Explaining dad’s drug abuse to young kids

This week I’m answering questions from readers.

Q: After 10 years of helping my husband fight the demons of his drug abuse, I’ve decided to get a divorce. We have three children under the age of 8, and I’m not sure how to explain their dad’s sickness to them.

A: The reasons for your divorce are a private matter between you and your spouse. Given the ages of your children, I’d be particularly cautious not to use the word “sickness” to describe your husband’s problems. This will generate lots of unnecessary anxiety and confusion on the part of the kids. Your children will be most concerned about how this will affect them, so offer them as much reassurance as possible.

I’m sure you’ll be very careful about the terms of visitation between the children and their father, as their dad’s problem raises serious questions about his ability to safely take care of such young children.

Q: My daughters’ friends are good kids, but they drive me crazy with their constant texting. I want them to feel comfortable at our house, but they never put those phones down and it’s irritating when we take them places. How do other parents deal with this?

A: Kids who are 12-17 years of age send an average of 60 text messages every day. Many of our children live a parallel existence in an electronic world, with ever-changing rules about the perceived necessity of always staying connected. A young teen recently told me that failure to respond to a text message within minutes was a sign of disrespect among her friends.

While we try to understand and accommodate to our teens’ worlds, they also have an obligation to be respectful of our expectations, as well. Consider the following rules at your house. No cell phone usage by anyone during meals, including eating out at restaurants. Power down all electronics at a specified time in the evening. If your teens’ friends accompany you to certain events, let them know when cell phones can and cannot be used.

Q: I read that some kids can be cured of autism. Is that true?

A: There is no cure for autism. The severe form of this disorder results in serious problems in communication, social interactions and development. Behavioral therapy for parents and kids can be very helpful in managing these symptoms, but the underlying disorder is permanent, typically resulting in the need for lifelong assistance.

Some professionals refer to Asperger’s syndrome as a milder form of autism. This disorder is characterized by problems in social interactions. These youngsters may talk a lot, avoid eye contact, perseverate on certain topics and misread or ignore social cues. Many of these children can learn more appropriate social skills and thus may be viewed as “cured” of their problem since they can function very well in society.

Next week: Mistakes made by parents in helping their kids manage their digital worlds.

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