As a parent of a seven-year-old and a 12-year-old, John Kleiman’s article in the Chicago Times on the ineffective ways we’re talking to teens about drugs caught my eye. His piece focused on D.A.R.E and the anti-drug pledges teens take which they later abandon. He and I are both skeptical of the long term outcomes. I remember as a young girl having dreams and aspirations of a bright future and being horrified at even the thought of a drug or a drink so much as touching my lips. They were dangerous, scary things that only crazy people liked. And then I turned 12. I still remember the thought I had back then: that as soon as I could get my hands on alcohol, I was going to drink it. And I did. Growing up in a Catholic society that said inebriation would send me to hell was clearly no deterrent.
Kids Don’t Live under a Rock
I think it’s fantastic that children are being given the opportunity to think about the consequences for their future should they make a decision to do drugs and drink. But it would need to be a very sheltered kid who doesn’t know the potential dangers of such activity. Even my seven-year-old knows that drugs and alcohol do strange things to you and that it’s highly likely that getting mixed up with such substances will get you in trouble with the police. (Of course having a mother in recovery and whose job is to write about such matters has probably enhanced her awareness.) Thankfully she’s totally freaked out by the fact that Hannah Montana turned into a twerking, cannabis outfit-wearing semi adult and even asked me the other day how Miley’s mom and dad allowed her to turn out like that. But I know that her opinion will change and such things won’t shock her so much in just a few short years. My 12-year-old son, who once was wholly anti drugs and alcohol, has begun asking about pot—what it feels like to smoke it—and he knows people who sell it. And yes, I want to lock him away till he’s 45. But I can’t.
As much as I want to tell my kids to avoid drugs and alcohol at all costs, I’m a realist. It’s inevitable that there will come a time when they will try it for themselves. And in a world where over-sexualizing ourselves is seen as desirable and Rhianna is singing about dancing in the moonlight with molly, how do we get our kids to believe that these lifestyles can and do send people down the road to hell? Well, my strategy is to lead by example and make myself fully available to talk about these issues with my kids realistically. I guess you could call it a harm reduction policy. I’m hoping that instilling in them a sense of self-esteem and belief that they are worth more than a lifestyle of misery will pay off. But I’m also aware that it may not.
The Glamorous Allure Is Too Strong
The fact of the matter is, that media and the influence of those who live the life we all dream about is what our kids zone in on. Of course what a glamorous, beautiful and wealthy pop star or actress is talking about will be far more important and relevant to a teenager than what an annoying parent keeps babbling on about. And let’s face it, it’s been that way since the Industrial Revolution and the birth of popular culture. It was the sultry and tortured tones of Kurt Cobain immediately caught my attention in my younger years. And if the Vanity Fair post-Oscars bash, long considered the most glamorous American party in the world, is boasting about they managed to knock back nearly 600 bottles of champagne, 36 bottles of tequila, 203 bottles of vodka and another 600-some odd bottles of vino, how can we ever convince our kids that this isn’t something to aspire to?
In an era where our eight-year-olds are smoking pot in their school bathrooms, it seems that complete abstinence from chemical stimulants is a thing of the past. As I grit my teeth and prepare for the roller coaster ride of parenting teenagers, all I can do is hope and pray I mange to guide them through the obstacle course of adolescence with some degree of success.
Photo courtesy of Eva Rinaldi [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons