Stuck: Hold On, Or Let Go?

“Your son has the chance to wise up now or pay the costs later.  Should he choose the latter, there is nothing you, as a parent, can do except get out of the way.”

-Dr. Kane

My Dear Readers,

One of the most stressful phases of parenting is adolescence. From time to time, the parent must become a bystander and watch the adolescent struggle in their journey, learning how to either sink or swim.

Below is such a story………

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Dear Dr. Kane,

My husband and I have two children. Our daughter attends college out of state, and our 15 year-old son attends a private high school here in Bellevue.

Our son is a good boy, but my husband and I are at our wits end.  We are proud of his maturity and the fact that he can hold his own in interactions with young adults.  However, he constantly makes poor decisions. Last year, he was suspended from school for selling marijuana to a minor. This summer, as my husband and I were about to embark on a cruise, we were notified that after dropping us off at the port, my son and his friend was in the dining room rolling marijuana cigarettes and smoking it in our home.

Recently, I woke at two in the morning to find that my son and his friend who had slept over were not in the house and our car was gone.   I texted my son and ordered him to come home immediately.  He did, but I later learned that he and his friends had taken the car on at least three other occasions while we were asleep.

On one of these occasions, we found that he had a one-car accident where he actually damaged one of the tires on the car.  He and his friends replaced the damaged tire with the spare and for the last several weeks, my husband and I have been unknowingly driving long distances without a spare tire.  We grounded him for a month and have now decided not to allow him to get his driver’s license.  We have taken his cell phone away so that he can’t talk to his friends.

We have taken him to a counselor, but I believe that he’s been running games on her the same way he’s been doing with us.  I am very angry and frustrated.  I can’t trust him.  He lies so well and so easily, I can tell whether he is telling the truth or lying.

Like I said earlier, we are at our wits end.  I believe the problem is the kids he associates with.  He refused to give me the names of those who have been with him during those times he took the car.

He has now started his sophomore year in high school.  Although neither the parents nor the school pressed charges for the marijuana sale, my son is now being forced to attend a public high school where he will be exposed to rougher kids and could be led into more poor decisions.  The counselor indicates that those poor decisions are because he is distressed.

We have resorted to hiding the keys to the car.  I hope you can provide guidance and direction for us.  We have provided him with resources and it does not appear to improve anything.

Bellevue Mother (Bellevue, WA)

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My Dear Woman,

I appreciate you writing to me.  To start, I would want to examine more in detail what the counselor means by he is distressed and making poor decisions.   For example:

  • Is his behavior a consequence of being ejected from the private school environment?
  • Is he responding to loss of peer friendship and as a result, acting out?
  • Is he having adjustment issues regarding settling into the culture/community of public school where he may feel more vulnerable than in the private school setting?

The answers to these questions may help you understand the specific issues your son may be responding to. However, these do not justify his actions or behavior.  There is no indication from your letter that he cannot distinguish right from wrong.  From what I can see, your son is simply doing what he wants to do.  

There is a phenomenon that happens during adolescent development that I call parentally stuck: where a child may exhibit inappropriate actions that the parents recognize as the same actions they had when they were adolescents. As a result, the parent may allow some leeway, thinking that with some reasonable discipline and consequences, the problem will resolve itself.

If you’re parentally stuck, the parent may say:

  • “I was the same way when I was at that age.”
  • “He/she will grow out of it.”
  • He/she is young, just trying to find him/her self.”

Parents may want to resolve the problem by:

  • Providing additional resources and activities,
  • Allowing more freedom and independence, and
  • Relaxation of rules, boundaries or guidelines

When I was young, it was not uncommon to allow an adolescent to have a few friends at the home where alcohol was being consumed and controlled under the watchful eye of a parent.  However, today’s parents appear to be more liberal and understanding:  Here are some of my favorites:

  • Movie night”-The parent whom allowing her 16 year old son, in exchange for using condoms, allowing her son to use the house when he wanted to engage in sexual intercourse with his girlfriend. (Outcome: The girlfriend gets pregnant.)
  • Staying in range”- the parent who allows her teen daughter’s boyfriend to move into her bedroom so the parent does not lose connection with the daughter. (Outcome: The daughter becomes pregnant, the boyfriend refuses to go to work.  The mother works two jobs to support her “new” family.)
  • The Cool Parents”-parents who smoke marijuana with their son and his friends so they can be part of their child’s life. (The home, located in a middle class neighborhood, becomes known as the “dope house,” with numerous teens coming and going.)

