I recently saw a child (early teen) who was using alcohol, prescription and illegal drugs with regularity. She was a beautiful child, who should have been giggling about boys while she secretly played with dolls in her bedroom. She should have been ecstatically entering womanhood with her parents glowing all around her, guiding her, teaching her not to be grumpy or unkind even as they lavished her with love. She told me she took whatever she could get her hands on; Xanax, meth, marijuana, booze, Oxycontin. Her eyes looked so tired; welled-up with tears, her faint mascara smudged.
She was living with other, loving family members. But her parents were absent. And her parents apparently had serious substance abuse issues. So, she bounced between well-meaning, but non-parental, family members.
This is the secret disease that wrecks so many emergency department patients; that wrecks so many young lives in general. The dysfunction and absence of parents. We struggle to understand the biology of addiction, the sociology of teen pregnancy, the criminology of incarcerated young people. But for a whopping majority of the problems, the answer is painfully simple. Parents.
Parents wreck their children by absence and neglect, by their own issues of alcohol and drug use, by their own self-interested pursuits of new loves, new lives, new thrills. Parents, of course, are broken themselves. They were often abused, neglected, left behind, ignored. And so, they pass it on, like some dark, deadly gene. Their children become lost souls because they were lost souls themselves.
This is the secret disease. All our evidence-based analyses of suffering dances around the cure that works. We should be encouraging the stability and recovery of families. Families with dads and moms at home. Families where children are treasured and kept safe from the chaos that darkens all around them.
Do you want to help children to avoid addiction, crime, pregnancy and STD’s? Their mothers and fathers are the key. Their involvement constitutes the most profound, God-ordained, consistently successful preventative treatment ever devised.
Do you want continued chaos, continued suffering and legions of lost, broken, children in the ER’s of America? Scoff at family, ignore it, consign everyone to a social program run by strangers, trample faith and values and deny the necessity of mothers and fathers in the lives of their children.
But look for more rehab centers, jails, abortion centers and weeping, shattered children.