Monday, May 18, 2015

To know the passcode or not know the passcode? That is the question.

I have been asked "What would you do differently?"  I have two answers.  1) Have stronger, explicit boundaries that were enforced and supported by consequences when broken and 2) monitor my son's cell phone.  I will address the first one in a separate post but will use this post to address #2, as this has been the discussion among my friends.

There's a public debate about whether to monitor your kids cell phone or respect their privacy and give them an opportunity to fail and develop autonomy.  I believe this debate, with bias towards the latter argument, is adequately described in this blog post here, with references to other well-known, public parent-child internet examples.

In the PTSA meeting held on 5/11/15 at our high school, the woman that teaches the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug class to suspended students did a presentation on "What to Look For" so parents can tune in to substance use and abuse.  In her presentation she told the parents "monitor cell phone activity".  I then interrupted and told the audience that this is where I failed.  I bought into the privacy and trust argument and didn't know my son's cell phone passcode and was not monitoring his internet activity.  BIG mistake.  We let him buy the device with his own money and we paid the monthly service.  To be honest, I didn't want to know what was on there, I knew it wouldn't be good and I would have to step up and do the hard thing and take on the battle.  Again, BIG mistake.  Had I stepped up, had guts, I would have that passcode, been monitoring, and maybe he wouldn't be in a long-term treatment center costing me a gazillion dollars.  Maybe he'd be home, in intensive outpatient therapy, and I'd have senior pictures, get to go to his graduation ceremony up the street at the high school my husband graduated from.

After we got his phone and presented texts to parents three of the kids went into substance abuse rehabilitation.  Parents were shocked and blindsided to see their kid was using Cocaine, drinking Vodka with Xanax.  These parents weren't monitoring their child's cell phone and internet activity either.  That Vodka and Xanax kid could be dead.

I have spoken to many of my friends on this subject over the last week to see who has the passcode and who doesn't.  It's been 50/50 and for various reasons, many which are discussed in the link provided above.

I met a couple this past weekend whose son died of a heroin OD this past December, 2014.  They too are speaking out about their son's disease and what happened to their family.  Here's what they say
“If there is one thing I would caution parents about it would be their child’s cellphone,” Jack Briggs said.  “Kevin was part of the first generation to have smartphones as a teen. Once you give them that phone, you are out of the picture and they are open to the world and everything in it. Get your child’s password and see what they are doing.”  They have worked with Apple and the cell phone provider and they cannot get into their son's phone. They can't take down drug dealers that will kill more of our children.  Learn more about this family and their tragic event here:

So what would I do differently?
1) I would know the passcode and randomly and routinely check that it works.
2) If the passcode didn't work upon check and a new one was not provided I would take the cell phone for 1 month and return it after I was provided with the correct passcode.  I would take that as a sign of suspicious activity so I would then check the texts and social media apps. Remember, there's a reason they don't want you to have it.
3) If it didn't work and a new one was provided upon discovery I would not check the texts and social media and take the cell phone for 2 weeks as a reminder to what a special privilege this is we are providing
4)  If the passcode is never given then all cell phone use is suspended and they can pay for their own damn service.  Then I would watch them like a hawk!
5)  Explain that trust = privacy.  If I trust them I will respect their privacy and not check texts and social media. But if they come home drunk, stoned and are caught lying and sneaking around, that cell phone better be open to my inspection and that passcode better work.

So weigh in.  To know the passcode or not?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Good Family, Good Kid, Bad Choices

This is the speech given at our high school PTSA meeting titled "Drugs in our County: Good Kids, Bad Choices"
  • My oldest son was a junior here at this high school and I have a freshman here now, and I have two younger children. 
  • My husband and I are town natives and my husband graduated from this high school
  • This high school is my family’s past, present and future, it is the reason we live in our neighborhood.

  • We’re a family probably not much different than most of yours. 
  • Our kids play sports, participate in extracurricular activities and a variety of interests, we go to church on Sundays, my husband coaches, I drive everyone everywhere, and we eat dinner together most nights except on Friday nights we go to IHOP. 
  • We have college funds and have planned a bright future for our children. 
  • Most importantly we laugh a lot, we hug a lot, and we love a lot. 
  • We are also typical parents who make mistakes, we raise our voice sometimes, can discipline inconsistently, and can’t figure out an allowance plan that works to save our life. 
  • So we’re not perfect but again, we laugh a lot, we hug a lot, we love a lot.
  • If I had to give this talk a title it would be “A Good Family, A good Kid, Bad choices”
  • When I say “Good Kid”, my son is outgoing, has lots of friends, a decent student taking honors and AP classes, looking forward to college, and swimming on the swim team, he had his first job at a frozen yogurt shop.  My son has a good college résumé.


  • But in January we pushed that résumé aside and we cashed in his college fund and at 3:30 am, two ex-NFL football players came in my home and escorted my son to a long-term treatment center.
  • My son got addicted to marijuana and for the three months before his placement he became a person we did not recognize.
  • Outpatient therapy did not work, and he was not budging. 
  • We felt we had no choice or we would be visiting him behind bars or in a morgue.
  • The transport service made sure we were left with his cell phone, password unprotected.  This cell phone became a lens into the teen drug culture that exists here at this high school and in our community.


