Teens and drugs: Parents, let’s talk about it

I took my cell phone out to the car, away from my kids’ inquisitive ears, to make the call. Took a couple of deep breaths and dialed. “Hi. I don’t think we’ve ever met . . .”

Thus began my conversation with a parent about possible drug use by her child. Before I called I had decided that it didn’t matter whether the parents welcomed the information or screamed at me. After all, I wasn’t making the call for my benefit or theirs. I wasn’t even making it for the sake of the young person who allegedly was using marijuana. I was calling for the sake of the other kids, the ones who were not using drugs, but who might start if someone they saw in class or at sports was using.

Some people are reluctant to make such a call unless they know “for a fact” that the reported use of drugs is true. If I were calling the cops, I’d agree with that. But I would want to know if there were a rumor that my child was using drugs or alcohol. Then I could look into it. If it turns out to be untrue, great! If everyone is silent until there is “proof,” it may be too late. By then my child could be addicted or injured.

It’s not fun to make such calls. In our small community, the caller and the caller’s children may experience cold shoulders or worse. Parents have told me their teen would “never forgive” them for making such a call, because everyone would think their child was a “snitch.” I have not faced that yet, but I plan to handle it by telling my child that a mature person does what’s right even if people get angry. And if we care about each other, then we have a responsibility to stop dangerous behavior. What if someone gets killed because kids are high while driving? What if a girl gets pregnant when she’s intoxicated? But in the end, regardless of how my child feels about it, I think it’s our job as parents to make such calls.

We’ve got to change this community’s attitude toward teens using drugs and alcohol. The Healthy Youth Survey conducted statewide shows that Vashon youth use marijuana at a much higher rate than the state average. It also shows that our kids think we don’t care — that it’s no big deal. That’s why two high school students recently were discovered smoking pot in plain sight on the school campus.

Our youth may be right about our community’s attitude. On a weekend not long ago, an adult was seen casually smoking marijuana on the school campus! And some students say their parents are smoking it “all the time” at home.

But research shows it is a big deal for teens. Youth who use marijuana are far more likely to use other drugs. Youth who start using drugs or drinking alcohol by age 15 are far more prone to becoming addicts or alcoholics. If use of drugs and alcohol is postponed to age 21, the likelihood of addiction goes way down.

There is a burst of brain development during the teen years. Drugs and alcohol can cause permanent damage. Plus, when teens are high they engage in risky behaviors, like sex.

I propose that all adults in our community who care about our children take these steps:

Consider your own habits. My husband and I gave up drinking any alcohol at home. In my teen years I drank the sherry in my parents’ liquor cabinet, so I know that having alcohol in the house is a powerful temptation.

Please don’t keep prescription painkillers in your medicine cabinet. Young people don’t realize that prescription medicines can be deadly, especially if mixed with alcohol. You don’t want your meds killing someone.

Talk honestly with other parents, especially the parents of your kids’ friends. Do they drink alcohol or smoke pot when kids are around? When they host a party, do they stay close by to see if drugs or alcohol are being used or do they go to bed and hope for the best?

Be explicit with your kids about your expectations. Don’t assume your kids know that you don’t want them to “try” drugs and alcohol. Sit down with them and be absolutely clear about the rules and the consequences. For example, what should they do when (because it will happen sometime) they are at a party where others are drinking or using drugs?

Learn the facts and give up the myths. Here’s one example. Fact or myth: In Europe everyone lets their children drink wine at home, and they don’t have a problem with alcoholism. It’s a myth. According to a report by the European Union’s Public Health Programme, 23 million Europeans are dependent on alcohol.

As a member of the Vashon School Board, I plan to work with staff to be sure the school district’s policies and procedures are strong and clear enough. Did you know the sheriff is called every time a student is discovered to have drugs on campus? Please tell your teens that!

We need parent-to-parent conversations that are brutally frank. I plan to ask parents I know: Will they call and let me know the rumors they hear about my kids? Do they know how to tell if teens are using drugs? Come on, parents. Let’s talk!


— Laura Wishik, a mother of two, serves on the Vashon School Board.


Interested in conversations with other parents about drug and alcohol use among our youth? Need some help getting started? If so, contact the Alliance to Reduce Substance Abuse (VARSA) at 463-5511, ext 230. Or call Laura Wishik at 295-1949.  If you know of students using drugs or alcohol but don’t want to call their parents, you can send an Anonymous Alert email to the school district from the web site at: www.vashonsd.org.


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