September 28, 2006


Raising Drug-Free Kids: 100 Tips for Parents. By Aletha Solter, Ph.D. Da Capo. $13.95.

The Travel Mom’s Ultimate Book of Family Travel. By Emily Kaufman. Broadway Books. $14.95.

     If only all family issues could be solved as neatly as these two books indicate!  If only you could simply follow a step-by-step guide to keep your kids safe from dangerous substances and your whole family happy while traveling!  The idea is nonsense, of course, but both these books deserve credit for helpfulness and for pointing the way toward solutions that – when appropriately modified for individual family circumstances – can help address some very real everyday concerns.

     Developmental psychologist Aletha Solter sets out to help parents do all the right things that anti-drug forces always recommend: teach kids to feel good about themselves without using artificial substances, maintain close family relationships so children don’t feel they have to belong to a possibly dangerous group, help kids develop coping strategies that do not rely on drugs, get them to respect their bodies, etc.  To Solter’s credit, she does not simply throw out catchphrases and tell parents to use them with their children.  Instead, she reduces each of her 100 tips to two pages of recommendations, written in simple, direct language.  The two-page limit is a rather artificial approach that underplays some ideas while overplaying others, but Solter’s ideas are good ones.  Under “Live Your Values,” for example, she not only talks about altruism and honesty but also suggests “modeling nonconformity – [this] teaches your children that it’s okay to be different.”  Under “Don’t Use Rewards or Bribes,” she suggests getting children to cooperate by giving them reasons for what you are asking or by finding ways (even silly ones) to make activities enjoyable: “Let’s take turns brushing each other’s teeth.”  The “Values” tip comes from a section called “The Basics,” the “Bribes” one from a section for ages 3-6.  There are also sections for birth to age three, ages 6-12, ages 12-18 and even ages 18-25.  The sections for younger children are the best.  Recommendations for older kids tend to drift toward preachiness: one for ages 12-18 is, “Encourage Your Teen to Do Something to Improve the World,” and another is, “Teach Your Teen Stress-Management Skills.”  Parents would need to be near-saints to implement all of Solter’s ideas – think of how many parents themselves turn to alcohol to cope with stress – but it can be helpful to read the book, decide which of its ideas are practical for your family (and in what way), and then try to use Solter’s suggestions within your own family dynamic.

     Family dynamics are stressed quite differently during travel than they are by substance abuse, but travel stressors are significant in their own way – if not potentially life-threatening.  Good Morning America travel contributor Emily Kaufman offers perkily upbeat suggestions to make family trips more pleasant in The Travel Mom’s Ultimate Book of Family Travel.  She divides the book into two parts: “Creating the Family Vacation of Your Dreams” and “Destinations.”  The first part of the book emphasizes planning; discusses the pros and cons of cars, planes and trains (“boredom bags” filled with things to do are a great idea); and talks about multigenerational and educational trips.  The second part is generally more interesting, because it suggests specific destinations for various types of family trips and gives Web addresses to use for further information.  Kaufman has ideas for beach and winter vacations, resort trips and cruises, camping, city visits and more.  Her ideas are scarcely comprehensive – her sole suggestion for a “once-in-a-lifetime” overseas trip is a visit to London – but her understanding of details of specific forms of travel is impressive.  For example, she says that on cruises, you should “buy the drink plan for the kids.  When you first board the ship, you may think it is pricey to prepay for unlimited soft drinks, but after ten drinks that never get finished, you will be glad that you did.”  Not all of Kaufman’s ideas will be appropriate for all families, but one of her comments applies universally: “Be realistic in managing what your kids can handle.”

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