During adolescence, drugs and alcohol do some things to the brain that just don't happen later, like there are risks to certain drugs and alcohol to everyone, but then there are greater risks for many of them because they mess with parts of the brain that are in the process of growing and adapting and connecting really, really quickly. I think helping kids be the kind of person who doesn't have to medicate themselves to feel like they're enough. That's my goal with teaching.
That's my goal with parenting. I'm coming at this from the perspective of a parent who just wants to do whatever I can. That's based on actual, reliable, good evidence, especially as a parent of kids who are more likely to have substance abuse during their lifetime. And as a teacher and as a person who my entire adult career has been dedicated to helping kids feel seen and heard and known and helping them get to a place where they are healthy and full and realized adults.
And all of this is part of the same picture. So the fact that I've been through recovery, I think that adds something interesting to the story. But just having gone through recovery does not make me an expert in treatment. What I'm an expert in now is prevention. I love gift to failure. I will always love gift to failure. But this is the book that I was meant to write. This is the book that life has brought me to this place and all the crappy stuff that I had to go through to get here.
This is why it's worth it. That's Jessica Lahey and this is the patrol podcast. The Rich Roll podcast. Hey, everybody, guess what, it's that time again, what time is that the time to talk about addiction? You heard me right specifically today. Substance abuse in teens and young people. Of course, it's a parent's worst fear and it's a huge problem, in fact, the nation's largest preventable and costly health problem. So how do we deal with this?
How do we properly equip kids with the tools they need to avoid substance abuse? How can we identify a kid who is at risk and what can be done to prevent our young ones from developing dependency issues? Well, to answer these questions, I do what you do when you host a podcast. I turn to the experts, people like today's guest, my friend Jessica Lahey, returning for her second appearance on the podcast, her first being Episode two 82, which was almost exactly four years ago.
Jess writes about education, parenting and child welfare for The Atlantic, The Washington Post and The New York Times. She's the author of The New York Times best selling book, The Gift of Failure. She also co-hosts the popular writing podcast alongside another podcast alum, K.J. Del Antônio. That episode was number three, 1986. And now Hot Off the Press. Her second book and the primary focus of today's discussion is entitled The Addiction Inoculation Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence.
But before we dive into the deep end, let's do some housekeeping, shall we?
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OK, so this is a conversation about parenting. Of course, it's about having difficult conversations about alcoholism, about drug addiction and how to effectively guide our young ones through the perils of substance exploration, dependency and abuse. It's also about arming parents with invaluable evidence based strategies and the practical tools helpful, super helpful in raising, supporting and educating resilient, addiction resistant children. As a recovering alcoholic myself, somebody who has done battle with the demons of addiction as well as a dad of four currently delicately parenting two teens.
This subject is of particular personal importance to me and I think a useful lens into developmental psychology that I suspect will resonate with many of you as well.
So here we go. This is me and Jessica Lahey. Well, so nice to see you. Thank you for doing this thing. I wish I could do it in person. I know we did this at your dining room table, just two microphones and. Yeah, and some juice.
It's been a couple.
I think it's been how many. It's been five years at this point. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
I'm only now getting over my resentment that you cheated on me with DAX and I'm in a good place with it.
I ended up well it was so sad because those, those were like the last things I scheduled. Those are some of the first things that got canceled when the pandemic Democrat. My next flight was supposed to go to Los Angeles to do armchair expert and hopefully see you and do a couple of other things. And that was one of the first things that got canceled. Yeah, yeah.
And here we are one year into this whole thing.
I know. I know. But you've got this new book coming out. I'm super excited to talk to you about it. It's such an important subject matter and conversation that needs to be had. This is a book that, you know, I feel like should have been written decades ago.
I'm so glad that that you've written it. And it's really potent and powerful. And I think it's going to help a lot of parents.
It's funny, before this book even became an idea in my head, this was stuff that I wanted to be able to talk to you about, you know, the first time around. And we talked for whatever it was, two hours and something and only scratched the surface on the substance abuse stuff. But, you know, that second book thing is really scary. You know, you when you have a book, especially a book that's done well, I, I didn't want to just write like the obvious next thing are like gift, a failure, part two or whatever, the sequel.
And it took a long time to figure out what I was going to write about. And in the meantime, life was happening and life lined me up with this topic. So, yeah, you know, it was this was the book I love Gift to Failure. I will always love Gift to failure. But this is the book that I was meant to write. This is the book that, you know, life has brought me to this place and all the crappy stuff that I had to go through to get here.
This is why it's worth it.
And it's interesting that you would comment that you weren't sure what you wanted to write about next or, you know, it's because it's so obvious that this is the book that you were born to write.
But I had a lot it's funny. My agent is so supportive and I would send her ideas and she'd be like, oh, no, I love you. But now this isn't this isn't it? And then I'd send her something else. And I was sort of circling the topic. And keep in mind. So I got sober when I sold Gift of Failure, there was this big auction. It was like fourteen EDS. We had a big auction for it.
And right after that is when I got sober because I knew I couldn't write the book and continue to do what I was doing with my life. And and so, you know, you're not really supposed to do much new stuff for about a year. And so I was dealing with the gift of failure stuff and trying to write that book. And then a year after gift, a failure came out and I had about a year sober. I went to go speak in an adolescent drug and alcohol rehab, rehab for adolescents.
And I went to go do like, you know, service thing where you go and you do the speaking thing. And then I sort of realized at the end I looked around and I'm like, wait a second, if you guys are here 24/7, there has to be some sort of education program. And I had just left my full time teaching job. So next thing I knew, I was working. I was getting drug tested and I was working and a drug and alcohol rehab for adolescents as their writing teacher.
And I did that for five years. And it's it was the best teaching job ever. And I don't think I could have written this book without having done that work, too. So it was a combination of the everything had to align in order for this to happen.
They ultimately phased out the adolescent component of that facility, right? Yeah.
If you have a kid now in Vermont and you want inpatient treatment, you it doesn't exist.
Although I heard the best news just the other day. Lead singer of fish, founding member of Fish and I'm not a ha. How do you fish fan even though I live my tribe. Yes. Thank you. So how do you say his last name? I do not know, but he's opening. I just saw in our local paper the other day that he's going to open a rehab in Vermont, Gandhi, University of Vermont. I live just south of Burlington and my husband is affiliated with the University of Vermont.
So I could not be more excited because my secret hope someday is to open a recovery high school for adolescents in the Burlington area. So, yeah, I'm well, that would be cool.
Yeah, that's weirdly ironic because. The whole fish thing is about just smoke and tons of dough, right? Yeah, I'm really excited to see what he does. Just hit the news, just hit our local news a couple of days ago.
And I've been thinking a lot lately about the current state of the greater treatment industrial complex, because I just watched this movie called Body Brokers and this film.
No, I haven't yet. And I want to see it. I mean, it's a it's a narrative feature. But the writer director is a guy who was in in and out of, you know, I think a few treatment centers.
And it deals with the insurance fraud component and all the kind of abuses that are occurring, which, you know, from a from and this is relevant to what we're going to talk about creates confusion and trepidation.
Faced with the prospect of whether I should put my kid in a treatment center, is this only going to be and you talk about this in the book, is this only going to be a breeding ground for unhealthy behavior because of the kind of, you know, community that you're suddenly introducing your child to?
Because it's so hard to know what I mean right now. So many people are making money off of treating people, which is, you know, you have to be able to make money somehow and yet and then there are especially with kids, there's so many parents just desperate for anyone to help them. And even if you can find a quality place to send your kid, it's just so hard to get a kid in. You know, it's just a really bad spot right now.
The thing for me that I think it's important to remember is that the new about the addiction inoculation is just about the prevention side. Like I you know, I think one of the problems is that there are so many people in recovery who want to help other people who need to get better and want to get better. And so the draw is for people in recovery to go become counselors themselves. And I think that's great. I think that's fantastic. But just having gone through recovery does not make me an expert in treatment.
What I'm an expert in now is prevention, and I'm not an expert in treatment. So when it comes to that stuff, you know, I will defer to the experts. I have only my own experience. I know I have an academic understanding of treatment and that sort of stuff. But, you know, my wheelhouse is prevention, right?
And the book certainly uses that as a focus.
But Interlinear did throughout are a couple narratives most potent in my mind. We have this girl, Georgia boy, Brian, and you kind of tell their stories, you know, throughout the book. And and what you kind of glean from that is how messy and tricky and nonlinear this whole thing is. Like once, you know, the child is addicted or the young person is addicted, you know, it's it's and you admit to your own kind of inadequacies even as being a sober person with how challenging it becomes to try to guide that person or figure out how to get them towards the solution.
Well, and the other big picture there is how unclear the research is, at least even for the things that we think we know. I mean, the entire chapter about Brian is about peers, you know, kids and their peer groups and the research on that, if you were to ask someone for the short answer is what is the research on peer cohort say? It would say if your kid hangs out with kids who do drugs, they will be more likely to do drugs.
And that just sounded a little too simple for for me. No, and I happen to be I'm also No. One. I love my job and I'm a big research dork. And I get to read and read and read and translate all that stuff. I'm also married to a scientist. I'm married to a statistician and a physician and an ethicist. And so any time I say, you know, this this just doesn't sound clear cut to me.
Let's dig through the research and let's find out what the good studies are with the bad studies are in blah, blah, blah. So it turns out that not only are so many camps in the recovery world and in the substance abuse world, and I wanted to try to go into this free of a camp and try to look at all the research and figure out, you know, if if Brian's story is that, you know, he had drug issues than the last thing I should have done was let my son be his friend, you know, but it wasn't that simple.
So, you know, what do we do with a world that isn't very simple and very rarely cut and dry or black and white, that kind of thing. So that's. Yeah, and also the big story for me with this book is, you know, my. Passion is to learn stuff, learn from it and become a better person, and so the last thing I wanted to do is make parents feel any kind of shame or bad or regret.
My goal with this book is to be as empowering as possible. Mm hmm.
Yeah, you succeeded in that regard. But, yeah, it's hard. It's so complicated and tricky.
And I'm going to resist every impulse in my body to not make this, you know, a personal counseling session.
You know, I've got two teen daughters and my kids in there, you know. Yeah, I know.
My my daughters do not want to be part of the podcast, though, and I respect that. So we're not going to do that specifically. But there's so many kind of universalities that we can extract from this. But because we didn't really talk about sobriety and addiction in our last podcast, which was focused on the gift of failure and just young people and learning, why don't we begin with your story, which is how you open the book, because I think it beautifully contextualizes all of this.
Thank you. Oh, it's it's funny asking. I did not expect this book to be a memoir, by the way. It just became that. So I was raised in a family with an alcoholic parent and lots of other alcoholics and drug addicts, sort of just, you know, sprinkled throughout the family tree all over the place. And I don't think there are that many people out there that don't have at least one out there somewhere. But I happen to have, I think, more than average.
And what's funny is, you know, I think it's taken me a really long time to untangle all of what it meant to be raised by someone with a substance abuse problem. And despite the fact that I really do think I had a fairly idyllic childhood, I also knew that the one thing I didn't want to be was a person who drank too much. And so I really went all the way over to the abstinence end of the spectrum. I was such a dorky teenager.
I was like the designated driver. I became a peer drug and alcohol counselor in college. I was like the coolest person in college. I was there's this you know, I talk in the book, you know, I lit that scene about me standing there in, like, beer soaked living room in a frat house lecturing about how, you know, alcohol is broken down to, you know, it's just it was I was horrifying. And I also was a resident assistant, so I was like the narc on the floor in a dorm that was very had a very big drug culture.
