Offering advice to parents of teens

Kendel Ehrlich speaks at HC DrugFree event at Wilde Lake High

Howard County

November 12, 2003|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

In an auditorium thinly dotted with parents and students, Kendel Ehrlich offered advice last night about how parents and teens can prevent drug and alcohol abuse.

But Maryland's first lady also noted that many parents don't spend enough time learning about the issues - and pointed to the turnout at last night's HC DrugFree program in Columbia as evidence. Only about 40 people turned out for the session in Wilde Lake High School's auditorium.

"The unfortunate thing tonight is the auditorium is not full, and I think that's part of the problem," Ehrlich said at the outset of a speech that lasted about 20 minutes.

"It's really, really important to take the role of parenting as seriously as you can," she said.

Ehrlich was the headline speaker for the program, "The Family: The First Line of Defense in Preventing Substance Abuse."

The event was presented by HC DrugFree, a partnership of parents, schools, county agencies and community organizations that arrange programs to address youth substance abuse issues in Howard County.

As an attorney, Ehrlich has confronted the drug problem from different angles. She has worked as an Anne Arundel County public defender and as a Harford County prosecutor.

"I represented many old-time heroin addicts who were disgusted with their lives. ... Sad, broken down and disgusted," she said.

She also noted that problems with drug abuse and addiction have expanded beyond the borders of Baltimore into surrounding counties.

Most of her remarks were geared toward parents, whom she urged to be understanding - but not too lenient - with their children. She also suggested that parents become more aware of drug culture and the warning signs of drug use.

"The idea is not to be their friend ... you're supposed to be the parents," Ehrlich said. "You're supposed to set guidelines."

Ehrlich conceded that she does not know why youths feel the need to experiment with different substances - and then put six teen-age girls sitting in a row near the back of the auditorium on the spot. From the podium in the center of the stage, she asked them why young people would choose to experiment with drugs.

One girl responded: "A lot of kids do it to fit in." Another added: "I think a lot of kids try to self-medicate because they don't feel good about what's going on."

"Listening to that row back there is probably the best information you're going to get, better than listening to me" or others, Ehrlich told the audience moments later.

Other speakers included Richard Krieg, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Horizon Foundation; Lynda Mitic, principal of Centennial High School; and Anne Walker, special programs coordinator for Howard County's Health Department.

Linda Betts, an Ellicott City mother who brought her two teen-age daughters to the program, said she came with them because she wanted to let her children know she cared about their well-being.

"I felt that it is very important to send a message to my children that we're concerned," Betts said.

A schedule of free HC DrugFree programs can be found at the Web site www. hcdrugfree.com.

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