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Sometimes Itâ??s Just Dumb Parents

Posted Dec 10 2008 10:52am

I was enjoying some light-hearted conversation with a high school teacher recently, when suddenly the conversation took a major turn. He began to discuss what kids talk about during their work time in his class. As a high school teacher, he’s pretty much heard it all, but in recent years he says the conversations are beyond surprising.

“If you just let the kids talk and don’t interrupt you’ll be surprised what you hear them talking about,” he said. “The kids know everybody that’s doing drugs, from the athletes to the kids on the outside. There’s a lot of marijuana use, a lot.”

Recently the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University presented its 13th annual “back-to-school survey,” which identifies factors and influences in teen substance abuse. The survey goes hand-in-hand with the comments from the high school teacher. In addressing the increase in the availability of drugs in his school, the teacher said “I don’t know what the parents are thinking.” That’s just what the annual report focused on—problem parents.

The report centered on four failures of problem parents. They do not monitor where their children are on school nights (Monday-Thursday). They do not safeguard prescriptions medications. They do not address the problem of drugs in the schools. They do not set good examples.

Let’s take a look at this in greater detail. The report said that 46 percent of the kids surveyed (ages 12-17) said they leave the house on school nights. But only 14 percent of parents said their kids go out. That’s a huge disparity. Moreover, half of the kids who stay out until 10:00 or after say that alcohol, marijuana or other drugs are being used by the kids they are with. If the teens are home between 8:00 and 10:00, the percentage drops to 29 percent. Of course, the parents, if confronted about this situation, will say they are concerned.

When I was in my 20’s I recall talking to a police detective about kids who were vandalizing property around my apartment complex. The detective told me that he catches the kids, calls their parents who told him, “When he’s out of the house, he’s not our problem.” In responding to my question as to what I could do, he replied, “Don’t leave any marks.” That was his way of telling me that law enforcement was doing it’s part, but the real problem area was the parents.

Parents do not always have a realistic picture of what is under their nose. A third of the parents surveyed said that the presence of drugs in the schools where their children attend has no impact on whether or not their child has tried drugs. Their child would never do drugs; it’s always the other children. Worse yet is the inattention paid to prescription medications, especially pain-killers. One-third of the kids said they knew a kid who was abusing prescription drugs found right in the medicine cabinet of their home. Another third of the kids say they can get prescription drugs from classmates. It’s like parents are replacing pushers.

My teacher friend also said that some kids say that parents actually get high with their kids. The report says the same thing. Shocking is the fact that the report says a quarter of the teens surveyed know of a parent that does this. My friend said that many parents do not consider marijuana use a problem, even for their teenage children. Every report about drug use at an early age leading to drug addiction later would squash such idiotic thinking. Of course, if there were a public forum discussing drugs in our schools, all of the problem parents would be first in line to criticize and demand that our schools be drug free.

The report was very detailed in its findings. My friend the teacher just shared what he heard in class. He’s a parent too, with concerns for the safety and wellbeing of his children. He knows that the real education about drugs takes place in the home, and he accepts responsibility to make sure that his children know the facts. The lure of drugs is so strong, so constant and so pervasive that even his best efforts may not prevent one of his kids from experimenting with drugs, or worse yet, getting into trouble with drug use.

If you ‘re a parent, I encourage you to read the entire study. Don’t be a problem parent. Be a part of the solution.

(If you want to read the entire report, you will find it at http://casacolumbia.org. )

Ned Wicker is Addictions Chaplain at Waukesha Memorial Hospital Lawrence Center

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