Being parentally stuck occurs when the parents realize that these strategies are failing and are unable to pull them back due to them essentially normalizing the behavior. Here are some recommendations to resolve being parentally stuck:

  • Accept the reality that as parents, we all make mistakes in using specific strategies.
  • Understand the parental role of providing guidance, discipline and boundaries.
  • Stop attempting to be friends with your adolescent. Parents, not friends, have a stake in the adolescent’s future.
  • As the adolescent moves to adulthood, be willing to transform your own role from that of director, supervisor and manager to those of an advocate, guide and consultant.

In this specific situation, your son not only shows a lack of concern for his own well-being, but for yours as well.   Should your son, who is unlicensed, be involved in an accident, you will be held responsible for his actions and financially liable for the damages and destruction committed by him, since he is a minor.

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Concluding Words

My Dear Woman,

The consequences you have put in place are ineffective, since they are short term and have little to no impact on him.   Hiding the keys from your son doesn’t help him make positive decisions and prevent negative consequences.   It may be time for more direct action that will impact his thinking and focus his attention on his own behavior.

In situations such as this, I have recommended that law enforcement be notified. In one such situation, the son had been hitting his mother since he was 12 years old.  Since he could not be persuaded to stop this behavior in therapy, I recommended that the mother notify the police and have her son arrested for domestic violence, serve jail time, do community service, and most importantly, participate in domestic violence counseling. There was no repeat of this behavior.

I have yet to meet a parent who has positive feelings about calling law enforcement when the adolescent is involved in criminal behavior.  However, please be aware that every day that you don’t do this, you are rolling the dice and hoping that your son does not engage in actions which will leave you with the financial liability, or worse, will result in his injury or death.

I deem it as a plus for an adolescent to have contact and involvement with the juvenile justice system rather than the adult correction system.  In juvenile correction systems, there are trained professionals who specialize in understanding adolescent development and behavior.  One cannot say the same for the adult correction system. The prison yards are filled with young fresh meat.  Your son does not have to be the next meal waiting to be chewed up in the correctional system.

Dr. Micheal Kane  …The Visible Man

 

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When The Game Isn’t What It Used To Be

My Dear Readers,

Many people assume that psychotherapists can look into an individual’s eyes and see who that person really is. Of course, that is not true.  When a person comes to the therapeutic session, he (or she) brings their truth, or, more accurately, what they perceive to be truths, into the room.

My goal as a psychotherapist is to assist individuals with uncovering what lies beneath those perceptions and to help my patients discover what lies within their psychological selves.  From there, we focus on valuing our psychological selves and learning to listen to the direction it provides for our life journeys.

Where the homicide detective speaks for the dead, my goal is to assist the living to find their own voices.

Below is such a story…

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Dear Visible Man,

I am a 28 year old educated black male who has an excellent job in corporate America.  And, I have experienced sexual relations with five different women in the past week.

I grew up with a group of men who chase skirts and keep tabs on the number of conquests they’ve had, so I view myself as a product of my environment. However, I have come to seriously question with what I am doing. I know that I’m playing with people’s feelings, and I know that it’s not right. I find myself at a place in my life where I want to be locked down in a serious relationship.

I have decided to start attending church again, and engaging in activities where I hope I will join up with young people my age.  What are my chances of turning this around and finding a good relationship?

Tired of Trolling, Seattle, WA

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Dear Trolling,

Your letter piques my curiosity.  I sense a combination of weariness, regret, and although you didn’t say this outright, shame in your actions and behavior.

I am curious as to why you chose “Trolling” as your signature.  The term trolling can be defined in several ways: a means of fishing with a baited line, a person singing in a carefree manner, and finally, a way of provoking others. So:

  • Why are you really writing?
  • What is there to gain by staying in the shadows?
  • Are you standing at the crossroads? If so, will you continue the same behaviors or go in a different direction?

Young Man,

Stop trolling. There is no free lunch.  If you want the meal, prepare to pay for what you eat or in this situation, for your actions.  Using the model of RACE (i.e. responsibility, accountability, consequences and empowerment), come out of the shadows and allow the light to shine upon you. Cease the role of “victim” and the ensuing “blame game” that follows.  You seek to blame your actions on your environment and the people in it, but at the end of the day, you must take RESPONSIBILITY for yourself and your own actions.

Be willing to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Since you chose this path, why did you seek membership in such an illustrious group of fine young men?
  • What privileges or prestige did they offer you?
  • What are the actions and behaviors of the group that causes you to reject group membership?

Be willing to accept responsibility for your actions.  You chose this group of friends because they offered you something that you one valued. However, they are taking away something that you value more, so you are essentially choosing to reject the group.  In taking responsibility for this action, be willing to:

  • Respond to the pressure of the group to force your return.
  • Prepare yourself for the new direction that may be unknown to you.
  • Reinforce and validate yourself as you go alone without the protection and safety of the group.

You have a life that’s desired by many, but you seek to have that life without cost. Seek ACCOUNTABILITY for actions taken. Be willing to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do I want (or need) continuous and meaningless sexual encounters to fulfill me?
  • Do I love me? If I do love me, then why am I seeking others to fulfill me?
  • Do I truly desire change? How do I account for my actions?

Be willing to assume accountability for acts that you will carry as you walk the journey of life, because many of these cannot be undone. In assuming accountability, be willing to:

  • Acknowledge the damage you have done to others and yourself.
  • Bear witness to your actions, valuing and validating the experience
  • Share with others what you have experience and learned

Regardless of your success, your actions are indicative of an individual who is emotionally wounded and psychologically injured.  Your endless use of sexual encounters attest that you are searching for something. This has led to where you are now– the CONSEQUENCES are reactions to what we “do or do not”.

Be willing to ask yourself the following questions:

  • So in my longing, my search, what have I fulfilled? What have I found?
  • When I stare into the mirror, what creature do I see?
  • When I go to bed or wake up, whom is the person laying next to me?

Be willing to acknowledge the impact that your behavior has and will have on others, especially the women you are involved with.  In understanding the consequences of what was done (or not), understand that these women:

  • Will carry a wound along with your memory.
  • Their dreams and desires, which once included you, will go unrealized and unfulfilled.
  • They will take the awareness of being “played, used, or toyed” into future relationships and in doing so; innocent others will be made to suffer for your behaviors.

As you look back you are now able to see the emotional and psychological carnage you have done, and no doubt, the psychological self is screaming in your ears.

EMPOWERMENT is energy, a force that burns and builds from within.  It thrives on the human core values of belief, faith and trust.  Can you look within? Be willing to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I truly seeking change from within or new fertile ground in which to resume old behaviors?
  • Can one who has done bad things transform into doing good?
  • As I turn around to examine the journey so far traveled, what have I learned?

The only one who can answer these questions is you. Just be aware that:

  • One can run away and yet one cannot hide.. hide from self.
  • As all travelers know…wherever one goes, the baggage is likely to follow.
  • Self is the first person one sees upon awaking and the last one before sleep.

Concluding Words

Young Man, come out of the shadows. In your own words,

“I want to be locked down in a serious relationship.”

If this is true, ask yourself the following questions:

  • As you are locked down, whom will you trust to hold the key to your freedom?
  • Under what terms will you be allowed out?
  • Since when does the inmate give the guard the key to his freedom?

Young Man,

With only this letter and without knowing you and what your experiences have been, I see an individual who has been wounded and who will, unless there is an intervention, likely continue to wound others.

The goal of seeking a serious relationship will not help you remove, seal or forget the pain that you have been carrying. Just like everyone else, you deserve a life without pain and suffering, and you have the obligation to avoid creating pain and suffering for others.  I urge you to seek therapeutic assistance.

Seeking therapy is not an acknowledgement that you are crazy.  It is simply an acknowledgement that you are struggling on your journey and that therapy can be a way of is responding to the wounds that have impacted your life.

Come out of the shadows.  As you stand at your crossroads, I wish you the very best.  Safe journeys.

Dr. Kane: The Visible Man

Black On Black Crime: Do Black Lives Really Matter?

“Police brutality? Are you fucking kidding me?  How about Black brutality?

