Drugs and teens: A close look raises questions

Does Vashon really have a drug problem? This is a question I have wondered for the past 17 years of raising kids on this island. I know from research that there is a higher level of experimentation with drugs among Vashon teens when compared to the state averages, but does this constitute a problem? The article, “Teen substance use still above average on Vashon” in the May 17 issue of The Beachcomber indicates that perhaps it does not.

Buried among numbers and anecdotal comments is the “particularly puzzling” observation made by coordinator Luke McQuillin that Vashon youth are engaged in so-called pro-social activities — the very same activities that drug use supposedly inhibits. Our kids are actively participating in curricular and extra-curricular activities as well as graduating at a high rate. It sounds like drug use is not as big a problem as statistics might indicate.

Why might this be happening on Vashon? Perhaps it is precisely the “community mores” the article mentions that seem “to tolerate such use.” Perhaps it is because many parents on Vashon understand that the most important aspect about dealing with teens and drugs is not prohibition but education — that the key to keeping our children engaged in school and the community at large is communication and understanding, not punishment and condemnation. That keeping our kids alive and safe is far more important than following lock-step in a prohibition environment that is proving to be unsuccessful.

Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that children who are taught by their parents to use alcohol responsibly and in moderation are less likely to abuse alcohol and develop drinking problems. It seems that this may also be true when it comes to marijuana use as well.

One of the key motivators in teen and pre-teen abuse is the alienation that children feel from their parents. In many cases parents reach a point in raising their children where they disassociate themselves from the child’s life. This is frequently not the case on Vashon, where parents are actively involved with their children through their support of their educational and extra-curricular activities.

The information that is missing is a follow-up to the drug use study that has been used to secure a million-dollar grant. We know that teens are using at a higher rate than the norm, yet they are not exhibiting the dangerous effects that this use is assumed to engender.

I would suggest that the rest of that grant money go toward a two-step program. First, do a follow-up survey with the kids who were involved in the first survey to determine if their elevated drug use has had a detrimental effect on their college studies, ability to secure jobs, ability to form solid social and community relationships and use drugs in a responsible manner. If it has, then Vashon has a problem.

If their higher use of drugs has not had a detrimental effect on their lives, then take the rest of the grant money and use it to support the educational and extra-curricular activities that our current school and recreational budgets are eviscerating.

One of the main strengths that I have witnessed in this community is the wide variety of activities available to youth on this little island. I believe that these opportunities, coupled with parental encouragement, love and support, are what keep our youth thriving. If the kids lose those opportunities, then I fear we will really see a drug problem on Vashon.


— Chris Ott, a father of four, has worked with countless teens in various stage productions.



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