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Parents Need to Set Boundaries For Kids

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Wednesday, January 31st, 2007 Kristen DiPaolo | CWK Producer

“I work with parents every day that are trying to be buddies with their kids. They want their kids to think of them as a friend.”

– Nancy McGarrah, Ph.D., Child Psychologist

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Last year, 19-year-old Ashley Rawie broke her neck in a car crash.

She’d been drinking and smoking pot when she flipped her jeep on a country road. Now, she is paralyzed from the chest down.

“I still do have days where I wake up and I want it to be a dream so badly,” says Ashley.

Before the accident, Ashley’s mom and dad sensed their daughter had been making bad choices.

“We had talked that we just need to sit and talk with her – and listen and let her tell us what’s going on,” says Ashley’s mother Tonya Rawie.

But they never had that talk.

According to a survey released by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, almost 60 percent of parents admit they have a hard time talking to their kids about difficult topics like drug use.

One reason? Parents are afraid of sounding mean.

“I work with parents every day that are trying to be buddies with their kids,” says child psychologist Dr. Nancy McGarrah, “They want their kids to think of them as a friend.”

She says parents need to say no, set boundaries, and be a parent – even if your child gets upset.

“They are going to bug you, they are going to cry, they are going to say you are the worst parents in the world,” says Dr. McGarrah. “They are going to say, ‘I hate you,’ they are going to do things that are not pleasant, and that’s not fun. That’s not the fun part of parenting, but it’s the right part of parenting. It’s the important part of parenting.”

Today, Ashley and her parents wish they could turn back the clock.

“Hindsight? We would love to still have her mad at us,” says Tonya, “but have her before she was injured, and have her do all the things that she was able to do.”

*Producer Tom Atwood contributed to this report.

What We Need To Know

  • Start talking to kids about drug use when they are young (around seven or eight-years-old). Have frequent, short conversations. Take opportunities to discuss movies, billboards, news stories or an event that’s happened at your child’s school. (Dr. Nancy McGarrah, Ph.D., Child Psychologist)
  • Avoid long-winded lectures, and engage your child in dialogue. For example, ask your child what he or she would hope to gain from using alcohol, tobacco or drugs. Then suggest a better way to achieve the same goal. (Penn State University)
  • It’s not enough for parents to say, “don’t use drugs.” Give kids practical advice about how to cope with peer pressure. Do this before specific events like the prom where kids may be tempted to use drugs or alcohol. (Penn State University)
  • Set clear boundaries. Let your child know you expect him or her not to use drugs. Sometimes parents will have to make unpopular decisions like refusing to let your child go to a party where you suspect there will be alcohol or drugs. This may be difficult in the short term, because the child will likely argue, scream and yell. However, in the long run, setting boundaries will help the child learn to make good decisions. (Dr. Nancy McGarrah, Ph.D., Child Psychologist)


  • White House Office of National Drug Control Policy
  • VitalSmarts
  • Partnership for a Drug-Free America

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