So I was I just didn't really drink or do any drugs or anything like that through college. And then I really didn't have a problem with drugs or alcohol until I was in my 40s and it just snuck up on me. And, you know, I get that my story's a little different from a lot of people. You know, there wasn't that like I had that first drink and I suddenly knew what was missing from my life. For me, it was a slow build.
And I knew for a really long time that it was building and building and going nowhere good. But it took my dad actually was the one who called me out on my drinking, which was a really big deal. And I'm so grateful to him. So grateful to him.
Well, I think it's an interesting story.
I mean, first of all, when I think of you in college being the narc and all of that and being the goody goody, you know, I have to suspect on some level that was a fear response to your family history.
Like I am going to will my way into not being that person. And alcoholism just doesn't really work that way. And, you know, when Opportunity met, you know, whatever situation you were in, it took hold. And because, you know, it's not a super dramatic bottom.
It's a story less told in in the kind of annals of alcoholism.
But I think it's incredibly common, like the extent to which you, you know, went to hide your drinking and all of that stuff that's so indelibly alcoholic is relatable to anybody who's in who's in recovery.
And yet the fact that when you got sober, your concern was that your friends would be, you know, surprised or thinking, well, you don't really have a problem because you were so good at math.
It wasn't my fear. It was it's what happened. I mean, I I went I went to my first meeting and had to sort of come out to my friends and I had to I had to talk them into it. I mean, there they just didn't one friend I really had to talk her into it. And it was a weird thing, you know, I was so good at hiding it. I was so good at hiding it. And in fact, when my husband first read the galley of the new book of the addiction innoculation, I don't let people read stuff until it's sort of done.
Done. And there was so much news to him stuff and the. And he it was hard for him to digest reading that first chapter, and then I had to send it to my parents and that's a whole other you know, so many people say, you know, I'm just so glad you're honest and I'm perfectly fine being honest and forthright and out there. But I also don't want to hurt the people around me that I love. And sure, those are their stories to tell.
But, you know, the more we talk about, you know, the more we talk about it, I think the easier other people find to find it to talk about.
Yeah. I mean, tell me about it. When I when my parents read finding Alterra, that was a very terrifying experience, I can tell you. Yeah. So I you know, I understand that. But, you know, it takes what it takes and you hit your bottom and you reckoned with the demon and you came out the other side. So you've got like, what, maybe eight years now?
Because I will have a funny seven and almost eight years. In fact, in my sobriety date is my my sobriety date is my mother's birthday. Because I got I got so hammered at her birthday party. That was the night my that was the night. Right. The so. Yeah. Shit hit the fan.
Yeah. Yeah. I don't remember it.
I don't remember it. So you know I hear it was really bad but I am kind of grateful. I don't remember.
I don't know, I don't know if I'm grateful I don't remember it or if you know whatever.
I like that. It was your dad though that kind of knocked on the door and brought you in, which is pretty cool.
And then having to contend with the gift of failure coming out and all the hullabaloo around that in early sobriety, I suspect, would have been, you know, relatively overwhelming.
Actually, there was it was even worse than that. I don't know if we had this conversation, but the day after I handed in the first draft of my manuscript for The Gift of Failure, I went on I had been trading a friend of mine has a horse farm, and I had been training a horse with her. And I was just out. My husband went with me. He never rides with me. He doesn't he doesn't really know how to ride.
We were just out on a trail thing and the horse threw me and I fell on my head and I lost my memory. I lost my ability to read and write for a while. And then while I was still in that post concussive syndrome with depression and seeing my vision problems and reading problems, I was teaching at the I mean, it was just horrible. And then my editor came back to me on the first draft of Gift of Failure to tell you the story.
She that it was the quote unquote that. Oh, yeah, because I didn't reveal the story until after we talk because it was so humiliating. I never talked about it that the first draft of the gift, a failure was, quote, unpublishable. And the words ghost came out that maybe I needed a ghost, which for me was a ghost writer, which is so humiliating because I at the time was writing a column for The New York Times.
I had written for The Atlantic for years. And so instead I said, I tell you what, can I have these probationary chapters? Just let me have two chapters to you know, you lay it on me, tell me how bad my book is and what I did wrong and what I can do better. And she did. And those two chapters turned into the rest of the book. So all of that I was just newly sober. I had a post concussion syndrome with depression.
It was just it was horrible.
It was really, really bad, you know, being humble to your core. Yeah.
I lot writing you in The New York Times writer being told they need a ghostwriter.
Wow. But imagine if I had been drinking when I was in that post concussive syndrome. I mean that there have been a few times that I've been so grateful that I'm not drinking anymore. That was one. The pandemic has been the other one. I'm just. Yeah, I can't even imagine what that would have been like if I was still drinking while.
Well, speaking of the pandemic and kind of transitioning into into young people, you know, what is your kind of sense or take on how this past year has impacted young people, perhaps differently than older people? And then, you know, how is that related to addiction and substance abuse?
Yeah. So one of the big things that the pandemic has done for all of us, not just kids, but all of us, is take away our sense of control and take away a lot of our and for kids then, you know, as out of control as I feel as a parent, imagine how out of control my kid feels. He can't can barely leave the house. You know, kids have so little autonomy in their lives to begin with.
And now all of a sudden, not only, you know, college kids are having to stay home, kids are having to do school from home. They're some kids are very, very few spaces to call their own and have any autonomy over. And suddenly all of that is closing in and closing in. You know, my kid, I have a seventeen year old and, you know, he's going I'm trying to imagine what it would have been like for me at 16 and 17 to barely leave the house for, you know, no dating, no leaving the house.
You know, it's just it's so taking away kids can. Role does a couple of different things, obviously, we're seeing really high levels of depression and anxiety, the clinical I work with a bunch of clinicians, we I do this when the pandemic first hit, a bunch of sort of parenting educators and writers got together and created this thing called The Parenting in Place Master Class. And we do these sessions and on I'm I'm doing a session actually with a mutual friend of ours, Julie Lithium's.
She and I have a session coming up on older kids and getting them out of the nest and off to college. And the parents there and the clinicians there are talking about just incredible levels of depression, lots of anxiety, tons of suicidal ideation. I have friends there in this group who are not just clinicians, but like work in schools with kids all the time. And they're like, I don't know what to do with all of this sadness and despair and helplessness.
And that's what taking control away does to us. It creates this learned helplessness, which is there's some great research from Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania about the fact that when when exposed to long term helplessness, frustration, pain are sort of default. Response as humans is to go helpless and just sort of, you know, curl up in the fetal position.
And the way we undo that, the way we interrupt that circuit is by giving control back. And all of these kids have not only had the normal amount of sort of parents in their stuff all the time, suddenly just their ability to do just about anything and have control over just about everything has been taken away and learned helplessness has gone through the roof. Some people are talking about it in terms of like regressing, which isn't entirely appropriate, but close.
I mean, lots of kids are sort of reading books they used to read when they were 12 but haven't looked at in a long time as a way of giving themselves comfort and stuff like that or watching. My kid went through a period where he was watching movies. He loved us like an elementary, like animated stuff that he loved in Elementary Kid. And yeah. So I think that that depression, that anxiety, those feelings of hopelessness, all of those feelings are, you know, really put kids at risk for substance abuse, number one.
But obviously mental health issues at the same time. And it's it's incredibly hard to get help right now. It's incredibly hard to get help right now. From a mental health perspective. Everyone's overbooked. You know, kid has to do stuff by Zoome, which is not the same thing as being in the room with a therapist. It's just it's hard. It's hard for every.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, we're experiencing that in our house. Anxiety, depression, the loss of agency, the powerlessness, the frustration that gets baked into that. And all of those contribute to this, you know, mental soup that primes a young person to be susceptible to substances in a pretty profound way. Like we have one. You know, here I am talking about my family, but I have one daughter who's clearly Guinness Nigeria.
Yeah. One very extroverted child and one very introverted child, and noticing how they are navigating this in very different ways. It's been fascinating as one as a child, a lot internalizing everything. And it's very difficult to get this child to communicate about it, whereas the other one is just a hurricane like all it. You never know what you're going to get, you know, and it's and it's changing from hour to hour.
Yeah. And actually, my introvert has actually liked a lot of the aspects of being home more and being in his cave. He went nocturnal for a while too, I think. And, you know, having all of those relationships be online and not having to go to school, that was working really well for a while. But even he, I think, is starting to hit a point where he's like, OK, right. It's been a year now.
I'm yeah, I'm seventeen. So I you know, and it really has affected kids differently. Some kids are thriving honestly there. I get I talk to parents all the time whose kids are thriving because they've had, you know, independent projects. So they're a home school is working for them or hybrid is what my kids are doing and that's working well. But in general, it's been really hard to watch. Kids have to struggle through this, often by themselves.
And what is your sense as an educator in terms of how learning is happening when now it's all digital and on?
Zoome Yeah, so the secret sauce of teaching is engagement, relevance, connection, interpersonal connection, connecting the material you're learning to something you care about. We know that learning does not happen when there's not an emotion tied to it. So emotion is what allows really deep learning to happen. And when you feel disconnected, not just from the people you're learning from, but from a. Well, sure, I am understanding that this is geometry, but how does that relate to anything beyond the classroom?
So, you know, the really best teachers not only create an emotional connection with their students, they help connect the material to something the kid cares about. They create relevance. So they have a sense for, oh, this kid really likes astronomy. Let me explain to him how geometry and astronomy work together. And this kid over here, she likes to sew. So let me explain how Seam Allowance is, how we use fractions to work with similar, you know, that kind of thing.
So that relevance is important. But then really what it comes down to is engagement is that that emotional interest, attachment stimulation for whatever it is we're teaching or the people that are teaching it. And when this disconnect has happened, you know, at the end of the first season of the pandemic, at least the kids already knew their teachers. You know, they'd been in their classrooms with their teachers that year. Then looking at the fall, which and by the way, I just have to say this for teachers out there.
Online teaching, virtual teaching, distance learning, that is a skill that you have to learn, it's not like something that just trains a classroom. Teaching does not just translate to online, especially because the best kinds of teaching don't work with me as a talking head.
Just sort of that's lecturing and lecturing is actually a really poor vehicle for learning. So the teachers that we're doing sort of the best work had to try to figure out how to adapt, whether it's project based learning or independent inquiry or, you know, all of that stuff is really hard to do in this weird talking head format. And then, you know, you've probably seen all the articles. Here's why Zoome calls are so emotionally exhausting for us, because we're looking for social cues that aren't there.
You know, I do a lot of speaking engagements where I'm looking at either my own face or a blank screen and I'm like these jokes landing, you know, I don't know. And, you know, so. Yeah.
And, you know, when when everyone's just a box on a screen, how is the teacher supposed to, you know, really get into what's going to motivate that child?
It just becomes infinitely more difficult. And kids are so astute at figuring out how to do and runs around the rules like a log on and check in.
And then they turn the camera off or they you know, who knows what's going on. I mean, I've seen it all. And but think about some of the kids for whom the having the camera off is a legit concern. Like, let's say I'm a kid who the women in our family have to wear headscarves in the presence of of men that are not of the same family. So that now means if I'm online in my kitchen, because that's the only common space we have in our apartment and that now means my mom has to be in her headscarf.
