'Do as we say now, not as we did then' not quite good enough in a confusing age

March 19, 1996|By SUSAN REIMER

MY HUSBAND WENT to college in the late 1960s, and he didn't do drugs.

He spent four years in the library reading back issues of Sports Illustrated and when he emerged from the stacks and graduated in 1969, wearing a sweater vest and chinos and a belt that matched his shoes, my husband was surprised to learn that some young people opposed the Vietnam War.

I left for Ohio University in the fall of that year and in the spring there were protests against the war and against the killings at neighboring Kent State, and Ohio University closed in a purple haze of pepper gas and marijuana smoke.

All these years later, my husband likes to say that I will never be nominated to the Supreme Court because of the kinds of questions they ask at confirmation hearings.

But I am not nearly as worried about the Senate Judiciary Committee as I am about the two relentless interrogators for whom I pack lunches each morning. They are daily battered with anti-drug messages at school and I am worried that they might some day ask me what I did during the Vietnam War.

What does the Woodstock generation say to the next generation about drugs? Or about sex, for that matter?

I do not know, but I need to think of something fast because I cannot wait until my children are packing for college.

The average age of first drug use has dropped to under 13, according to a study released last month by the Partnership for a Drug Free America, and marijuana use among teens has doubled to almost 40 percent the highest in seven years.

The study also reported that parents like me are as clueless about our children's access to drugs as our parents were.

If I am to believe these statistics if this is not an updated version of "Reefer Madness" kids are making decisions about drugs, alcohol and sex as soon as they have figured out how to work the combination locks on their middle-school lockers.

And that, I think, is part of the problem for those who believed that marijuana was no worse that a beer until they had kids. Our children will not be on the cusp of adulthood when they begin the kind of experimentations most of us outgrew.

They will be on the cusp of puberty.

They will not be sorting out these issues in the adult halfway house that is college where you can pretend to be grown up without actually growing up but in our house, in their childhood bedrooms where we parents are still sometimes invited to snuggle.

And these decisions hold the potential for much greater harm today. There is not just pregnancy, there is AIDS and a laundry list of STDs that will leave a girl unable to conceive. And marijuana is reportedly 30 times stronger now than it was 25 years ago. Can you imagine being 30 times more stupid, not to TTC mention hungry?

Do we offer our children our own example with the admonition that we were able to return to the real world, but some of our friends did not? That while these friends did not die, they lost their lives far worse. That there is no way to predict what will happen because drug use is a lottery system as surely as the one that decided which of our friends would go to Vietnam?

Or do we lock arms with the DARE campaigns in the schools, and deny, deny, deny?

Do we, knowing how kids love attention, manipulate the conversation, turn the dialogue around on them: "Did I do drugs? Why do you want to know? Is something bothering you? Let me hear what you think about all of this?"

The prevailing wisdom seems to be that parents should be honest with their children about their own drug use without either glamorizing it or demonizing it.

We are told that the children will respect our honesty and we will have the credibility to convince them that drug use is at least a waste of time if not an enormous risk.

Others equate such true confessions with the issuing of condoms at school. It is a mixed message of "do" and "don't" that confuses kids or worse, gives them a blessing.

My own conclusion is that the children we are trying to reach with anti-drug messages middle-schoolers and younger cannot begin to sort out the contradictions our own life stories would present to them. This is as true of our choice of a career as it is of our choices about drugs, alcohol, sex. It is simply more information than they can process.

Soon enough, they will know on some level if we are lying, if we are phonies and hypocrites. But when they are that much more cunning, they will be that much older. Perhaps then they can take in the fine points the lessons of our own lives offer.

The decibel level of the anti-drug campaigns in schools is so high that my children believe drugs will leave you drooling in a straitjacket if they don't kill you.

If they want to know more than that, for the moment at least, I plan to tell them, "Go ask your father."

Pub Date: 3/19/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.