Lessons From Amy Winehouse

Category: Weekly Columns

Perhaps we can learn something from Amy Winehouse. She died at 27, and thus has joined that exclusive “27 Club” of performers who died at the tender age of 27. That list includes Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, and Kurt Cobain.  Are there lessons we parents can learn from these senseless deaths?

Of course there are.  Our kids don’t live in the often-insular world of celebrities.  Famous people influence our kids, but the social circles of our kids do not usually include numerous sycophants in their “entourage!” Elvis Presley was the first and prime example of this pattern when he died in 1978, in his own bathroom.

There was something different about the circumstances with Elvis.  Other celebrity deaths often happened, in earlier decades, because of car and/or airplane accidents as with James Dean, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, and so many others.  But, with Elvis, everyone knew what was going on.  And, no one intervened strongly enough.  He was 42 when he died.

The coverage surrounding Elvis Presley’s death seemed detailed and pervasive enough that it would teach “us” a lesson. Other stars have similar back-slappers and you-are-the-best people surrounding them.  Most do care for “their” star that provides them with sustenance and employment.  But, how many will tell their meal ticket he’s messing up?  Maybe nothing was learned then. Will we learn now, with yet another such death?

I’m not sure why these lessons of tragic deaths, from Elvis and others before and since, have not been seared into our consciousness so these wasteful deaths can be avoided more often.  I just don’t understand celebrity, I suppose.  But, I do understand my family and other families.  We can learn from these tragedies.  We can intervene and take the necessary steps to stop this path to destruction in our homes.

I’m not Lindsay Lohan’s parents or keepers nor do I really know much about those that had Amy Winehouse’s interests at heart, but I do know my own boys and my own friends and how we can and will step in and do something.

First and foremost, parents must not can’t hide and deny what is happening in front of them, especially when there are any signs of trouble.  “No, it can’t be my kid” must not be part of any inner or public dialogue. Of course it can be “my kid” or any other.  Being aware of what our kids are doing means doing the hardest part of parenting and getting in our kid’s face if necessary.  This means monitoring our kid’s Internet activity, going through their room carefully, knowing where our kids are all the time, and not getting suckered into the guilt game kids know how to play so well.

I don’t care if a child is a star athlete, 4.0 student, or president of the student council.  Trust me, there have been plenty of these achievers who have “shockingly” died of drugs or drunk driving.  “He was such a good kid” isn’t an explanation or excuse at their funeral!  Or ever!

This goes back to my often-repeated belief that a parent’s job is NOT to be the best friend of their children!  If kids complain, so what?  If kids say that so-and-so gets to stay out later than they do, so what? If they are subjected to a random drug test and they object, so what?  If parents ask to see their Facebook profile, to know who and what their friends are saying and doing, and they object, so what?

Yes, it is harder parenting kids today. Modern technology adds so much to life but also makes it much more complicated.  The Facebook example, above, is a perfect example.  Parents must be their kid’s “friend” on Facebook.  If the kids don’t like it, take away access to Facebook. That means confiscate so-called “smart phones,” computers, and/or tablets!

But, as I often caution and advise, when a parent is the “friend” of their own children on Facebook, be their invisible friend.  Do NOT post anything on their profile.  They’ll forget mom or dad are there and then mom or dad can monitor what is being posted and get insight into their own child and, equally, to their friends.  This is part of the job being a modern day parent.

 Many parents say they don’t need Facebook. Bull! If a parent has kids, learning and using Facebook is required parent homework. Dad and mom need to know their kid’s world to prevent them from going down a self-destructive path.  That’s a parent’s job.

This is the parent’s job.Kids need to know their parents mean business.  Rules are sacrosanct and when violated there must be serious consequences.  Kids will whine about it, but so what?  Most kids that come from homes with serious rules and consequences later say there are grateful for that upbringing.  Let me clear, I’m not saying kids need to be in “lock-down,” but I’m saying that parents need to know the lives of their kids intimately and that means what, when, who, and where.



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  • Darian Posell

    I didn’t really care one way or another about Amy Winehouse who seemed on a path of destruction from day one…but I really appreciated the insights you offer for all of us…thanks, Bruce.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I appreciate your comment Darian…the “I don’t care” attitude toward Amy Winehouse was my first reaction, too…it’s much more nuanced than that plus there is much to learn.  I’m glad you got past that and saw what we might all learn from her tragic and certainly unnecessary death!

  • http://newdaynewlesson.com/ Susie @ Newdaynewlesson

    Very timely post as I just helped a good friend check her 14 year old son into rehab yesterday.

    Not easy at all.

    The one thing I suggest is really and truly loving your kids and showing them that you love them. The kind of love that is”when they walk into a room your face lights up” type of love.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I’m sad to hear about your friend’s son, but it’s better than allowing the problem to persist Susie @newdaynewlesson:disqus

      • http://newdaynewlesson.com/ Susie @ Newdaynewlesson

        That’s for sure-though this has been a while coming.
        Am saying a prayer for him that he comes out stronger and able to face the world and contribute to it.

        • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

          Me too Susie @Newdaynewlesson!

  • Azmomofmanyhats

    This can and does happen to so many. It’s so sad to see, but really isn’t very shocking.  Quick rant out of the way…. I have always thought that if we as individuals stop accepting this as the norm (ie stop buying the music, stop purchasing game tickets) then the poor behavior of those particular celebrities may stop.  One of the messages we can teach our kids is that when we “partake” in the watching of the crash, we participate in it. 

    But we must also impart to our children that we love them and that we know they are human and will err as we all do, but particular things are NEVER acceptable – endangering themselves, their futures or others – in whatever form that takes.  We must be parents first, and friends second.  If there is a toss up between the two, parent always wins.  We must also help them to understand that when they do err,  we will love them through it – even if that means a severe consequence.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Is there ever total unconditional love, even for our children, Angie? @Azmomofmanyhats:twitter  Hey, you’re still my line about being “Best Parent rather than Best Friend”! – http://bit.ly/BestFriendorParent

      • Azmomofmanyhats

        🙂 I think we just have a lot of same thought processes. And yes…. I do think there is unconditional love for our kids…. Just not unconditional like.

        • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

          I so agree with the unlike thing with our kids, @azmomofmanyhats (Angie)! But, could you unconditionally love your child if they willfully murdered someone? If your child was Tim McVeigh or a similar monster?  Yes, this is the extreme extension of your point…which, God-willing, we’ll never touch or see!

          • Azmomofmanyhats

            Yes … love and accepting everything they do are two different things.  Unconditional love does not mean that you are ok with or accept everything they do.  Sadly, some people do unspeakable things, and we may ever be able to embrace them the same, connect with them the same, or even see them the same – in essence we mourn the loss of who they were and who they were in our eyes. We mourn them because we love them. We are angry because we love them. We struggle with them because we love them.  If we didn’t we would be totally indifferent to them.  The opposite of love is not hate and anger, it is indifference.

          • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

            As usual, we have the same POV, @azmomofmanyhats:twitter – Thx Angie for keeping a good discussion going…others?

  • Patrick bateman

    sad to see, but she’s gross anyways

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Have a little sympathy Patrick!

  • Ken Adams

    So sad about Amy Winehouse. If she got more help she might still be alive. Parents should be careful, especially if they see this downhill decline in their kids decisions.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      That’s why I believe parenting must be so much more pro-active than ever, Ken!

  • http://singlemamma4god.blogspot.com/ SingleMamma4God

    The sad reality is that a child problem is and usually indicates a family issue. I think of the Dr Phil Family. I think of a connection on my FB about enabling and prodigals. People do not seem to understand tough love and BOUNDARIES. Boundaries tell you when to administer tough love. The perishing suffering young people are like canaries in coal mines. Society needs to get the message and make changes.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Wise words from @twitter-263043892:disqus – Boundaries tell you when to administer tough love.

  • Lauren Hale (@unxpctdblessing)

    Bruce –

    Parents can believe they are on top of things. They can believe they’ve done everything right. But they can also be deceived by their children. So can spouses. So can friends. So can everyone. I’m not saying that was the case with Amy – clearly we ALL knew there were issues. And clearly, people loved her enough to encourage her to get help.

    Thing is, addiction is a disease. A nasty, insidious disease which eats you from the inside out. It can kill you, it can destroy your relationships, it can destroy everything around you.


    All the awareness in the world can’t protect an addict who isn’t willing to help themselves. All the protection in the world can’t help an addict who isn’t willing to do the work themselves.

    We can only fix ourselves, not those around us. Sure, we can put up road blocks and hope they turn when faced with them, we can hope we’ve raised them right and that they WILL make the right choices.

    But addiction is a disease. It kills. It hurts. It destroys.

    I’m not saying we should give up on those around us, that we should let them fend for themselves – I’m saying we shouldn’t point the finger when an addict dies at those around them if they have INDEED done everything possible to save their loved one. Sometimes, that includes tough love. My heart breaks for the Winehouse family as they mourn the loss of Amy. I pray a lesson will be learned here – that addiction is real, that it must be monitored and recovery is an intense process. But that we must always live in hope for a positive outcome. Once we give up, they will too.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Such wisdom in your comment Lauren @unxpctdblessing! I quote you – Thing is, addiction is a disease. A nasty, insidious disease…it sure is!

  • Erin in Vancouver

    I definitely support the comment about appreciating a stricter upbringing later in life. Both my husband and I (not in our late 20s) appreciate the structure and rules that our parents set for us, and hope to do the same when we have children. 

    • Emsroeder

      *now in our late 20s

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      TY Erin for this comment. The sad thing for parents of teens is that they don’t often realize that their upbringing was/is good until much later – after heaping undue derision upon dad and mom!

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