-Peggy Hubbard, St. Louis MO

My Dear Readers,

The quotation above is from a woman who is frustrated about the recent rise of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and its focus on police brutality, compared to the lack of focus on violence, drug dealing and consumption, and the overall psychological wellness of citizens within the African-American community.

We think of home as a place of safety and security.  Psychological wellness is shattered when those who enforce the law or those who engage in senseless criminal acts violate your home.  A few weeks ago, a nine-year-old black girl living in Ferguson, MO was shot in the chest by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting.  At the time she was shot and killed, she was sitting in her bedroom, studying her school lessons.

The death of this child was not a result of police brutality; she was killed during a drive- by shooting.  She was an innocent victim, another statistic of black on black murder, which is exploding across the nation.

The Black Lives Matter movement serves a valuable purpose.  African-Americans, especially adolescents and young males, are vulnerable to police brutality.  The movement ensures the visibility of this issue by not allowing the dominant majority to ignore the reality of police brutality, the videos and documentation of which is not only shared around the nation, but around the world.

It is a reality that a black male merely standing in a public place, can be brutally assaulted by the police.  This is evident by the recent assault on James Blake, a black professional tennis player who was violently assaulted, taken to the ground and handcuffed by a police officer.  The incident turned out to be one of “mistaken identity.”  Although apologies have been made, the psychological damage and trauma can never be forgotten.

In a recent You Tube video, Peggy Hubbard discussed what she saw as a contradiction between BLM’s largely successful efforts against police brutality, while ignoring continuing Black on Black crime, especially murder. In the video, Ms. Hubbard compares the large demonstrations against police brutality in the justified shooting of a “thug” to the silence of the community to the tragic shooting of a nine year old child who supposedly was in the security of her home.

 “What do you think the police are out here for? Fun? So you think they are out here for games?  They’re not going to tuck you in.  They’re not going to give you a cookie and sing you a lullaby.

No, they’re going to pop a cap in your ass.  You shoot at them, and they’re going to shoot at you…if you try to kill them, their job is serve and protect, not serve and die.”

Ms. Hubbard goes on:

“…You want to be upset about black lives.  You want to be upset about police brutality.  There is real police brutality out there, I will give you that, but night after night after night on channel 4, channel 2, channel 5, channel 30, channel 11 and St. Louis Dispatch; murder, murder, murder, murder, murder; black on black murder.  But yet you assholes are out there tearing up your own shit It’s not just your shit, it others people shit.  For a criminal, for a thug…bailing out criminals and thugs.”

Black on Black crime happens at an alarming rate in cities across the country with large black populations.  As of May 2015:

  • Baltimore-murders have doubled with 43 homicides last month alone
  • Chicago- 900+ shooting this year
  • St. Louis- 55 murders this year
  • Dallas-violent crime up 10%
  • Atlanta- homicides up 32 %
  • Milwaukee- homicides up by 180 %
  • New York City-murder up 20%

Barely into the 9th month of the year:

  • Chicago: 357 murders
  • Philadelphia: 304 murders
  • Baltimore: 226 murders
  • St. Louis: 136 murders

The issue here is not just “blacks killing blacks.”  Most homicides are committed by people who know the victim, usually a spouse or acquaintance.   According to Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics,

  • 56% of homicides were killed by acquaintances.
  • 22% were killed by a spouse or other family member and
  • Only 22% of the victims were killed by strangers

The real issue is that Blacks in these circumstances are killing each other at an alarming rate.   Jamira Burley, an activist, recently wrote a column in the Philadelphia Inquirer in which she traced the violence in her hometown to racism and economic disadvantages.  She observes:

“Until we as a society are truly ready to have a serious discussion about the state of black youth and the uneven distribution of resources; we will continue to see an alarming number of young people lose their life to the barrel of a gun, get pushed out or passed through the education system, going to sleep hungry, or being forced to call prison home.

Like everyone else, black youth need love, mentorship, quality education, a safe environment, access to healthy food, and accessibility to resources opportunities.  We have to create a world where there is equal opportunity for everyone. If we fail to do that, the poor black kid will be defined by his or her race or zip code.”

I do not disagree with the content of what is being stated by Ms. Burley.  My concern is that while the African-American community across the country is looking for relief and assistance from the dominant majority, the crime rate and especially the number of murders in these communities continue to mount. Between the years 2007 -2010, 91.3% of the murder victims under the age were black and male.  Almost all those who killed them were also young black men.  The African-American community continues to pay a heavy price.

