Spotting the Icebergs: Don’t Let Our Kids Go Down With The Ship

Thanks in part to Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, we’re all familiar with the story of the Titanic, the safest ship ever built. We know that five days after embarking the captain received a telegram warning that a dangerous ice field lay ahead. He had plenty of time to slow the engines, change his course and avoid risking a disaster. However, he mistakenly thought he could save time by steering around any icebergs in his path. The result is now history—while he was able to steer around the upper portion of an iceberg visible above water, the underwater portion ripped through the Titanic’s hull, killing the 1,524 people who went down with the ship.

What does the story of the Titanic have to do with stopping medicine abuse or preventing kids from smoking, which is the focus of my work at Real Parents Real Answers? Just this: teens and tweens often approach risky situations just as the Titanic captain approached the iceberg: with a combination of challenge and denial.

Teens are aware that ventures such as drinking, smoking, drug use, sex and criminal activity are risky, but they mistakenly believe they can steer around those risks and slide by unharmed. It’s what I might call the “I can stop anytime I want” syndrome. What they fail to see is the bulk of the danger—addiction, overdose, pregnancy, accidents, criminal records, prison, death—hidden beneath their surface actions.

For a long time on the Real Parents Real Answers blog, our focus was on getting parents to talk to their kids about smoking. What we’ve learned over the years—and what the Stop Medicine Abuse blog addresses so well—is that raising a healthy, happy, drug-free and smoke-free child goes far beyond just telling our kids, “Hey—don’t do that.”

We can help our teens make the decision to turn away from smoking, medicine abuse and other risky behaviors by:

  • Building courage and self-esteem
  • Outlining coping mechanisms for peer pressure
  • Fostering communication
  • Instilling responsibility and discipline

This is why the Real Parents Real Answers blog now covers topics ranging from managing stress and teaching good decision making to eating healthy and staying active. Helping teens to say “no” to risky behaviors is a process, not a one-time conversation.

Although I will always stress to parents the importance of talking to teens about not smoking (and role-playing scenarios where your child is offered a drug or cigarette, so they have a rehearsed script and know what to say), my emphasis these days is on making sure that we are actively engaged in our kids lives. This is easier said than done in an age where work creeps into our private time via laptops and phones, and family overscheduling is a chronic issue. But there simply is no other way—our kids know when we are dialing it in.

I will also add that kids aren’t the only ones who mimic the captain of the Titanic in their behavior; parents do it, too. “Not my teen,” we think on the surface, failing to look beneath the waters and see dangers lurking.

Communicating with tweens and teens, showing them respect and offering them independence while still having boundaries are learned skills. Take the time to research what works. Engage in new strategies and behaviors to reach your teen. This will help your child steer clear of dangers.

For more information on keeping kids from smoking (and engaging in other risky behaviors), visit us at the Real Parents Real Answers blog. We’d love to hear your thoughts.


Michael H. Popkin, Ph.D., is the longtime spokesperson for Lorillard’s Youth Smoking Prevention Program and is the founder of Active Parenting Publishers. He has written and produced more than a dozen books, videos and discussion programs that have helped millions of parents develop cooperation, responsibility and courage in their children. He is widely known for his expertise in the ¬field of parent education and has appeared on over 100 TV programs, including CNN and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Dr. Popkin earned a Doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Georgia State University and served as Director of Child and Family Services at an Atlanta hospital before entering private practice. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two children. For more information about Dr. Popkin as well as a list of parenting workshops in your area, visit