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March 05, 2010

Alcohol, Pot and Our Kids: How Much Have They learned from Us?

Wine Recent studies found that drinking and smoking pot is on the rise again among teenagers after a decline of nearly a decade. The annual survey conducted by The Partnership for a Drug-Free America found that the number of teens from grade 9 to grade 12 who reported using alcohol in the previous month had risen 11% to a total of 39% of teens or 6.5 million, and 25% of teens admitted to marijuana use, up from 19% in 2008. 

The study also discovered that the use of Ecstasy had risen from 4% to 6%.

Perhaps many adults will not find this alarming. I don't know how many friends, family and acquaintances I have who personally recount fondly their own drinking and pot smoking youths - though out of earshot of their teens. I don't buy into the theory of "gateway" drugs, the idea that alcohol and pot smoking will inevitably lead to experimentation and/or addiction to substances like cocaine or heroin, but I am fairly certain that the idea of "getting high" as an innocuous teen rite of passage isn't one of the better parenting theories out there.

And, I am also of the belief that our children learn about mood altering substances from us - their parents - well before that friend inevitably shows up with a joint or a bottle of Boone's Farm Strawberry wine.
I suppose it is easier to blame our children's friends for their attitudes about drinking and smoking pot than it is to look at our own history and current habits as the primary breeding ground. 

As a teacher in a dropout prevention program, I taught numerous students with drug and alcohol problems. Most of them came from homes where one, or both, was a prominent feature, and the adults were either recreational users or addicted themselves. 

My students didn't fit in. They were ejected from regular education classrooms because they couldn't "get along" when they were straight and were too spacey to work when they were stoned.

One young man, a very sweet kid who was brighter than sunshine in July, arrived for class every day with red-rimmed eyes and pupils so large they obscured the iris like black-holes. He managed good grades but moved at a snail's pace.

"Dmitri, " I told him one day, "you are so smart. You rarely fail a module, but do you ever wonder how much more you might achieve if you didn't get stoned before coming to class?"

His pot smoking was an unspoken between us. He knew I knew, but he never expected me to confront him. I could have sent him to the nurse, but she would just have sent him home and that would have been the end of him showing up for my class.

He didn't reply. Just smiled in that shy, knowing way he had, but, over time, he began to arrive for class sans chemical enhancement.

By the end of school year, he'd caught up the credits he'd missed in grade nine and completed not only grade ten but eleven as well. As an eleventh grader, I sent him back to the regular English classes to take grade 12.

"He can do it," I told the counselor. And he did. 

He also, as far as I could tell, never came to school loaded anymore.

Generally, I mentioned to my drinking and toking students that being sober would improve their academics and I never dissembled when asked about my own habits.

"I rarely drink," I told them, "and I never smoke pot."

With Dmitri, this worked, but it didn't always, and I wasn't always tactful with kids.

"You know, Dante," I remarked to another young man one afternoon after he'd stumbled in late from lunch and attempted to work with his nose inches from the keyboard, "some people are perhaps smart enough to go through life stoned - but you aren't one of them. You need every ounce of concentration you have because you have learning disabilities that will always make reading and writing a challenge. I think you can meet the challenge, but you need to do yourself a favor and not make things harder by being high all the time."

Dante dropped out later that semester after being caught with drugs by a campus monitor.

I don't think Dante discovered pot, or its effects, on his own. Drug dealers lived in his neighborhood. Gangs were common. The adults he looked up to when he was a child, influenced him and his own struggles with learning disabilities made him susceptible to the idea that it's okay to "de-stress" by chemically altering his mood.

That's what we teach our kids when we need to unwind at the end of the day with a couple glasses of wine or when we continue smoking pot long into our middle-age. They are watching. We are not fooling them with our rationalizing. It's a child's job to learn through observation and don't think they aren't at all times.

They also employ excellent bull-shit detectors.

"I enjoy the taste."

"It relaxes me."

"I'm a grown-up. I can handle it."

But the first time a teen tries alcohol of any kind, it will curl his/her tongue and wrinkle his/her lips because alcohol is an acquired taste - meaning that the drink never tastes any better, the taste buds simply give up on telling you that.

And relaxing? It's really getting high. Just a little probably, but that's actually what is going on. And teens discover this and when they do, they come to know more than just "getting high", they learn about hypocrisy too. And that's where we lose them - to their friends and media influences. 

With drinking and pot use on the rise among teens again, I wonder how much the recession comes into play. Adults stressed by job loss and other money woes reaching for the legal "mother's helpers" or falling back on the not so legal ones of their pot-smoking youths. 

I don't personally use alcohol for relaxation. I don't smoke pot. And I don't really know for sure that this will influence my daughter more than her friends and other outside factors when she reaches her teens. I think though that my example lays the foundation from which she will make her choice and it's the best thing I can do for her.

This is an original 50 Something Moms post by Ann Bibby of anniegirl1138.comand Care2.

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