  • Suicide rates among young Black men are higher than those of young White men. From 1980 to 1995 the suicide rate among African-Americans, ages 10-14, increased 233% compared to 120% of comparable White males.
  • African-Americans are over-represented in high need populations that are particularly at risk for mental health problems.
  • While representing 12% of the U.S. population, African-Americans make up about 40% of the homeless population.
  • Nearly half of all prisoners in State and Federal jurisdictions and almost 40% of the juveniles in legal custody are African-Americans.
  • One study reported that over 25% of the American youth exposed to violence met the diagnostic criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder.

There are not enough mental health resources to match the pace of the psychological and emotional stress within our communities.  Across our country, the percentage of African-American mental health professionals by profession are:

  • Psychiatrists-2%
  • Psychologists-2%
  • Social Workers-4%

We can ill afford to focus all of our attention on the Black Lives Movement and police brutality. Black lives do matter.  Yes, there is police brutality.  There are also good men and women in uniform serving their community as police officers. Is police brutality a distraction?  The rapper A$AP Rocky in an article states the following:

“Why are we exploiting the beef between the urban community and the police force when 60 people got shot on a Friday and Saturday (on a July holiday weekend in 2015) in Chicago, in black-on-black crime?  So one cop shoots a black person…that kind of shit is inevitable.  Not to glorify it, but that’s is nothing new.  Let’s talk about the black-on -black crime.  If you’re not going to talk about the main topic, then don’t talk about it at all.”

Kenny Gamble, a record producer, states:

“There are no more excuses.  We need a code of conduct and a standard of behavior that will outline what is right and what’s wrong in our community.   We as black men have to be able to enforce it.”

Do we drop the Black Lives Movement and focus within the community?  No.  We must find a way in which we can provide advocacy within the community and protect ourselves from being victimized either by police or by criminals in our own communities.

How do we advocate?  We can begin the process by community organizing, ensuring safety in community policing and identifying ways to provide for our youth.  It is time for the anchors of our community (i.e. churches, fraternal service organizations, sororities and fraternities, academicians and those within the medical, judicial, and legal professions) to come together and cease waiting for someone else to resolve the ills which are eating away at our community.

We must want to come together.  I fear that if we do not, we will continue to pay an extremely high psychological price, and many of our communities across the country will remain as they are: racked with poverty, out of control drug trading, sitting on collapsed economic bases, and mounting racial tensions.

Do we care? Does my life matter? Does my life really matter? Really?

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues.

Parental Protection: When Does The End Justify The Means?

 

Morally wrong actions are sometimes necessary to achieve morally right outcomes; actions can only be considered morally right or wrong by virtue of the morality of the outcome.

-Proverb

 

My Dear Readers,

One of the biggest challenges a parent can face is parenting during adolescence.  This is a time when young people are questioning their world, defining their identities separate from their families, and responding to peer influences. It is normal for parents to worry about the choices their children make, since many times, these decisions will impact their lives for many years to come.  However, by living in their own fear, parents risk not only separating themselves from their children, but inadvertently driving the adolescent towards the very behavior the parent is attempting to prevent.

Below is such a story…..

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Dear Dr. Kane:

I’m so upset with my daughter, I’m about to pull my hair out.  While reading my daughter’s journal, I recently found out that she was considering using birth control. She’s only 15 years old! I immediately demanded to know whether she was engaging in sexual intercourse.  She denied being sexually active, but she admitted wanting to have information so she could protect herself in the event she decides to do so.

We are an African-American family with strong Christian beliefs.  I am totally against my daughter having sexual contact at her age.  I have contacted her older brother who is in college in another state.  He spoke to her stating he was upset about her direction and is firmly against her seeking birth control.

I was so upset that I contacted my girlfriends on Facebook informing them of her decision.  They were also appalled and supported my position against it.  All my girlfriends have children, most of them around the same age as my daughter.  We have decided to stand firm against this and not allow our children to seek information nor obtain birth control measures.

I have strong hopes for my daughter.  She is among the top of class while attending an inner city high school, which at time can be quite chaotic.  My daughter has plans on attending college and attending medical school after that.  Her goal is to become a surgeon.

