Teens know the difference between experimentation and addiction

Adolescence has always been heralded as a time of experimentation. It’s a time of growth and burgeoning independence, when children apply pressure to the disciplinary boundaries their parents impose. For many teenagers on Vashon Island, this involves the use of drugs and alcohol.

  • Saturday, April 26, 2008 5:02am
  • Arts

BUT SERIOUSLY …

Adolescence has always been heralded as a time of experimentation. It’s a time of growth and burgeoning independence, when children apply pressure to the disciplinary boundaries their parents impose. For many teenagers on Vashon Island, this involves the use of drugs and alcohol.

Partaking of these substances puts teenagers at odds with their parents, primarily because their goals contrast so jarringly with those of their fathers and mothers. Adolescents want to discover themselves and have fun.

Parents, who are scared stiff by the horror stories about drunken driving accidents, want more than anything to keep their children out of potentially dangerous situations. Needless to say, this makes communication between the two parties abysmally difficult.

Being a high school student, I have witnessed this breakdown of communication. I interviewed several students who were willing, under the condition of anonymity, to share their opinions about teen drug usage and why they chose to keep their parents in the dark about it.

Neither of the students interviewed felt that the use of drugs was immoral or dangerous in any way. They seemed confident in their ability to experiment without consequence.

“It’s never gotten in the way of my studying. … It’s never taken over my life,” said one. “But it makes me lie to my parents, and I feel really guilty about that.”

Both of the students stated that being honest with their parents about their substance usage was impossible. They expressed fears about how their parents would react, if told the truth.

“I just don’t want them to be disappointed in me,” said one.

According to these students, however, it’s not only the kids who aren’t being honest. They think that parents have a problem being honest with themselves about the drug situation among Vashon teenagers.

“Parents always want to see the best in their kids,” said one. “It’s hard to admit that your child isn’t perfect. … A lot of parents think it in the back of their heads but are too afraid to admit it to themselves.”

“They’ve always thought that I’ve been sort of an angel child,” said the other. “To know that I’m not like that would be such a surprise to them.”

These two students aren’t the only members of the community who believe that parents on Vashon are out of the loop. On April 2, the PTSA hosted a parent awareness forum at the high school library, facilitated by Island therapist Stephen Bogan, who leads a therapy group for teens struggling with drug and alcohol use. The meeting featured several parents and students who attempted to explain to the audience members what the drug and alcohol situation among Vashon youth really looks like.

I talked to Bogan about his opinions about teen drug usage after the forum. Immediately, I became aware of the juxtaposition between his opinions and the ones voiced by the high school students.

“There is always a high level of risk,” Bogan said. “And the more somebody uses, the more they run that risk.”

He went on to say that Vashon High School has a rate of drug and alcohol use above the statewide average, and that 20 percent of high school students struggle with addiction during their adolescence. He also expressed a desire that parents take a more active role in preventing usage.

“My dream would be that parents and teachers would get kids’ attention and tell them that drinking and using is not OK,” he said.

Hearing such extensive testimony from both parties involved in this issue has certainly shed a lot of light on the situation for me personally. Bogan’s concerns in light of these statistics are very understandable.

However, as a high school student, I feel that a line should be drawn between people like the students I interviewed and those Bogan described as struggling with an addiction. It is especially important that parents recognize this difference and become aware of what activities their children are involved in.

As I see it, experimentation is a facet of adolescent development that many high schoolers will partake in with few negative ramifications. But at the same time, parents can’t be expected to give the children they love leave to do whatever they want.

Ideally, parents will learn to differentiate between addiction and harmless experimentation and find a happy medium that allows them to communicate with their children and keep them safe without inhibiting their independence.

— Joe Sutton-Holcomb is a junior at Vashon High School. This is the first of several columns he plans to write for The Beachcomber.

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