Or what if I'm a kid who lives in poverty? What if I'm a kid who lives, you know, in a shelter? I don't want to have the camera on. I don't want people to see what's going on in my house. You know, there are very real reasons why some kids can't engage in the same way. And some teachers are still penalizing kids for not having their cameras on or, you know, that kind of thing. So I think we've teachers all of a sudden it's like, hold on, I'm now a guest in your home.
You know, it's not like you're coming to my classroom. I'm now a guest in your home. What new considerations do you dickens the different that I've never even done that before.
It's a it's a whole new thing that I'm just amazed that it's gone off as well as it has, frankly. Mm hmm.
Well, it'll be interesting, you know, maybe a decade from now to, you know, really do some studies on the long term impact of.
It's going to take a while. Yeah. And I say the same thing for substance abuse this year, too. I mean, we have groups doing surveys every year of sort of like the Monitoring the Future survey. They look at, you know, kids attitudes around drugs and alcohol and their habits and stuff like that. But I think it really think it is going to take a couple of years for us to see the full impact and get a clear picture of what's happening.
We'll be back in a few.
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Well, let's pivot into the substance abuse stuff, the reason that you I suspect the reason that you introduced the book with your story is a means of saying, like, I understand this stuff. I have my own history and experience with this and myself also having that experience. I feel like it equips me to better understand and manage, you know, my parenting around this in a better way than than somebody who has no experience with this. But I've also found that it has some downsides as well.
So talk a little bit about, you know, kind of what you bring to this conversation as somebody with direct experience and where that can kind of also go sideways.
I actually don't think my direct experience is as interesting for this book as the fact that, you know, the reason I wrote this book is that I am a parent of two kids who dropped out of the uterus with an increased risk of substance abuse. So when the experts that are out there in the world say the line are right, the line and this is something that is said often is substance abuse is preventable. Well, what does that mean? And is it different for my kids?
And. Well, what about my students over here who I'm just trying to help them stay sober? What what is it about their lives that I need to understand so that I can be more informed from a trauma based teaching perspective and from a perspective of how do I help so that more kids don't end up in my classroom? And then I started digging into school programs. What are we doing and what aren't we doing and what could we do better?
So I'm coming at this from the perspective of a parent who just wants to do whatever I can. That's based on actual evidence, like reliable, good evidence, not just like, oh, I hope what what can I do as a parent, especially as a parent of kids who are more likely to have substance abuse during their lifetime and as a teacher and as a person who, you know, my entire adult career has been, you know, has been dedicated to helping kids feel seen and heard and known and helping them get to a place where they are healthy and full and self realized, you know, adults and all of this is part of the same picture.
So the fact that I've been through recovery, I think that, you know, adds something interesting to the story. But my perspective is really that of an educator and as a parent and as someone who fortunately has this platform to say, OK, if we're not doing enough, what is it that we need to be doing differently? And to bring the journalist side of that to this is fun because that means that I have to go into this is objectively as possible.
You know, I happen to get better in a 12 step program, but that's not for everyone. And how can I be as objective as possible and come at this from, you know, as objective a headspace as possible? So, you know, I tell the story about who I am, mainly because I'm going to say some hard stuff and I need you that you don't have to like me, but you do have to trust me. And I say it and I say hard stuff and give it a failure, too.
And so I have to walk. This line of I'm going to say is a really hard stuff. But I've been there and I've made those mistakes and here's how I learned to do better. So I think that's why that story is there.
I got it. So let's talk a little bit about the difference between adult addiction and what is unique about teens and substance abuse. And maybe maybe that's an opening to talk about the developing mind.
And you know what's particular about a young person's experiences with drugs and alcohol.
So I like to start from the place of, look, I am not anti-drug. I'm not anti alcohol. I am. We have to keep in mind going into this, that just because a kid has a drink of alcohol or some drugs does not mean that they're going to be addicted either. Lots of people out there on the planet, like probably 90 percent of the people out there, can go use substances and have at it. You know, Dr.
Karl Hart's new book, Drug Use for Grown UPS talks about that. Michael Pollan has talked about it in how to change your mind. You know, if you're an adult and you don't have an issue and you're not wired the way I'm wired, then have fun. You know, I'm I'm not as interested in that picture. Here's the thing, though. That's adults. Kids are a very different thing because adolescence from about, you know, puberty to the early 20s are in this period of unmatched brain plasticity, the only time where the brain is developing at this rate is from birth to two.
So adolescence is so much is happening in their brains. They're not only wiring up the frontal lobe of their brain that hasn't been really online yet, which is where all that executive function, planning schedules, all that stuff happens, their sort of limbic system, lower brain stuff is sort of running the show right now. This is just starting to come online. Myelination is happening in the brains. Fatty sheath is going over the neurons. Synaptic genesis synapses are just billions of synapses are happening.
And there's no there's no retakes on this.
Right. So if we get if anything goes wrong during this period, this period of intense, of incredible plasticity, can't go back and fix it. And that's why during adolescence, drugs and alcohol do some things to the brain that just don't happen later. Like there are risks to certain drugs and alcohol to everyone. But then there are there there are greater risks for many of them because they mess with parts of the brain that are in the process of growing and adapting and connecting really, really quickly.
So that's what makes it different.
And and then, you know, a lot of people call substance abuse a developmental disorder because teenagers are also uniquely wired to want to go there. Right. Right. Novelty risk. Kids and adolescents have baseline lower levels of dopamine than little kids are adults. So when teenagers tell you they're bored, probably really are because their dopamine levels are just baseline lower. But and drugs and alcohol really can fix that. So they're they're really in a place where and also they're becoming and that's scary.
And not liking yourself is sort of a part of adolescence here and there. And drugs and alcohol can kind of fix that in the short term, too. So.
Taking that chunk of information and then layering that on top of a young person and trying to assess their their level of risk, you kind of run through this gamut of factors from genetics and epigenetics to adverse childhood experiences, toxic stress, academic failure. So talk a little bit about the factors that contribute to a young person being at risk and how to identify when you see whether it's your own child or another child, like how you can kind of intuit that that person might be walking a tightrope.
So in figuring out how much risk your kid has, I, I beg parents to just be really as clear eyed as possible about this. Not so hard to not take things personally because we feel so you know, our kids are like some sort of statement about our parenting. And man, if my kid has a risk factor, maybe I did. I'm not a bad parent. You know, I would beg you to not do that simply because a kid's risk factors are information and information is power in this situation.
So if I know that I've set my kid up, like, for example, we moved right between middle school and high school and transitions are really risky times for kids. And I not only moved my kid away during this sort of high risk time anyway, I took him away from all of his friends. And not only that, I took him away from his friends whose parents I trusted. And now we're going to go to some new place where I don't know any of his parents friends and I don't know the other kids.
And so I did that.
But knowing that is really important so that I can act based on the fact that I that is something that is there. So when you look at kids, the first place we I like to start is so genetics is about 50 to 60 percent of the picture. So so from the get go, my kids have more risk. Here's our risk and our and our prevention. It's like an old timey scale of justice. The heavier the risk side, the more prevention you're going to need to outweigh it.
So genetics, my kids got that. And on both sides of the family, by the way, my husband has lots of substance abuse in his family, too. So we really gave it to him from both sides. And then on top of that, then you want to put in epigenetics, which is just, you know, I grew up with someone who used drugs and alcohol. So therefore, the stress of that can change the way my genes express themselves.
It's not actually they're not actually changing the genes, but changing the way the genes express themselves.
So epigenetic like that's what the trauma, the trauma or stress of somebody in your family tree being passed down. So having like a residual.
Yeah. And you talked about adverse childhood experiences and that's one of them. So adverse childhood experiences are a list. If you Google adverse childhood experiences or ACES and the CDC, you can find a quiz. You can take your own quiz about what your adverse childhood experience rating is. Out of ten in the rehab classroom, usually my students scored seven, eight, nine. I had a kid once. It was a ten. He had like all of them.
And that affects, as many of us know, thanks to Nadine Burke Harris writing about this in the deepest well, that that affects everything. It affects our mental health. It affects our physical health. Whether I have a stroke at eighty or a stroke at sixty, I mean, that can change based on my childhood experiences and substance abuse in the house. In the home is one of them. Violence, abuse, physical and sexual abuse, divorce and separation.
And then there's sort of a smaller list of things that sort of some people continue needing precarious talks about a bunch of them. Adoption is one just different life, different things that can happen during childhood. So the adverse childhood experiences is a big one. And then there are other things like academic failure, social ostracism, aggression towards other children. If you see a small kid being really aggressive towards other children, I mean, there's so many reasons to intervene in that from like to get that kid some help with their anger issues or whatever it is that they're acting out about.
But you can see how the risk factors get all tangled up because a kid who is aggressive towards other kids is probably going to be ostracized, too. And social ostracism and academic failure are fairly tangled up together, too. Right. So the earlier we intervene and the earlier we get kids help for whatever their thing is, whether it's, you know, ostracism or the bullying, whatever, the better off they're going to be for their lifetime risk of substance use disorder.
Right. And other kind of childhood trauma or adverse childhood experience to that is a very subjective, experiential thing. Right. Like we tend to think of those things like, oh, an acrimonious divorce or, you know, physical or tremendous emotional abuse in the household. But it can be triggered by something, you know.
Less sort of severe, like some mild bullying, but that that child's experience of that is more traumatic than appears on the surface.
So then does it not just become an issue of communication, like how how to figure out how to crack the code with your child so that you can open that channel and, you know, you know, really be able to understand what's going on with that person?
Well, the people who are in the you know, addiction is a substance use disorders. What we're supposed to be to saying that substance use disorder is a is related directly to trauma. And that's the Gábor Amitay, you know, of the world. And he's written so beautifully about that. That is a legit talk about camps and substance abuse, substance use disorders. And there's the trauma camp. There's the that the idea that substance abuse is a developmental disorder because adolescence kids are just uniquely wired to want that risk and want that novelty and also driven by the lower brain.
And, you know, people don't often become substance users, abusers later on in life. If it's going to happen, it tends to happen during, you know, adolescence. And then there's the brain science camp as well. So, you know, speaking of the camps, the trauma one is a very big one. And actually the analogy that I hate, but it's so apt is, you know, that that genetics is the bullet in the gun and that trauma's the trigger, that that bullet could sit there forever and there could be two kids have the same trauma and one just is better able to deal with it.
And another kid, you know, just that have that trauma that happens to them and they're off to the races and running with them with addiction.
So, yeah, in thinking about this whole construct and in the context of addiction and then thinking about the gift of failure, I mean, the gift of failure was all about like allowing kids to fail and kind of providing them like a little bit greater agency than than the typical controlling parent. It's about loosening the reins.
And you see my problem and I know you have this inherent conflict now because this book is all about how to how and when to intervene. Right.
So how do you square this idea of allowing and then, you know, sort of being in, being involved in and, you know, sort of letting kids fail versus which which kind of would be permissive to an exploratory phase, maybe with substances or maybe not.
So when is it appropriate to kind of be in that allowing space or to shut things down?
Yeah, OK, so we got to back up then because the research is really clear that if. Well, it's not really clear. None of this research, you have to think about confounders when you're talking about this research. But if you're if you look at the research, the data show that if you are the kind of parent that is consistently massaging total abstinence until 21, until it is legal to drink or use pot or whatever the thing is, then your child is less likely to have substance use disorder during their lifetime.
