been sexually harassed, stalked and raped. One was killed in the Montreal Massacre. And the possibility of HIV looms over everything else.

Most of the time I keep this knowledge wrapped in layers of bubbly plastic, carefully concealed from myself. It is too frightening to deal with on a daily basis. I prefer to worry about more mundane things, like whether my children will find jobs when they graduate and people who love them, and whether I can refrain from giving them wise but unwelcome advice about how to achieve these goals.

But recent news of the tragic death of 16-year-old Laurel Faigelman, sub-head girl at Trafalgar School, ripped all of the plastic covering off of my anxieties.

According to a Gazette report, she had spent the evening in clubs with her friends and arrived home at 6:00 a.m., four hours after her curfew. She woke later in the morning with a sore stomach and was found dead at about noon. The cause of her death is under investigation.

Though I know no more than what was in the newspaper, it is altogether too easy to put myself in her mother’s shoes.

In my mind’s eye I can see my own child coming home late and feel my anger at her missed curfew. The anger comes from fear—where was she? what has she been doing? —and it’s all mixed up with relief that she’s home at last.

I can hear her complain of a stomachache and sense my own helplessness. I can feel myself fighting to stay calm, exhausted, unsure of what to do. I can hear my words: “Go to sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning.”

I cannot bear to picture the rest.

But I keep coming back to the question of what the kids do when they go out in the evening, and I remember a news report that I saw last week.

The Nova Scotia Health Department and PRIDE, the Parent Resources Institute for Drug Education, both reported that drug use among Canadian teens has increased significantly.

PRIDE urged parents to talk to their children about the hazards of drugs. Chief researcher Dr. Wayne Hindmarsh emphasized that parents could make a difference: “The most effective drug prevention program in the world [is] parental intervention,” he said.

I admit that I skipped over this story on the day it appeared. I never wanted to think about whether my children and their friends were using alcohol and drugs, especially when they were younger. I didn’t want to know how much peer pressure they had to endure and how little they actually knew about the dangers. Did they know that you can die of alcohol poisoning or that cocaine can stop your heart forever?

But that was last week. This week I find myself thinking again and again about the impossible balancing act that parents of teens perform every day. On the one hand we have to trust them and give them enough independence to make—and learn from—their own mistakes. On the other, we have to set limits and stay close enough to keep those mistakes from becoming lethal.

This means being able to talk—and of course that is the hardest trick of all. Such communication doesn’t come out of the clear blue sky. It’s easier when your kids are small, and I’m sure I could do better if I started over. I’d listen more and talk less.

But this is a time for talking. In the cold light of day, there are some things I want my children to know. 

Please call me when you’re sick or in trouble. I will come willingly, and I won’t care if you made a mistake. I won’t love you any less. I will do everything in my power to protect you: your health and safety are always my first priority.

But to obtain appropriate help, I need to know the truth about what you’ve been doing. I don’t condone the use of drugs and alcohol, but if they are involved I have to know which, how much, and when.

I hope you won’t be afraid to tell me, but if you are, I hope your friends will get you the help you need by telling another responsible adult. I hope that they will understand that when someone is feeling very sick or threatening to commit suicide, this is what loyalty and friendship really mean.  

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Copyright © 1996 by Judy Sklar Rasminsky. This material may not be reproduced in any manner or medium without written permission. For information, contact jud...@challengingbehavior.com.

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