When child hits high school, don't get left behind

August 22, 2006|By SUSAN REIMER | SUSAN REIMER,SUN REIMER

The step our children take from middle school to high school is the social equivalent of stepping off a sandbar into the deep end of the ocean.

It is more than the pressure of honors courses and varsity sports team tryouts and SATs and college chatter.

It is more than the lost feeling that comes with moving from a cozy middle school to the confluence of two or three middle schools and a sea of new -- and much older -- faces in the halls of the high school.

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, moving into high school is the single riskiest time in our children's lives because of the sudden availability of drugs and alcohol.

Compared with 13-year-olds, 14-year-olds are four times likelier to be offered prescription drugs; three times likelier to be offered Ecstasy; three times likelier to be offered marijuana; and two times likelier to be offered cocaine, according to CASA.

In addition, a CASA survey shows that, compared to 13-year-olds, 14-year-olds are much more likely to attend parties where parents are present -- but where drugs and alcohol are present as well.

CASA has been surveying the attitudes of teens and their parents on the subject of drugs and alcohol use for 11 years.

But, said Joseph Califano, the former U.S. secretary of health, education and welfare and chairman and president of CASA, "There is a special alert in this year's survey for parents of young teenagers.

"The transition from age 13 to age 14, often when the shift from middle to high school occurs, is a time of dramatically escalating substance abuse risk."

The reason is that our middle-schoolers are moving into a world of drug and alcohol use and leaving their clueless parents behind, and the disconnect is alarming.

For example: Virtually all parents (98 percent) say they are present during parties they allow their teens to have at home. But a third of teen partygoers report that parents are rarely or never present at the parties they attend.

Virtually all parents (99 percent) say they would not serve alcohol at their teen's party, but 28 percent of teen partygoers have been at parties where parents were present and teens were drinking alcohol.

Eighty percent of parents believe that neither alcohol nor marijuana is usually available at parties their teens attend, but half of teen partygoers attend parties where either or both are available.

Do the math, people. Either there is one house where the parents are absent and the kids are partying and one other house where the parents are present and serving alcohol -- or there are plenty of houses where the parents are kidding themselves.

"The message is laser sharp," said Califano. "Teen drug and alcohol use is a parent problem, not just a teen problem."

As our children move from middle school to high school, one thing remains constant: They are ferociously social and they can't get enough of each other's company. The instant messages, text messages and cell phone calls quickly give way to group outings and to parties.

And it is dead certain that someone will bring drugs or alcohol along.

Parents may not be able to control the passing of flasks or joints in the stands of a high school football game, but they can certainly control what happens in their own homes.

The kids will be mortified, but the parents have to be the parents and supervise any gathering at their homes, whether it is an official party or not.

That means greeting everybody at the door and asking for introductions; eyeballing the guests and acting when you sense trouble. Don't be afraid to send someone packing.

It means passing through the room where the kids have gathered every few minutes. Smile cheerfully and offer something to eat, certainly. But never retreat to your bedroom.

The result may be that your horrified daughter will never invite any of her friends to your house. That's pretty much what mine did.

If that happens, you have to work your sources until you find out where the kids are hanging out. If they're at someone's house, call the parents to see if they are home and supervising the group, recognizing that, if the CASA survey is correct, they may be kidding you, along with themselves.

And then, you must endure the screaming, door-slamming objections of your newly minted high schooler who claims she can never show her face in school again.

Remember: Your children have plenty of friends -- regardless of their howling objections to the contrary.

But they've only got two parents. And one life. For their sake, be the grown-up.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

Download the CASA survey at baltimoresun.com/casastudy/

To hear audio clips of selected Susan Reimer columns, go to baltimoresun.com/reimer.

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