Monday, August 6, 2007

Children aren’t getting the clean-and-sober message

Parents, take notice and take charge. If God wanted you to be a "friend" to your teenager, He would have made someone else be their parents.

Posted at The Providence Journal, by Julia Steiny.

Over lunch at Caritas House, the only Rhode Island residential facility for drug-involved girls, the one thing the girls wanted me to tell you is that the American adolescent’s world is awash in drugs. As one girl said, “Drugs are easy to get, and it’s a rite of passage. No one is scared of it anymore. The ones who are luckiest are the ones who get caught.”


The Caritas girls represented a full range of socio-economic backgrounds. At the age of 8, the urban girl was inducted into pot smoking by an 11-year-old girl. One of the two suburban girls had a brother adamant that she get started. The other smoked first when she was 14, and liked it so much that from that day forward, she smoked every day for about a year; then she started drinking. With horrified chagrin she said, “I put my little sister in very dangerous situations.”

The fourth girl was so rich, beautiful and out of control, one judge called her a “mini-Paris Hilton.”

No family is immune. No neighborhood, no social class.

I made a passing remark about nerds having other things to do, but the girls quickly disabused me of that idea. All groups at school do drugs, though the kids deeply involved in sports were the most likely to rein in their substance use. Brooklyn (each chose a pseudonym for herself) announced, “There are over 1,000 kids at my high school, and probably 10 don’t drink or drug.”

Lisa said, “Simple entertainment isn’t fun unless you’re high. Frisbee isn’t fun unless you’re high. Dancing is fun if you’re drunk.”

Brooklyn added, “Video games are trippy.”

The girls advised me to check out kids’ water bottles at school, because some of them are full of vodka. Smoking dope at school is stupid because of the smell, but they’ve all seen kids snort at school, which is to say do heroin or cocaine.

So depressing.

If you don’t believe me or them, check out both the Health-Risks and Students-Point-of-View charts in Information Works!


I asked the girls if an ideal family would have helped them stay straight. They thought for a bit and nodded their heads yes. They complained that “open communication” was impossible since their parents never actually talked to them. Adolescents don’t realize or admit how unavailable they make themselves to their parents. Still, far too many parents give up trying to communicate when a kid turns sullen, sarcastic or secretive.

Wallace wants the parents in charge under all circumstances, full-on in the kids’ faces, if necessary. Tight monitoring of kids’ lives won’t eliminate risk-taking behaviors — which are developmentally normal, however nerve-wracking — but it is the single best predictor of kids’ success in school and life. Having dinner as a family is one of the healthiest forms of monitoring that parents can provide. Over dinner, kids have to slow down, learn manners, talk, and be with other people. Also, since kids tune out lectures, dinner is a golden opportunity for “teachable moments.” (The recent alcohol-related death in Barrington would be a good dinner topic.) Have dinner late, if the kids have sports or chorus, but insist on being together. No, they may not be excused until the whole family has finished dinner.

Wallace says, “Generally the girls here come from loving, but dysfunctional families. But because they love their kids, parents can learn.”

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