Now, as someone who always comes at statistics and data with a question mark in my head, I say, well, except it would be the parents that have the total abstinence agenda whose kids would have less access to blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But either way, the one the reason I bring that up is that it the parents who are like, OK, well, I just want them to be safe. So as long as they're doing it in the basement and they're not driving, it's OK.
Or if I take the keys or if they're, you know, as long as they're here in the home or, you know, I want to give them a sip so that they can grow up to be like those Europeans that have the really sort of moderate you know, they're not overusing their drinking and just having enough. And it's a part of the lifetime, you know, their life and meals and stuff like that. The problem is, is that that sort of European romantic myth of raising a moderate drinker, it does.
It's not true. You know, not only from the standpoint of that doesn't work for kids. A kid whose parents have a permissive attitude around drinking and doing drugs at home while drinking and doing drugs before 21, those kids are more likely to have a substance use disorder during their lifetime. Also, hello. Europe has the highest rates of alcoholism in the world. And not only, you know, they're even starting to have to deal with that. France has gone back and changed its guidelines around how much is healthy drinking because they realize, yeah, yeah, yeah, this has always been a part of our culture, but oh my gosh, we have a problem.
So realize that. Wow. Yeah. So it's really important that we not buy into that. But I can raise moderate drinkers by having this sort of sip of wine with dinner, and I have to make it really clear, talking about my own kids, my older my younger kid is livid. Right, because he's like, this is so unfair because my older brother, you didn't know this stuff then. So he got to, you know, have his first taste of wine on your finger.
When he was an infant, someone had sent us this grotesquely amazing but expensive bottle of wine. And so I put some on my finger, put on my infant's tongue. I wanted his first taste of wine to be a shadow.
You can then you. I know. And then, you know, he was sort of there was this like, yeah, we know you're going to drink, but be careful kind of thing. And now my 17 year old is like, this sucks because you now are like total abstinence. Absolutely not. It's illegal. We don't do that before 21. And, you know, all I can do is say, look, I'm only modeling for you what I want to see.
And you, like I want you to say, huh?
I thought I had the right data. I thought I was doing the right thing. And I realized now I'm not. And so I'm going to change what I'm doing to do the right thing. So I'll show total absence in my house until age 21.
And that's fine. But do not run the risk. Hold on.
Like, if you draw that hard line in the sand, are you not risking the behavior going underground like you're going to cut off the communication? You're setting up a scenario which your kids are going to lie to you and hide stuff from you and do what he's going to do or she's going to do, and then you're not privy to what's going on.
Except so the other thing was for people that are only listening, you just got a big smile on your face. Oh, no, it's this this is what killed me. You know, the writing of this book was this really hard for me? Because I do I do not read my children's emails. I do not read their texts. I have never gone on the high school portal and looked at my kids grades. I don't listen to their phone calls.
I trust my children. And, you know, until I have reason not to trust my children, I don't search the rooms. I don't read their stuff. You know, that's very important to me because the research also is clear on this is that kids who are more controlled by their parents lie to their parents more. It's just the reality. So if I want my kid to be the kind of kid who can trust me and talk to me about things, I have to respect his privacy and I have to put forward the idea that I trust and respect him.
OK, so there's that. There's also real concerted efforts to make these conversations really common and an understanding that, you know, you don't have that one sex talk, you don't have one drug and alcohol talk. And my kids with just last semester, he was in a biology class and the teacher asked the kids, how often do your parents talk to you about substance abuse? And then was like, oh, my God, when does my parent not talk to me about substance abuse?
So we're having a ton of conversations about it all the time. We're very open about those things. And in order to get to that place where I feel like they can trust me to talk to me, I have to be there to listen to the all the other stuff that interests them. That isn't necessarily the stuff I want to hear. I have to respect them and we have to have open communication. And, you know, I just have to hope that the balance I'm trying to strike between that trust and that respect, obviously always subject to change at any time.
If I was getting scared about my kid, you know, or there was a plain view doctrine's situation going on in my home. But I can't I can't force my kid to see the world exactly the way I see it, unless I'm showing him that I respect him to make good decisions. And I just it's a really fine line to cross. And as I said, it's open to change at any time. If I'm worried that my kid is having a problem, that could turn on a dime.
Yeah, I mean, one of the things that that I'm really proud of as a parent is that very thing of just, you know, I'm talking about this all the time and I'm sharing my own experiences, like my kids have heard all these stories of things that I've done.
And I've brought them to AA meetings. And they're you know, they have experience with what that world is all about. And, you know, most of my friends are are sober people. And those are so my kids are exposed to them. And actually, my friends are able to have really amazing conversations with my kids because those conversations are devoid of the emotional charge that I have, if it's me talking. Right. Right. And as a result of that, we have amazing open channels of communication, like my eldest daughter tells me, all kinds of crazy stuff.
And, you know, so for me then it's about like, you know, I can feel my body tensing up and I want to react or I I have this impulse to judge or to make some definitive statement. And it takes all that I have to just like, listen and receive. Yeah. And and to kind of, you know, absorb that in a in a loving and compassionate way. And I found that the more I'm able to be in that space, the better our relationship is.
And I'm taking out an insurance policy on maintaining that open channel of communication. But it has its challenging moments. And I also say that it has not been, you know, a you know, an ironclad inoculation against problems.
Oh, absolutely not. Right? Absolutely not. None of these things are and. I think so much of so much of what I hear from kids and I get to talk to a lot of kids and it's so much fun. And one of the things I do when I'm out at a school talking to kids is I give them all my email address and I say, OK, look, I'm going to be talking to your parents tonight. I want you to email me with.
But for that, with the things you want me to tell your parents and the top three things. I mean, I usually get three things over and over and over again. One is I'm not my brother. I'm not my sister. I'm not you. When you were my age, that sort of like I don't feel seen or heard known for who I am. I feel like you're raising some imaginary kid you wish I was and not me. So that's really stunning to me.
I also get a lot about like, you know, if you are going to tell me I have to do something, then you should have to do it, too. It's usually related to having to put down the phone if I have to tell my parents. But one of the other big things they tell me is I want to talk to my parents. I really, really do. It's just that I don't want to talk about the stuff they want to talk about all the time, which is like I don't want to constantly be talking about school.
Can't we talk about something else? And so I think, you know, the reason that one of the chapters in the book is about getting this conversation started and how hard that can be. And I talked to lots of therapists who have to try to get kids to talk about stuff when they don't want to talk. And a lot of them, you know, there's some cool stuff like, you know, if you're in the same room with your kid and they don't want to say words, tell them to text it to you across the room.
You know, that may feel weird and horrible and fake, but it's actually can be a really authentic way of communicating. But I mean, the reason in the chapter that I'm talking about, you know, I talk about the crazy lengths I go to to get my kids to talk to me and tell me stuff. But a little bit of that ever is me showing them that it's really that I want it that much that I want to that I am so willing to meet them on their level in a place that they want to talk about stuff that I'm willing to go to these stupid lengths of making, recreating the show hot ones in my own mind.
I was just going to bring that up.
That's like my fate. That's one of my favorite parts of the whole book is the so much fun, the questions that you came up with.
So talk a little bit about that. Yeah.
So we've we've loved the show Hot Ones since the very beginning. Shawn Evans, I think is a talented interviewer, such a talented interviewer. But and his schtick, you know, partially it's because he's an incredible researcher. But also he you know, the shtick is that you're eating a hot wing and a ten different hot wings of ten of hotter and hotter hot wings. And that throws you off of your game a little bit. It throws get your defenses down, that kind of thing.
And and it's fun. You know, you go into that thinking it's going to be fun. It's a little scary, but it's fun. So my husband, I said, let's do hot ones at home over at our dinner table, but we've got to come up with questions for the kids. And they can't be stupid questions. They can't be prying questions. They can't be questions that will embarrass them. What are the ten questions we get? Like what do we really want to know?
And so we wrote ten questions for each kid, one to go with each wing. And then I went and got unseasoned wings and big and wings and bought the full range of that season's hot sauces I think. And did each one. And the kid the kids didn't know it was a total surprise. And they came down and so with and they were all in. It was really fun. They sort of smiled as soon as they knew, as soon as they understood what was happening.
And we did the whole thing and we were willing to be self-effacing like, yep, wear this dorky. We really do want you. And, you know, we acknowledge the fact that it was funny and we had a great evening. We did end up drinking ice cream, though, because the hottest hot wing required pretty much just solid vanilla ice cream.
It was just so overpoweringly high, like two million Pskov or crazy. It was the the one that they make the last dab. It was it was intense.
It was really crazy, but it was good looking. I'm looking at the questions that you ask. It's like, what about you? Reminds you of one or more of your parents, like, you know, provocative questions that are that are open ended, you know, and when your mouth is on fire, I would imagine that was that would have been pretty hilarious.
It was also fun because some one of the questions like, what about you? Reminds you of one or more of your grandparents, too. And it was really interesting that the answers really surprised me. And we had whole discussions about the answers, like, oh, I thought you would have said this or that really surprises me you don't you? I think you're more like your grandfather than your grandmother, that kind of thing. So it wasn't just about the questions, but it was about the conversation that happened around the questions, too, which was fun.
Um, what are some of the common mistakes that parents make, like well-intentioned parents who are trying to institute these preventative measures around substance of. Use with their kids, I think a lot of parents have information, for example, lots of parents know that the first place kids often encounter opiates are in the medicine cabinet, right. The leftover pills in the medicine cabinet. And I think a lot of our hopes about, oh, but my kid wouldn't or, you know, that kind of stuff keeps us from putting those opiates under lock and key or even having the conversation about opiates in the medicine cabinet.
While the vast majority of parents surveyed in this one survey knew that opiates are often come first from the family medicine cabinet, only 10 percent of them were talking to their own kids about the dangers of taking opiates out of the medicine cabinet. So there's it's also just scary. There's something, I think one of the reasons that writing a book about substance abuse delegates you to like the bottom shelf down near the floor at the back of the bookshelf at the back of the bookstore, is that this is a really scary topic.
So the only way to make it a not scary topic is by talking about it a lot.
I mean, I think we we talk about it a lot in our house, mainly because I'm proud of my recovery and proud of my parent who is now in recovery.
But they are also they also remember when it wasn't nice.
And those conversations, especially with my kids, I have to have conversations with my kids that are more about, you know, whether you drink or have your first drug or whatever, but what it looks like and feels like when it goes from use into abuse. What does that feel like? Like where where is that happening? So that there are some different conversations that I think parents are really scared of? Rightly so, because, you know, if you start with your first conversation, you know, as a about, you know, taking drugs, that's really scary.
But if you're starting really young with a really little kid and you're talking about the fact that, you know, mommy's name is on that bottle of pills on the counter because it's for mommy, you know, we don't take medicines that aren't prescribed for other people or, you know, talking to them about general health and stuff like that. If we start really, really young and that becomes a normalized part of the conversation, it's not nearly as scary.
And I think avoiding things that are scary is something that we're all guilty of. I hate having sex conversations that I hate it. I'm really good at it, though. I mean, it's there's a reason I think I'd say this in the book. I can't remember, but my husband, I have two boys and my husband tends to have more of the the the sex conversations, the the preferred place to do it. We used to live right near the Dartmouth Skyway, like we could walk to it from our house.
So chairlifts are great because you're both there, but you're not looking at each other. You're looking straight ahead. So you don't have to look in the eye of the person, which is why driving and, you know, chairlift someplace like that work really well. Chairlifts, great place for these conversations.
Yeah. Because your travels for a given amount of time, I mean, you have to be kind of like a Jedi in order to, you know, get a get a glimpse into the interior life of a teenager.
You can't. Well, that conversation it into happening. Right. You can't come at it directly. Like I've. Yeah. I've just learned that I have to, you know, cast my fishing rod in so many different directions, trying different things, coming at it sideways, trying to figure out what my child wants to talk about. And then it's only in the process of of doing that and the child becoming comfortable that something will eke out or some, you know, some something that they wouldn't have said, if you ask them directly, will become clear and then to grab on to those moments and just, you know, hold on to them because they don't come that frequently.
It's not. And the thing from as a teacher, I can tell you is it's not just about the what you say. It's often sometimes about the when you say it. And, you know, when I was teaching middle school and I was watching kids just sort of screw up all around me all the time, you don't pounce on a kid, right, when they make a big mistake and he's feeling bad about it and talk about how to do better next time.
Sometimes you have to wait for just the right moment. Sometimes you need they need to breathe for a minute. And and sometimes especially with substance use, you know, this, that it's never, ever it's hardly ever that first person that comes to you and says, you know, I think you've got a problem going on here that's going to make you think, oh, my God, I've got a problem going on here. Sometimes it's person 100, but it's like a puzzle.
If person one through ninety nine doesn't say something, then person 100 won't click and sometimes it'll be person forty two and sometimes it'll be person sixty eight and you can't know that ahead of time. So there's partially just a whole timing thing that's out of your control in terms of when your kids are receptive, but making sure they're sleeping well and making sure they're eating well and making sure that. There, that your relationship is in a place where they trust you to have these kind of conversations, that's like the big base that you start from, right?
Of course, with that, though, you know, one of the things that we contend with is, is they don't want to do any of the stuff that we like. You've got to get a good night's sleep, like maybe, you know, eat a salad instead of this or, you know, and and they want to have their own experience. And it doesn't matter how much we model healthy behavior, you know, they you know, they want to figure out who they are through differentiation.
And on some level, you have to allow that. Right? Right. You have to allow that because it's like Inception and you talk a lot about this in both books, like you have to orient the child into an experience where the idea that you would like them to adopt because they have to take ownership of that in some way, like it's their own idea.
Otherwise, it doesn't stick the Inception lens on this discussion. That's a place I'd never gone. I like it. I like it. No, I think you're completely right. And I but I think also that. There's there's a certain amount of learning by this, you know, in writing we call it planning and pantsing. So there's planners, people who, you know, plan an entire book and then there's the Panzers, just sort of jump in and start going.
And I think a lot of us have to do a lot of pantsing. But at the same time, we're learning as we go along. And this stuff that we're learning as we go along sort of informs the next iteration of what we try. And that modeling is what we're trying to do for kids, too, which is, you know, learn from the mistakes that we make so that they don't have to make those mistakes are so that we can do better next time.
And, you know, the thing about like the sleeping and the the eating, you know, one of the things I talk a lot about in both books are logical consequences, like making sure that they do get to feel the logical consequences of their actions. And if your kid is not getting enough sleep and by the way, kids are getting a lot more sleep during the pandemic. Yes. The research on that survey seem to show that they're getting a fair amount, actually, quite a bit more sleep.
They used to just laugh at me, like when I would go out and speak at schools and I'd say, here's how much sleep you're supposed to be getting. And they're like, that's really funny. But now they're actually getting more sleep. My kid did go through a period of being nocturnal, though. That was really interesting. But I had to also let him suffer a little bit when that, you know, I couldn't rescue him, couldn't take stuff to school for him.
I let him sleep through his alarm actually twice because he just wasn't dealing with the stuff. But here's a really interesting thing about doing the right now, anyway, is that schools are having to be a lot more flexible. So this is a really great time for you to give. Let your kid feel the consequences of some of these mistakes, because, you know, a lot of schools are saying, you know, we just can't hold kids to the same exact rigorous standards we were before.
So there's been a lot of opportunities to let kids take the reins a little bit more independent, which has been good.
Yeah, because the stakes are lower. I mean, we've we've been dealing with the nocturnal thing and and, you know, our M.O. with it is like, OK, well, how do you how do you feel? Are you thinking clearly? Like, how is your mood? How are your anxiety levels? Oh, that's interesting. You know, maybe you might want to rethink this, but not saying you have to go to bed at this time or else.
And then by dint of, you know, kind of being having kid gloves around it, they come into their own. They have that inception moment where they're like, yeah, this doesn't work for me.
Well, and think about what is a parent. Right. And think about what this pandemic has been like for kids who are trying to individuate and pull away and have more and more and more autonomy and independence at a time when it's being taken away from them at every turn. I mean, it's the only act of rebellion.
I'm going to stay up all night. Well, that or you know, I've been begging parents, you know, man, if you make your kids clean their room every single morning because you have some misplaced assumption that, you know, an organized kid becomes an organized adult or that a messy kid can't possibly be an organized adult, just let go, please, because the only place kids tend to have any autonomy whatsoever is in their rooms. Just let them have their rooms the way they want to have their rooms right now.
You know, in fact, my kids, you know, at a certain point, they just needed a change. So they switched rooms. I have a I have a picture. At one point we painted my son's room entirely blue, the color of the blue on a globe like the oceans. And then he took an overhead projector from my classroom and used a Sharpie and made an entire world in his room. This would be a really great chance to let them just do whatever they want with their room so that they can have some control somewhere.
Because if they can't find it, if we don't give it to them somewhere, they're going to take it. And sometimes they take it by deception.
And one of the things that that you get good at, if you've spent a lot of time in in the the secret societies of of recovery is you become very attuned to to how people behave when they're using like you can spot the signs, you know, a million miles miles away and you become like a palm reader when you encounter somebody.
And you can tell kind of immediately where somebody that and you can just kind of read signals in a way that a normal person who doesn't have that experience can't. And this is something I've been talking a lot about with my wife, who is not in recovery and doesn't have that much experience with people in recovery other than myself. And, you know, I can say to her, like, if we encounter, oh, this is this is what's going on with that person.
Like, really, you see that? And I bring this up because I think it's instructive in terms of helping parents or just anybody identify the warning signs, whether it's a child or an adult who might be headed in the. Wrong direction, so maybe talk a little bit about, you know, some of those cues so that we, you know, we can all be kind of more on top of things before they get too out of control.
I mean, so the cues that, you know, I tend to look for as a parent and as a teacher is a change. Like, you know, if you have a kid who is baseline, fairly introverted and likes their cave time and and, you know, and that person is doing all of those things now, I'm not you know, I'm more worried about any kid that has any sort of change. As a teacher, I look for a change in grades.
As a parent, I look for a change in attitude, you know, and you can just sort of feel that your kid is off. And so any time a kid changes like that, I'm always going to have some sort of questioning about what's going on during adolescence. That can be tough because it's a moving target. Kids are changing like crazy during adolescence. But change is the big thing that I worry about. If they're sleeping more, sleeping a lot less, if they're eating more, eating a lot less, if they're depressed, whereas they're normally up or if they're up when they're normally down, that sort of changes the thing I look for the most.
But one thing I wanted to sort of mention is that. When we talk about the risk for kids and we're talking about sort of where we're where we are, where we as parents are in our heads, you said the thing about how recovery allows you to see things more clearly.
I also want to make it really clear that one of the things we talk about in recovery is that once you've had some recovery, once you've gone to a couple of meetings, even if you're just faking it and still using the whole time, knowing that information you learn there makes it a lot less fun to use.
And so that to put it mildly, so that information is a lot of what I'm talking about in the book. And there are some really cool things I found out about. I mean, the reason the word inoculation is in the title is because of this thing called inoculation theory. That's a really, really useful and helpful for helping kids feel like they have the the emotional wherewithal and the and the capability to to try to have good refusal skills and to refuse when someone says, you know, everybody does it or it's no big deal.
And then, you know, I learned about the fact that most kids tend to overestimate how much other kids want to drink and use drugs. And so if you come at them with data, if you come at them with knowledge, not only does it make it less fun to use because you're you know, if I'm coming at you with information about what what is happening in your brain and what this does to your brain, and when you say you're an eighth grader and you're saying that everyone's trying drinking and it's no big deal, and I happen to know that only 24 percent of kids try even a more a sip or more of alcohol by eighth grade than I can say.
Sweetie, it's not everyone, actually. It's only 24 percent. So, you know, if you're in if you've got you and 10 friends, there's really only a couple of kids that are doing that. So that information not only is gives kids the why they want the you know, like because I said so does not work with kids. Right.
I'm sure you're familiar with that at this point. But here's the why does work. And it not only works because it helps kids feel empowered and in control. It's also a big buzzkill, just like going to some meetings is a big buzzkill. And it's never as fun to be high when you actually know that it's killing cells in your hippocampus or it's doing. One of the other things are that it does. That's why I'm a big fan of talking to kids about the why.
Yeah, the peer group thing is so huge, though. Yeah, I know tons of kids and they'll say if I don't, you know, go along to get along, then I'm not going to have any friends or I'm going to be socially ostracized or I'll be the only one who's not doing that and they're just not willing to live on the perimeter of their peer group for the sake of, you know, sobriety when that y doesn't really compute, because when you're young, you feel bulletproof anyway.
So who cares?
Yeah. And what's interesting is that overestimation I was just talking about, like, if you ask a kid how much they think their friends drink, they'll they'll estimate more. What's really interesting is from a gender perspective, a lot of boys will up their consumption in order to match what that perceived norm is, even though the truth is lower than the perceived norm, whereas girls actually will tend to withdraw. And so if all of their friends are drinking and want to do that sort of stuff where they perceive that's the case, they'll pull away.
So there's very different sort of reactions. But knowing that I think is so important because even if.
If we're modeling for them what good relationships look like, if we're modeling for them, you know, the thing I value in fact, I was just talking about this earlier today. I my friends and I were talking about a couple of years ago, we were getting together somewhere and a friend of mine called ahead to the place. We were going to find out if there'd be non-alcoholic options for me there. And I said to in front of my kid, you know, I just that that showed me that she loved me.
And it was at a time when he was having in the middle of a relationship where he was not feeling like he was being treated very well. And so we were able to have this conversation about what it is we get from relationships. You know, that's what I love about being friends with this person. And what is it you like being friends with that person because you seem to not feel very good when you come home from his house and that kind of thing.
So. Right, right. The problem is all of this requires us to say what's happening in my relationships, what's happening with my drinking, what's happening with my drug use, what's happening with the way I handle when I make mistakes, that kind of stuff. The way we model that for kids is, you know, they tend to watch us more than they tend to listen to us.
Mm hmm. I know annoyingly so. I know, unfortunately. But you do have to, you know, walk the talk in a certain regard. You can't expect your kid to model healthy behavior or to do what you say if you're not doing that in your own household. Right.
And that doesn't mean that you have to be abstinent, because what I'm talking about is, you know, I have a husband who drinks like a normal person and they see both of that from us. But what really worries me is this culture of sort of especially around women and drinking the whole you know, I have to have the wine. At the end of the day, this is mommy juice. Here's my wine glass with the sippy cup on top.
I saw these cups at a bookstore, not going to name the bookstore because I happen to love the bookstore. And they say it said on the glass I teach, therefore I wine.