  • For the month after my son was placed out of the home my husband and I did two things with his phone. 
  • First we delivered screen shots of text threads to over 15 families informing parents of high-risk, dangerous activity that needed their attention. 
  • Activity that included marijuana, OxyContin, Xanax, cocaine, combining Vodka and Xanax, buying, selling and snorting ADHD medicine Adderall, fake IDs that swiped, and the procurement of Four Lokos used for binge drinking
  • There was no stereotype to the families we spoke to.
  • And the kids were not the type of kids we probably associated with using drugs when we were growing up. 
  • They were honors students, athletes, all-American kids, college bound, from families a lot like mine and yours. 
  • 2 of the drug dealers on my son’s phone were students, 1 a 10th grader and 1 a senior awaiting acceptance to a selective college. 


  • Second, we watched the social media. 
  • For about a month, before the kids caught on that we were watching. 
  • We watched Snapchats of jib and bong hits (what is a jib?),
  • Tweets claiming how “smacked” they are or are going to get,
  • Sharing pictures of their Xanax, Percoset, bag of weed, their cocaine and molly
  • I perused threads and pictures of photos on kids “private twitter” accounts, second twitter accounts hidden to their parents but followed by about 20 of their close friends, depicting blow by blow their highs and drug and alcohol use. 
  • We learned about the great lengths the kids go through to fake out their GPS, using “fake out” apps that do this or a having a friend run cover on the phone that gets left at their house. 


  • What we learned that was very concerning is the attitude towards marijuana and its growing acceptance. 
  • The kids equate its use to that of cigarettes and think that cigarettes are worse. 
  • They are saying “it’s organic”, “it’s just a plant”.  “It’s better for you than alcohol” 
  • It seems the legalization effort is changing the attitude of marijuana.


  • I wonder how many parents in this audience, when I said my son got addicted to marijuana, said to themselves “Marijuana is not addictive”. 
  • The marijuana we grew up with was not, but the marijuana of today is not our marijuana. 
  • It has up to 4 times the THC, it’s more powerful and has more additives.
  • According to the National Institute of Drug Addiction “1 in 11 users becomes addicted to marijuana. This number increases among those who start as teens (to about 17 percent, or 1 in 6)” (
  • At my son’s new school he is surrounded by marijuana addicts
  • My son started doing drugs out curiosity and to be popular.  But then he found the drug that eased his stress and anxiety, and it became a coping mechanism that triggered an addiction that he was pre-wired in his brain to experience.
  • Addiction is a disease, not a moral failing, that knows no race, gender, stereotype or economic status.
  • I would venture to say there’s not one person here that doesn’t know an addict


  • We have learned my son began experimenting with drugs and alcohol in 8th grade. 
  • Over the last three years we handled some alcohol incidents that we chalked up to “typical teenage behavior”.  The few times we knew he smoked pot we made excuses and I told myself “I smoked pot a few times, I’d be hypocrite if I called him out on it” and the “I’m sure he’s just experimenting” excuse not to address it
  • But in the fall I had a gut feeling, a feeling that was triggered by things like:

    • Truancy
    • Not making eye contact
    • Coming home and going straight to room or basement
    • Long showers at night, though already took 1-2 showers that day
    • Missing for a long time, can’t locate
    • Extreme moodiness, becoming withdrawn from the family
    • Lying and manipulating
    • Change of friends
  • We forced him into outpatient therapy that did not help
  • It became obvious his circumstances were beyond our parenting ability and his environment needed to be changed, that he was on his away to an arrest or very tragic event
  • So we did what we did to increase his chances of success, decrease relapse and get him away from the influences and triggers that fed his addiction

  • After my son was transported I wanted to blame everyone…his friends, the school, and most of all myself
  • I came to the school with all the drug info and was warmly received and listened to by the school security officer and assigned police officer.  I wanted to go on the attack and wanted them to fix this.
  • The Principal and our PTSA president met with a group of concerned HS parents and heard our pleas and concerns with open minds and hearts
  • But it’s not the schools problem, it’s not the police’s problem, it’s OUR problem.  The school is doing all they can within the county guidelines.
  • 90% of drug activity happens outside of the school, if not more.  It’s happening in your basement, in your kid’s bedroom, in the car they are driving.
  • The kids are only getting 1 unit of drug and alcohol education in 9th grade.  1 unit.  If that is all they are getting then were can they get more?.... At home.
  • This is why I have chosen to get up here and tell my family’s story.  To inspire you.
  • I am not ashamed.  Talking about these issues isn’t shameful. 
  • If we don’t talk about them then no one will realize it’s a problem and it will go unsolved.  These things have to be personalized so people can realize no one is immune
  • Drugs and substance abuse affect everyone, my family, my neighborhood, our schools, our town, our community.
  • We ALL have a responsibility to be educating, watching out for our children, and talking to each other and to our children about this problem.
  • So please, go home, get a plan in place for how you will handle substance abuse
  • Get educated, use what you learn tonight and sit down and talk with your kids, do your own research
  • So I have some homework assignments for you, first…go home and learn about the difference between substance use, abuse and addiction. 
  • Second…have an open and honest discussion about drugs with your kids, share your feelings and attitudes towards them and get inside their heads and influence their decision making.
  • Third…Please, please, lock up your medications…your Xanax, Valium, Percoset.  If it’s not your kids looking it will be their friends
  • Fourth, please be on top of you kids mental health, stress, and anxiety. Know when to decide that their mental health and character are more important than their college application.
  • And finally, and most importantly, don’t forget…to laugh a lot, hug a lot, and love a lot