My daughter says that I’ve betrayed her and our relationship, but I disagree. I will not allow her immaturity and silliness regarding sex destroy her chance to become successful.  I told her that she could date when she turned 16 years old, which is very soon, but because of this, I feel that I have to increase the age she can date to 17.

When I was young, I watched girls her age end up pregnant, and as a result, they missed out on their career goals.  I will not allow her to ruin her chances at being successful.

You’re a man, so you may have a difference of opinion about sexual responsibility, but I know you have children, so I am curious as to how you would handle the situation.  My girlfriends are also curious and we are all hoping that you will respond.

Smoldering in Seattle

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My Dear Woman,

As a parent, I can understand the concern, frustration, and fear you’re experiencing now. It does, however, appear that you are “living in fear,” and your actions, although well intended, are nonetheless reactionary and may further damage the relationship between you and your daughter. When one lives in fear, it can be an emotional rollercoaster, and you may regret decisions that you make while you are in this unbalanced state.  You have already

  • Read your daughter’s journal without her consent,
  • Informed her older brother about what you found and,
  • Discussed her personal information regarding her questions about birth control with your friends on Facebook.

Without delving into your religious beliefs or debating the right of a parent to raise her adolescent, please consider the impact of what you’ve already done:

  • Have you created lasting trust issues between yourself and your daughter?
  • Would your daughter ever want you to share confidential or intimate information understanding you may tell your friends and/or place her business on social media?
  • Whether controlling your daughter’s behavior and activities may be a driving force towards the same behaviors and activities you are trying to discourage?

The Five Rs of RELIEF can help you through this.

  • Respite-step away from the turbulence,
  • Reaction-assume ownership of your feelings
  • Reflection-process the integration of your thoughts and emotions
  • Response-non-reactive expression which is shared with others, and
  • Reevaluation– review of what was learned/gained/ would handle differently when this situation or something worse presents itself again.

This model allows you to take the opportunity to focus on yourself and allow yourself to live with your fear instead of in your fear.  While reflecting, consider your options for communication with your daughter, rather than control your daughter’s actions and behaviors.  Share with your daughter the concerns you may have.

 

Concluding Words

As to your daughter’s statement of feeling betrayed by your actions, betrayal requires premeditation and intent.  Your behaviors in seeking support from her older sibling and your girlfriends are reactionary and ill conceived, but in the adult world your actions would not specifically constitute betrayal. However, please remember that in your relationship with your daughter, you are not in the adult world.   Your daughter is an adolescent whose personal information was publicly shared by her mother.  She is entitled to her feelings.

Having strong religious beliefs and living in fear as a result of your drive for your daughter’s success is, in and of itself, a suggestion that the “ends justify the means.”   It is clear that you have won this battle, but in doing so, you may have lost the war.

Consider the following: your daughter is in a phase of development where there is an emphasis on individualization and separation from parental influence.  Controlling her behavior and failure to maintain your word by increasing the dating age to 17 may have the result of driving her into the same actions and behaviors which you are attempting so desperately to prevent. Please remember that adolescents are very much influenced by their peer group.  Understanding this, it is essential that parents seek to maintain open communication with their children in order to provide a balanced response to questions that are based on experience and wisdom.

Instead of seeking to control her dating behavior by increasing the age in which you provide consent, consider the time and experience your daughter will lose in gaining awareness of appropriate interaction with the opposite sex.  If your daughter does not learn under your tutelage or observation, she will do so in the adult world, where she will be more vulnerable and exposed to those who would take advantage of her inexperience. Understanding your strong religious beliefs, you should be aware of her legal right and ability to seek information on birth control with or without your consent.  This could be the very opportunity for you to assist her in making appropriate decisions about her actions and behaviors.

If you truly believe that you have given your daughter the advantage of a strong moral foundation, then be willing to trust her decision-making skills and her willingness to seek your counsel.  To do so, you must be willing to let go of your own fears, which are deeply rooted in your own past.  Remember that your past is not your daughter’s present, and it doesn’t have to warrant her future.

Be willing to let go of the past and live with fear instead of living in fear.  Remember the advantages you have given to your daughter.

Every advantage in the past is judged in the light of the final issue.”

-Demosthenes

Dr. Kane ….The Visible Man