And the idea that, you know, we're messaging to kids, that we use this drug, the drugs and alcohol, in order to not feel stuff, to unwind, to have to deal with our stress that there's no other way to do that. That's what worries me. And that's what I try to talk a lot about with my kids. Tina Pain Bryson, who works, has written a bunch of books with Dan Siegel. She's got this great thing, you have to name it to tame it.
Right. So with kids helping them name their emotions and helping them name what they're feeling, what they're going through is the first step to helping them talk about what's bugging them so they don't feel like they have to have a beer to quiet that voice so they don't have to resort to medicating themselves to not. You know, the drink I miss the most, frankly, is the one before I go to a party so that I can feel like I'm worthy of walking through that door so I don't have imposter syndrome.
So I feel like a better version of myself and I think helping kids. Be the kind of person who doesn't have to medicate themselves to feel like they're enough. That's my goal with teaching. That's my goal with parenting.
Yeah, well, there's certainly an epidemic of low self-esteem. Right. And that's the heavy lifting. Like, how can you get a child to, you know, and to feel comfortable in their own skin and inhabit their truth and, you know, stand their ground and look people in the eye and feel good about who they are. And so many young people struggle with that tremendously and the level of discomfort that that produces, it's no mistake or it's no mystery why?
You know, substance abuse seems like a good option because it ameliorates that immediately and it's very dependable in that regard. It's going to do its job every single time in the short term.
In the short term. The short term. I mean, that that's the thing is it works. And someone asked me a couple of days ago about, you know, the whole idea of personality in which drug you take and that sort of thing. And I said, you know, what's interesting to me is for many people, they'll have that lock and key moment. For me, it was booze. And for another person, you know, Neshev in the bouquet that he and David just put a couple of years ago, Nick talks about that moment with crystal meth where he was like, yep, I liked pot, I like drinking.
I bought crystal meth was like, that was the thing for me. It was like and you know, kids often talk about it as in terms of everyone else knew how to maneuver through life. And I just it was like everyone else had the rules but me. I mean, those are things we hear a lot. But for the kids, it's like, you know, drugs and alcohol gave me the ability to be be better. And and through everything I do with work and with my writing, you know, I want kids to be that better them so that they don't have to take something to be them, but better.
I mean, that was certainly my experience with drinking. But I think what's what's kind of crucial in this and you do talk about this in the book as well, is as parents, to be honest about these things. Right. Not just not to just simply vilify drugs and alcohol, say they're horrible without acknowledging the truth of why people use them. Like, I think the more you can kind of be transparent about that, like this is how it made me feel, or this is why people do it that engender trust in the child so that, you know, they feel like they can come to you with some of this information.
But when you just make it very binary, then as you say in the book like that shuts down like that, that erodes the trust because the child feels like you're being disingenuous about it.
I mean, I I'm very clear with them. I drank to to deal with my anxiety. My husband was my husband. He smoked a lot.
But after after college. After college, when he didn't he couldn't get a job in the field he wanted he didn't know what he was going to do. He'd sort of half half assed it through college. And he just was lost and scared and bored and lived with some people who grew pot in the basement. So, you know, at the end, he's very clear with the kids. He's like, look, I. I had to go off to graduate school after that.
And I could feel that I'd messed up my memory, that my short term memory was nowhere where it needed to be. And I did that to myself. You know, before my brain was done growing and maturing, I obliterated, you know, parts of my hippocampus because I was smoking so much pot. You know, we have those conversations with them. And I talk in the book actually about the opposite thing. Being really a problem, too, is one guy who should have known better in the book who I don't name him, actually, because he was embarrassed by this.
Was he? He made it sound, you know, in in a way he was sort of bonding with his son and talking about the good times in college and stuff and made it sound a little too fun. And his son said later on when he was in his in his twenties, in retrospect, I don't think you should have made it sound like such a good time. So, you know. Yeah.
That that reminds me of the section in the book where you talk about going to the there's the college party where this is happening. It's like parents weekend and the parents are trying to look cool with the kids and participating all of this. Yeah. And, you know, the kind of like objectivity to realize like there's something, you know, wildly dysfunctional about this, but also completely understandable. Yeah. Yeah.
Well, it was fascinating because the kids at this college decided to host a dinner for their parents. So they want to cook for their parents. They're excited, they're proud. They want their parents. And so and the parents are about to be in a room with their kids and their kids, friends and parents of their kids friends. So there's a lot of pressure to not be the total dork, yet a lot of us are complete, total dorks.
And so the kids were all like, I know we'll set up the ski shot. You know, here in New England, what they do is they have the ski and then they have shot glasses attached to the skis. So everyone has to drink it. Like ten people have to do a shot at the same time. And you could see the kids trying to convince their parents to drink. And the parents were some of them were really uncomfortable with it and some of them were way in.
One dad had a shirt on that said Thirsty with a question mark. And he was clearly, you know, sort of reliving his heyday. And we all just wanted our kids to think we were cool.
And so I was seeing this weird situation where parents were being pressured by their children and by the perception among their children's friends, parents to just have a shot. Mom, it was really fascinating to me. But what was really fascinating were list just listening in on a bunch of those conversations about, you know, sort of how parents were feeling about I had my younger son there who at the time was, I think 16 and he was watching this going on.
So I was having all these feelings about, you know, him watching his brother and him watching his brother's friends. And it was really a bizarre situation. Mhm.
Well maybe that brings up something we could talk about around the differences between, you know, how this works with college age kids versus elementary school, middle school, high school, because there's kind of different, you know, anarchic literary protocols for each of these various age groups.
Yeah. So I go in the book, I want to make it really clear, you know, both gift to failure in this book, like broad based research findings, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Lots of stories, lots of fun. But there's also like here are scripts for things you can say. And here's like this very granular level things you can do with your kids at every age group. And it starts with, you know, preschool and goes all the way up into college.
And the cool thing, I think even going up into college is that we still when you talk to kids, when you do surveys with kids, college age kids about where they get their information, they're still getting a ton of their information from their parents, which is great. Right. Which means that we still have some influence over our kids perceptions and even into college. So there are age appropriate, developmentally appropriate things you can do at every age group to talk about prevention.
But the college thing really stunned me in terms of, you know, the amount of alcohol that's present on campus and how it's treated, varies by state, varies by, you know, the culture. The college stuff is really fascinating. And all the research on on on Princeton about the pluralistic, ignorant stuff at Princeton, they you know, they took Keg's away as because I had no idea that Princeton was one of the heaviest drinking college.
Right. I didn't know that I have drunk at Princeton.
But but so I've I've experienced that culture. Yeah. It's been a long time. I didn't realize that.
It's like other than what was it like the Indy 500 or there's more drinking Boydston I know from the country and it's during alumni weekend in particular.
And it's sort of like a cross between, you know, the people coming back and wanting to relive their heyday sort of thing. But Princeton took advantage. Some researchers took advantage of the fact that Princeton was like, OK, well, we'll do something about this. We'll get rid of kegs. We'll say kegs are not allowed on campus anymore, which is such a token, weird thing to do. But they took advantage of that to sort of survey how much the kids cared about whether or not kegs were allowed on campus, how much they felt other people cared about it.
And the research what they found out was that kids were like, well, I actually don't care one way or the other, but I think everyone else cares a lot. And that was the same answer they got from just about everyone, which is I don't really care that much one way or the other, but I think everybody else cares a lot. The research coming out of the college communities also with the advent of like wellness dorms, I mean, these are exploding all over campuses.
And Ron Lieber has this new book called The Price You Pay for College, which is fantastic. He does a lot there about college amenities. Big, big ones are wellness dorms because they appeal to kids who may not want to drink and who, you know, really do want to get studying done and to parents who are looking for amenities that they would really like to pay for and amenities like wellness dorms where you get rewarded, you have to sign contracts that you won't come back drunk and that you won't have alcohol in the dorm.
You get rewards. Like some places. This one place was giving the more points you had for wellness categories and working out and stuff you could earn towards like Fitbit and things like that. Well, yeah, and it's cool idea.
Yeah. And a lot of. Colleges now have sober dorms all together so that, you know, if you're part of the recovery community, you can have a sober dorm, which is just fantastic. All kinds of resources. And I think it's the more people say, yes, that's something I want, the more those things will be available to college aged kids.
I'm just envisioning the conversation between the parent and the kid. Honey, I've got a great idea. I've got this wellness dorm. It's the sober dorm. I really think this is right for you.
Here's how you do it. Here's how you do it. You have that have the best car. So the reason you like if you if your focus is on wellness and you make it really clear that that's where the freshest fruits and vegetables are going to be without saying that the fruits and vegetables aren't fresh elsewhere, you know, you make you give them some perks to want to be a part of that. And actually, some colleges will give them privileges that you wouldn't normally get living in other dorms.
Mm. Yeah, I could see a lot of like you create that. No way. See that's the thing though is that that's your perception of work. And what's fascinating is for me I would have been all in on that. And you know, a friend of my two of my friend's kids chose themselves to live in wellness dorms just because they they didn't want to have to give up. You know, they didn't want to be in a sort of situation where they there was going to be a lot of buzz around all the time or they didn't.
They wanted it to be quiet. And wellness dorms tend to be quieter than, you know, dorms where there's a lot of drinking.
So I just I spent a lot of time thinking about what I could have learned in college had I been sober in college. And I have so much admiration and respect for young people that gets sober at a very young age. Yeah.
And, you know, the common refrain with that person is, you know, oh, my you know, like, I you know, I'm going to miss out on all of these experiences. And, you know, I screwed my life up so early and it's all done.
And I'm like, you got to be kidding me.
Like, if I had been able to get sober at like 18, 20, like your world just opens up to you in such a, you know, exponential fashion.
That's the cool thing about such a thing. Yeah. George and Brian, the two people whose stories I really focus on in the book, I mean, they did it. They've they've really pulled their lives together at a fairly young age. And it's been amazing to watch them. I was at a I was at a recovery meeting near you, actually, and met someone who was 18. We were it was the Malibu meeting near the high school. And we couldn't find it because we when it kept going up to the high school and it's not at the school, but that's where the address said it was supposed to be.
And so this guy I met, this guy who was also looking for the same meeting, and he got sober really young, too. And I was just I kept looking at him. I'm like, how are you doing this? He got sober at like 17 and and he's and he was twenty six or something and still sober. And I'm thinking, man, you know, and he was more in touch with who he was. He knew he had coping skills.
I mean it was a young adult with coping skills. It was just so cool to see. So cool.
Yeah that's cool. I know exactly the meeting that you're talking about. I probably know the person from out of town, actually, which is why we were both so asked.
Well well, one weird thing about meetings in Malibu is that, you know, they call it like Rehab Riviera. There's so many sober living houses and rehabs in that area. So that means there's a lot of young people who are grappling with sobriety. But it's also it can be very sort of transitory because people are kind of coming in and coming out. This was like an old timers.
This is was at a church in there. It was right down the street from the high school. And there were just a lot of old timers there. And it wasn't it wasn't a young meeting at all. It was actually pretty good meeting. I was speaking up there somewhere and and found my way to that meeting. Yeah.
In general, recovery at L.A. is remarkable for many reasons, not the least of which is how many young people are kind of in the program because so many young people come to Los Angeles to chase their dream and they get into trouble and they you know, you know, like the cops don't mess around in L.A. like people are forced to meet their maker, you know, kind of right away.
Whereas if they were somewhere else, maybe they could have gotten away with it a little bit longer. And so there's this incredibly dynamic, robust community of young people who are thriving in sobriety. And I just find that so inspirational.
But I think when I think about Georgia and I think about Brian in your book, what's instructive perhaps for for parents that are trying to wrap their heads around this issue is the non-linear nature of all of this. Like these people, there's this idea that, look, you've got a problem and now I'm going to send you to a treatment center or you're going to go see this person, go to this program and all will be well. And that works occasionally, but for the vast majority of sober people, there's a rubber banding effect that takes place that that could go on for years, in some cases before recovery really locks in.
And I think it's instructive.
And hopefully you can talk a little bit about this for parents out there to kind of understand that if somebody got 30 days or 90 days or even a year to not get overly attached to that in the same way you talk about in the gift of failure, like not being attached to grades, being more attached to the process of sobriety. And there's going to be, you know, some backward steps most likely before something really connects and you create you create, you know, a stable foundation of sobriety.
It's funny you say that because I just just realized that right behind me. I don't I saw I. I have I actually don't have. I see the triangle. There's that's my 24 hour chip. That's the most important one. I don't keep my seven year chip that's in a drawer somewhere, but the 24 hour one is the one that means the most to me. So that's the one that's up on my wall. And I think especially for kids, I don't know if you had a chance to see this, but there was a show that was made by MTV called 16 and in Recovery, and it was based at the North Shore Recovery School.
It's a there is a consortium of an association of recovery schools in the United States. And this is sort of, I think what I'm supposed to do next. I think I'm supposed to start a recovery high school anyway. So anyway, this was based on the North Shore recovery high. And it really does an incredible job of showing what kids are up against in recovery because, you know, adults can say, cool, OK, so in recovery, they say, I'm going to have to get new friends and I'm going to have to sort of change a lot of what I do.
But then, you know, send a kid back to their family and maybe their parents are using and their friends are all using and they can't pull a geographic and they can't do any of these other things that adults can do. Relapse is very much a part of kids picture. You know, we would see the same kids over and over again at the rehab. And it you know, it was always such a weird thing. Like someone would come in to that walk into the classroom and I didn't know they were back.
And I was so happy to see them and so sad to see them all at the same time, because I love them and I want to hug them. But at the same time, they're there because they've, you know, they're using again.
And so I think, as I think what parents need to understand is that the the journey in recovery is definitely, definitely not linear with kids. It's not wouldn't that be great if it was and then give it a failure? I talk about the child development, let alone recovery, child development. It's not a nice linear slope either. It's all over the place like the stock market. And what you have to just hope is that you're going to end up up here and not lose your shirt.
And you know that eventually all of that learning will happen and will end up in a better place.
Mm mm. What are some. Like simple things that you can share, like sort of parenting tips, if they start to see their kids sliding in the wrong direction.
So a lot of the a lot of the tips that I give in the book are for before that happens, like how do we not get to the place, hopefully where kids are sliding in the wrong direction. But if you do notice that your kid or you're worried that your kid is sliding in the wrong direction, then you really need to come at those conversations about I'm concerned that something's happening with you. There need to be a lot of those statements.
In fact, I teach kids that are worried that their parents are going to be defensive if they come to them with a question to say it makes me uncomfortable when you when you do this. I feel this way when this happens, this is how it makes me feel, because it's a lot harder to get defensive about how someone feels. And so if you were to go to your kid and say, you know, look, sweetie, I'm I'm scared, I'm worried, I see you looking sad and I don't want you to look sad.
I want you to, you know, feel better about yourself, to, you know, whenever we go to kids from that place of confrontation, that's just never going to go well. And lecturing really doesn't go well either. So going to them from a place of concern as a parent is is the obvious starting place for that, I think.
And how do you sorry. No, no interject here, but how do you do that and avoid the pitfalls of of enmeshment?
Because you don't want to bring your emotional baggage to your kid and like, you know, place them in a position where they feel like they have to shoulder your emotional trauma.
Yeah. Yeah. So I honestly, I say one of the things you can do is say that, you know, I'm trying to untangle my fear because I see you possibly going down the same road I went down. And that makes me scared for myself. There is that problem that we have or we number one, we tend to view their mistakes as our failures. And that being defensive about that just doesn't make any sense either. They're not our report card like our kids are just not a report card for our parenting because.
Frankly, you know, when you were in your lowest place, if your parents were taking that, do they get to take or do they need to take the blame for you as an F when you were, you know, really using it now? Did they get an egg because you're successful now? Is that has something changed? I don't think that we can take our kids as any sort of an accounting of our our parenting, our report card for our parenting.
So we need to disentangle ourselves from that for just a little bit. And, you know, we do that in little ways. Like I told my my my son when he started looking at colleges that the one thing I wouldn't do is put a sticker on the back of my car because I didn't want to turn his very complicated, very personal decision about where he went to school. I didn't want to turn that into some bragging point that I get when I pull into the school parking lot, just making sure they believe us when we say what we care about is them and being scared of them.
The other thing that really works well is to be more focused on the process than the product, because when we tell our kids that we what we care about that is that you're learning or becoming or advancing forward maturing. But then what we show them is what we care most about is the greater the honors or the trophy or the whatever, then they don't believe us. So having more of an emphasis on process of a product and you know who talks about this beautifully actually is Lisa Demora in in her second book, Under Pressure, she talks about the fact that one of the things we can do is help kids.
No one helps kids reframe their stress, helped them understand, like find a way to not fall into that hole. I'm so stressed and therefore I'm falling apart kind of trap. But helping kids understand that that process is is the important part. And nice thing about Lisa talks a lot about is that when you focus on the process and less on the product, it helps diffuse their anxiety and it helps diffuse their feelings of yeah, but I didn't get that grade or yeah, but I didn't get those points and that that anxiety sort of circle cycle.
Yeah. Yeah. Well the parental self identification piece is so important to that and in general as well, because it's, it's like it's almost hardwired into us as parents to, to, to be overly emotionally involved in the successes and failures and pains and high highs and lows of our children.
And to create distance is what's required in order to parent effectively. But that's so it's such a it's so difficult to do.
Remember when I said I gave kids I give kids my email so they can email me with their things. They want their parents to go. And I said the number one thing is some iteration of I don't know who you think you're parenting, but it's not me. And so the advice I give to parents, I think the hardest thing I have to say to parents is we have to love the kids we have and not the kids we wish we had.
That has to be our starting place. And we can't just love them based on their performance because outcome, love or performance based love that is incredibly emotionally damaging and it gets to the place, gets them to the place with us where they don't trust us when we say that we love you no matter what. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, because that's the thing we say that, but then our behavior, you know, is pretty demonstrative in how we react to the good grief, the put it on the refrigerator and we are just kind of silent when we don't talk about the and the way to get away from that is by focusing more on the process and less on the product.
Oh, that's interesting that you got an A and your friend got an F for what did your friend do that you didn't do? What did you do that your friend didn't do? And what are you going to do differently next time? You know, I got to work on this really cool show with Amazon called The Stinky and Dirty Show, and it's for little little kids. And that whole entire show is these two a whole bunch of different machines trying to get a task done and screwing it up and not beating themselves up about it and being supportive of each other and figuring out what to take forward with them and what to leave behind.
And over and over and over again. What didn't work? What did what do we leave behind? What do we take forward with us? And we're not going to just blame someone else for making a mistake. We're not going to pretend like the mistake never happened. We're going to figure it out and learn something from this iteration. And that's that focus on the process and less on the product is really what's going to help us have our kids trust and have them know that we support them and that we love them.
And yes, even if they screw up, we're still going to love you. And so if, for example, I find out that you're doing drugs, I'm going to be here for you, but I'm going to support you in getting better and that you know that my love is not changed just because you're you're screwing up. And I'm not going to take it personally just because you're screwing up, right?
Yeah, that's the trick. Like not taking it personally. Like trying to to make sure that the love is unconditional and yet the boundary is firm, not, you know, indulging in in in judgement, which just makes everything worse. Like it's a sticky wicket.
You try writing a book about calculus equation, try writing a book.
I'm writing a book about it. And now if one of my kids gets addicted, basically I get an F not just for my parenting, but for my work. So, you know, so the stakes are lower.
What are you what are your kids think about the book?
Neither one has finished the whole thing yet. One my son. Yeah. They just they've read bits of it. My son, like I passed the bits of it, passed them that I needed for them to sign off on. Ben, my older son has read the story about Brian because Brian and Ben were really close, his friend and Finn, I've passed by him all of the parts that had anything to do with him. But at some point, I guess they're going to read it.
I don't know. I don't think I found out. I, I thought Ben had read give to failure. He said he only read parts of it so. And Finn still hasn't read it. They just don't care. I'm not very interesting. I'm just not that interesting. They know they're in it. They also they also know that I ran and we don't need to read it. We live it. I know. We know. Yeah. And I also think that they know that they've read the parts that that are about them.
So and the rest is just embarrassing. Mom. Oh, we got to win this down in a little bit, but I do want to spend a minute or two talking about marijuana specifically how has like the legalization of pot, like impacted how all this operates with young people?
Yeah, it's harder at the you know, like the problem is we have these stupid hierarchies about drugs, like, OK, this one. I mean, if if everything all other things being equal alcohol should be illegal. Right. Because in terms of like deaths and illness and all that other stuff, alcohol's horrific. Yeah.
Yeah. Pot is so easy to get. Yeah.
Actually both deliver mild or both of my kids told me even before legalization that it would have been it's always easier for them to get a hold of pot than to get a hold of cigarettes, which was fascinating to me. That hadn't occurred to me anyway. So, you know, I live in Vermont. I talked about this. You know, I talk about this in the book. And not only did I move my kid at a really delicate time during his adolescence, I moved him to Vermont, you know, with, you know, the only other place where I've smelled quite this much part was last time I was in Portland or Seattle, you know, so that's that's made things a little more complicated.
There's also the novelty issue. I think it was really interesting to see actually how much adult use went up there in general over the last decade. Drug use across the board has been, except for vaping has been going down among adolescents. And we were we were a little worried about sort of the the downward slope has leveled out a little bit, but I don't know that we quite know what that means yet. And so and drug use is down in all categories and adults, too, except pot and psychedelics, and I don't think it's any number one, we have legalization.
Number two, we have really interesting books by Michael Pollan and, you know, a bunch of other people talking. And we have really what looks like some really valid use for some drugs, for PTSD and end of life. I think there's some really interesting research going on there. And but across the board, I think it's been interesting. That's actually mostly been adults who have had a major uptick in their pot use.
Well. I don't know what it's like in Vermont. There's no billboards in Vermont, right, but it's Angelus. Oh, I did that change? No, it's Vermont. Not allowed to have billboards. We have no billboards. Right. What? Last time I took my now 17 year old to New York, I had to be in Studio City for something and he was looking around. He said, So this is the sushi and pot part of town, huh?
That's all of Los Angeles. I think that's the whole part of town.
I mean, it's wild to drive around Los Angeles and see dispensaries on every corner, some of which look like the Apple store.
Yeah, like they have, you know, sort of created these environments and experiences that are, you know, it's no longer like, you know, a flashing green light down a dark alley like this is like on the main promenade and billboards that would have you believe that pot is just, you know, sort of an important part of your daily wellness routine and for the Internet and everything and all of this stuff.
And so what is that how does that impact the psyche of a young person?
