"Not My Kid" - Parental Delusions

Kara Powell | Sep 23, 2011

In last week’s HomeWord Weekly Culture Brief, Jim Burns and his team brought my attention to an interesting study reflecting how we as parents can be a bit out of touch with our kids. What struck me the most about the study was this finding:

Only 10 percent of parents think their own teens drank alcohol within the last year, and 5 percent believe their teens smoked marijuana in the last year, according to the latest poll by the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

These low numbers severely clash with the university’s 2010 Monitoring the Future survey, in which 52 percent of surveyed 10th-graders reported drinking alcohol in the last year and 28 percent reported using marijuana within the last year.

While we as parents tend to view our own kids through rose-colored classes, the opposite is true for our kids’ friends:

While most parents seem to assume their own kids aren’t trying alcohol or drugs, they certainly don’t think their child’s peers are as innocent. In the poll, researchers found that many parents of teens are very likely to believe that within the last year at least 60 percent of 10th-graders drank alcohol and 40 percent of 10th-graders used marijuana.

Note that 60% is higher than 52% (mentioned in the previous block of text) and 40% is also higher than 28%.

As I read this study, I thought of an episode on “The Oprah Show” in which interviewers with cameras went to local parks to talk to parents about the possibility of their children leaving with a stranger. While the parents were on camera saying that their kids would never leave with another adult, you could see in the background that child actually leaving with an adult who was part of Oprah’s team. This happened time after time.

What can we as parents do about our tendency to believe the best about our kids and the worst about others? Besides pray and ask God to help us see reality, we can ask others to help us do so also.

Several years ago, a friend of mine boldly but lovingly mentioned to me that I was treating two of my children differently. I didn’t know I was doing it, but as soon as she said it, I saw immediately what she meant. And it’s made a huge difference in my parenting. She could have remained quiet, but she spoke up. And it made a difference in our family.

Who do you know who you could ask what they are seeing in your family? Who would answer that question honestly? Is there anything going on in another family that perhaps you need to talk to them about?

It’s the power of community. It works because it’s how God has designed us.

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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