Monday, October 06, 2008


(January, 2003) Yes, drugs are still an issue with teens. But talking to teens about drugs has long been a big challenge for baby boomer parents.

Pundits have offered a variety of explanations. One is that boomers are feeling too guilty about their own youthful drug-induced exuberance to scold anyone else. Another is that boomers don’t want to sound any more like their own parents than they already do. And some boomers supposedly feel a great deal like hypocrites.

All that, plus the lack of any clear, convincing speech to deliver on the subject. Most boomers seem to have a hard time with any argument that stands on phrases like “the right thing to do” or “against the law.” Boomers have spent a chunk of their generation rejecting these sorts of arguments in everything from politics to jaywalking, and they don’t know how to make the point sound convincing.

We remember all too well the sorts of materials that were brought to bear on us. The movies about people who touched one joint and became drooling drug fiends never convinced anyone; we all knew people who had touched lots of joints and didn’t seem very drooly at all. The people who did drugs were never like the raving sleazy menaces in the materials we were shown; they were the same people that we’d played four square with in the playground.

We know that some of the people who did drugs turned out just fine. We know that some of them also turned out to be a mess. And the difference is just as mysterious to most of us as the person who may or may not become an alcoholic after a few drinks.

The whole illegal and wrong argument is a wash these days. I’m not saying that drugs aren’t illegal and wrong. But for better or worse, we’ve come to accept as a society that doing things that are against the law is okay if you have a really really good reason. And news developments like recent Air Force assertions that using drugs to keep long-duty pilots alert just muddy the water further.

By all means, continue to point out that drugs are illegal and wrong. Just don’t be surprised when lots of young people look back at you and ask, “So…?”

My first objection to drugs, particular for teens, is that they don’t give anything back. A good hobby is one that gives something back to the person who practices it, makes them smarter, happier, stronger. Drugs just take. I have had plenty of students whose hobby was getting high. That’s what they put all the energy and planning in their lives into, all their spare hours, all their spare money, from which they get nothing.

Sometimes I’m amazed that they don’t see it. If the person a teen was dating said, “You must spend all your extra money on me, and every three hours, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you must call me,” that teen would dump the relationship like a hot rock. If a boyfriend or girlfriend demanded, “Go hold up a store for me,” they’d be kicked to the curb. Yet anything from tobacco to oxycontin can make the same demands and have suckers lining up to meet them.

Drugs often demand obedience and give nothing back. “But drugs help me cope and let me get away from all the junk in my life,” would be the argument many teens would offer. Which brings me to the other large reason that they should leave the drugs alone.

During the teen years, many young people develop the muscles that they will depend on for the rest of their lives. Not just physical muscles, but psychological ones as well.

If you don’t exercise muscles, they don’t get strong. If you don’t deal with the pain and challenges of life, you don’t become strong. And when it comes to strength (as with many other things in life) you are either moving forward or backward—there is no standing still.

A teen on drugs is like a child in a wheelchair. Spend too much time there, and pretty soon it’s twice as hard to get up out of the chair and locomote under your own power. Stay there way too long, and you become incapable of getting around on your own, taking care of yourself, navigating through the world without someone to help you.

There are plenty of things in life that can steal your strength and destroy your power. There are times when you have to bargain away a piece of that power in exchange for something else of value. Why chose to give it away and get nothing in return?

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