Well, it's the problem is also that among adolescents. So our own sort of we do have receptors for the chemicals that are in pot in our brain because it seems like we have these endogenous chemicals that do sort of a similar thing, although not the same concentrations, obviously. And most of those are right around the hippocampus, which is where we process and store, you know, our memories get formed and stored there and especially emotional memory. And so some of the there's some research I'm a little skeptical of that shows that in heavy users who are younger, that they're hippocampi are smaller.
And that could be a correlation that we don't know what that is. But there there are there is really good research looking at sort of how the brain functions. And because now that we have memories and things like that, we can really sort of actually see what's lighting up in the brain as it's happening. Memory formation is just not happening in the same way as kids in kids who are who smoke pot. And the that is some of that appears to be permanent.
The stunting, the hippocampus appears to possibly have long term ramifications. And that really scares me. Sopot, interestingly enough, part like for adults, you know, have had a go at it, but for kids, because in adult, what's so interesting is after the brain is done growing, those those problems don't seem to be as much of an issue.
It's just when the brain is in this acutely, incredibly plastic place. Right. That the environment affects it in ways that it wouldn't normally. And so that's why this message of delay, delay, delay, with each passing year, our kids risk of having substance use disorder during their lifetime goes down. And with each passing year, the risks that these things do to their brain goes down. So delay, delay, delay is sort of the message of this whole entire book.
And here's some information about why exactly it's important to get them to delay.
And that Rubicon is sort of around like twenty five, right? It's not sixteen.
It is not sixteen. No, early, early to mid 20s actually. Twenty four. Twenty five. But that also depends on the the kid and you know, and you can't force that stuff. I mean these are things that, you know, myelination and synaptic genesis and hooking up, wiring up the frontal lobe to the rest of the brain. That's not stuff you can rush. And the problem that the thing that most people are worried about is, you know, if you don't have your full the full ability for everything to hook up and everything to get myelinated in the synapses to talk to each other in the brain during this period, you don't get to go back.
You know, it's shut. That door closes in the early 20s, early to mid 20s. So the damage is done, is the damage done? And there's no going back to fix that. And that's really scary.
And you find that that when you communicate that to a young person that that lands like they're able to hear that, or is that just dismiss? Like my experience is going to be different or I don't care.
There's an article I wrote back when I had a column and I had a column in The New York Times called the Parent Teacher Conference. And I wrote one column was I was sitting around at the rehab one time and we had a full group of really honest kids, really forthright kids. And so I asked them, what in your most open and receptive moment might you have heard from adults that might have made you think differently? And I said, I don't want you to tell me what you think I want to hear or, you know, whatever.
And these were kids that they trusted me. We'd worked together for a while. And for all of them, it was honest information. Give us the information we need to make a smart decision and then trust us to make good decisions. Given that we have we're still good. And we're not always going to make the right decisions, but at least have some faith that when you tell us stuff, we can process that and make some decisions for ourselves. So, no, they might not have made different decisions, but they all said respect me enough to give me the information, respect me enough to to know that, given some information I can weigh.
You know, and here's here's the other problem I'm going to mention is that, you know, when you say, oh, my gosh, how could you have done this? Don't how could you not have known that if you got in a car with a drunk driver, they were going to hit a tree? And it's and the understanding seems to be that kids can't weigh risk correctly or that they don't understand consequences. And that is absolutely 100 percent not true.
Kids really do see consequences. The problem is, is they weigh the potential benefits to their actions more heavily than they weigh the possible risks. And when you get kids and groups there, they are more likely to take risk, which explains a lot. And sometimes it's even if they're in groups, but they're not in the same room together. If a kid just believes other kids are watching them, they'll take way more risks, which explains a lot about, you know, like tick tock videos, I suppose, and people jumping off of high things.
And that doesn't happen in adults. You know, when if I put you in a room with some of your friends and have you play a video game that asks you whether or not to make these decisions that sort of gauge your risk, you won't take any more chances based on the fact that your friends are there. But kids, will they just make their different calculus?
Sure. The calibration is different because they're going to over index on social approval because that feels like life or death to them.
And what feels right to be ostracized or to be included is survival. And so that's going to that's going to weigh disproportionately into the decision to incur a risk.
Well, and that's why the chapter's called Wired for risk, because they are wired to for novelty, for all the things that they're naturally supposed to be doing as they pull away from us and become their own adults. We want them to want to take some positive risks. We want them to want to go out there and seek novelty, because that's what's going to make them be successful adults. But the question is how we moderate that and how we present.
If you have a kid who really loves risk, you better be looking for as many ways to introduce positive risk into that kid's life as possible, get them to do things that, yes, are risky but risky in a direction that isn't like them leaping off of the garage into a swimming pool yelling.
And how does that how does that risk calculus? Does that differentiate based on gender?
Yeah, I haven't read a really good study on this, and that may just be my oversight. But the my all of the stuff I've read has been equally. Female, male, like all of that stuff I was just talking about with risk, all of his research, this is Lawrence Steinberg at Temple University. I think all of his studies are evenly female, male, female, 50, 50 50. I haven't read.
I do know that in you know, from an education perspective, I've done a lot of work researching boys in education. And I will tell you that I did I wrote an article for The Atlantic on the importance of touch and sort of normal social touch. And one of the things we do know is that boys tend to get there are fuller, they get more social touch opportunities to experience social touch at all boys schools because the teachers, and especially when they're taught by men, because men understand the need for the roughhousing sort of thing, whereas when they're in a coed environment or they're being taught by women, the women are like, oh, don't don't hit each other, don't punch each other, that kind of thing.
But I haven't read a lot of stuff about the risk stuff. That's interesting.
My instinct says that probably boys are wired to take more risk, but I'm going to have to go look it up. And there's actually a brand new book out that's over on my shelf over there somewhere called To Raise a Boy by Emma Brown that I am just itching to open up because we need some good books on boys and stuff.
But there is there is lots of stuff in your book about gender differentials with respect to substance use and abuse. Right. Like how girls, you know, girls relationship with alcohol versus boys and how that changes depending upon age, etc..
So not just attitudes either. I mean, girls are have less of a particular enzyme that breaks alcohol down. And so given the fact that, you know, we know boys bodies have more water in them and girls bodies have more fat in them, and therefore a girl can have fewer drinks and be as drunk as a boy that has whatever. But also girls are just not metabolizing the alcohol the same way the boys are. And so girls are getting a lot more of that effect going on.
And girls tend to drink for different reasons. Boys, girls tend to drink to deal with their anxiety. It's just there are patterns that are, you know, that will show up. And I think what I hoped to do with this book was show you all the patterns that have been out there and proven themselves. So if you see a pattern that you recognize in your kid, you can say, ah, OK, so that's a conversation. I could have them all of these bits and pieces of information about risk factors and about how a kid might react.
Those are all just so you can say, OK, I recognize that my kid or I don't recognize that in my kid. And if so, that's information for me. And that information is power because now I have a starting place for a conversation.
Mm hmm. I want to end this with just some thoughts on the non-discriminatory nature of of substance abuse and addiction. If anybody is under the impression that, you know, their parenting skills are going to completely inoculate their child from, you know, any risk, let me disabuse you of that notion right now.
You know, addiction does not discriminate. It doesn't matter your ethnicity or your socioeconomic class. So maybe let's end this with not a cautionary tale, but maybe a reality check, because we are dealing with a situation in which addiction rates and teens, you know, I'm sure in the pandemic are going through the roof. And you quote the statistic that nine out of 10 adults with substance use disorders report they began drinking and taking drugs before age 18. So this is a very real situation with, you know, incredibly profound consequences for young people and parents, regardless of, you know, who you think you are.
So maybe round us out with just a takeaway on that.
That's I think there's so much potential that's just out there waiting for us to grab it. And a big part of that is these school programs that work really well with parents and schools, especially when they're working together. A lot of the really, really good school based substance abuse prevention programs have the full curriculum is not just for the school, but for the parents as well. And there's such an opportunity because of so few schools are using evidence based programs and there are a bunch out there that are really good and have been shown to work.
If we could get those, like if I could take any make any one thing happen, it would be that we get those programs into schools so that at the very least we're starting there where we have a huge deficit and that parents can share in those materials because so much of the stuff that works in schools, there are components that work at home. And we could all sort of be on the same page about this. That would. But I guess but I guess if I got it, if I get to be queen of the world, it's that everybody gets into early intervention for their.
For their aces, their trauma, they're learning deficits, all of that stuff. That's my queen of the world wish. Mm hmm.
Yeah, I think I would I would also offer to any parent who is contending with this or has a child who's, you know, dabbling or dealing with an issue right now. To the extent that you can get on top of it, it's such an unbelievable opportunity for a young person to start grappling with their interior life, to confront their trauma and their anxiety and develop like a fluency and a language for how to deal with challenging emotions like this is something that I knew nothing about until I was, you know, a middle aged man.
And the idea that a teenager could start contending with this is such a healthy thing and such a beautiful opportunity for, you know, how they're going to kind of, you know, mature into the world.
There are aspects of recovery. I look at some of the there's one meeting in particular that it's a dual speaker meeting two speakers and one night. And inevitably, there's some like biker guy in his 60s who gets up there and tells the story and reveals, you know, says things like, you know, I just didn't have any humility or I didn't know how to reach out and ask for help. And no one had ever told me that that was OK.
And those are the tools that I wish we could start giving kids younger so that we don't have to have these people come up to a podium and say, I just never, ever knew how to turn to someone and say, I need help. Imagine having to get to 60 before you realize that you're allowed to be sad about things and cry and ask for people. We ask people for help or realize even what humility is that I think there are aspects to going through recovery that some of the kids I've seen who have successfully come out the other side, other side have incredible skills.
And that's there's no it's no incredible human being.
It's no coincidence. Well, it's no coincidence. Spoiler alert that really good substance abuse prevention programs are good social emotional learning programs. That's at the heart of them. That's what they are. And they give us the tools to know how to deal, to name it and tame our emotions in that kind of thing.
Right. Well, so good to talk to you. I love talking to you. I really appreciate it. This book, as I said at the outset, I think is going to help a lot of people help to the planet. So I appreciate you for that and just for who you are and the kind of vibration and way that you carry yourself in the world.
So can you and I hope to do this again in person years or so.
Last time I was my kid was with me and he got to play with the dog. It was a great day. And that's really where I really wish he could have been with us again today and I could be there, so. All right. Well, we'll make it all right. In the meantime, everybody pick up the addiction innoculation. Wherever you buy, find books, you can find Jessica.
She's easy to find on the Internet. Jessica Lahey, Dotcom and Jess, what's your.
I'm on. So I'm mostly young and mostly on Twitter. And that's actually just. But I'm on Instagram as a teacher. LEAHY Right. Cool.
And you you're still doing the AM writing podcast, still doing the AM writing podcast. And we're in we're at two hundred and fifty odd episodes and we've never missed a week and never repeated an episode.
You you're such a perfectionist. We've had so much fun doing it and it's you know and my my two in when we started this, you know, we were just three writers trying to figure out how to make it work. And now all three of us have written best selling books and we've had some really cool people on. So it's been it's been such a fun ride.
Awesome. Well, best of luck with the book and look forward to seeing you in person. Thank you. Peace flight. Thanks for listening, everybody, for links and resources related to everything discussed today, visit the show notes on the episode page at risk all dotcom. If you'd like to support the podcast, the easiest and most impactful thing you can do is to subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts, on Spotify and on YouTube. Sharing the show or your favorite episode with friends or on social media is of course, always appreciated.
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