In a town with so many therapists, isn’t anyone a little bit interested in understanding teen drug use in Oak Park and River Forest, rather than limiting ourselves to panic-and-react mode? In a town with so many bright, accomplished young people, I feel we are missing an opportunity to involve them in the process of learning about the issues before we decide what to do about them.
Closing the campus, drug testing our kids and bringing in drug-sniffing dogs might result in a short-term reduction in drug use (much as the new tardy policy is resulting in short-term compliance), but is that really all we can hope for?
We actually have quite a lot of knowledge about what factors play into a teen’s decision to try drugs, as well as what factors contribute to a teen developing a problem with drugs. This knowledge should be informing our decisions.
For example, if students report using drugs to “feel better” or “relax,” then our job is either to consider if a reduction of the stress in their lives might be appropriate, or help them learn better stress-reduction strategies.
To act as though the only reason our children are using drugs is because they can, and all we have to do is “grow a pair,” is ridiculous. [‘Parents, I’m asking you to grow a pair,’ News, May 26] We understand that self-esteem, depression, genetics, anxiety, relationships, etc., all play a role in drug use and abuse. We know that there are differences by gender and age.
Students who report using marijuana or alcohol in order to feel more confident, less inhibited or to enhance pleasure deserve an opportunity to learn about themselves and find better ways of managing life’s challenges and experiencing joy. We need to take information, listen to our children and then decide what to do.
I have no interest in policing my children, or scaring them with false information. When we tell our kids that pot is hundreds of times more potent than it was in the ’60s and ’70s, when that is not factually clear, we are not giving them good information. When we limit ourselves to scaring our children about drug and alcohol abuse, we lose credibility. Pot and alcohol are not the same as heroin and cocaine, and shouldn’t be treated as if they are. Why should they trust us to help them make good decisions when we neglect to give them good information?
We need to engage our teens in conversation, and support their interest in making good choices.
Ruth Lazarus is an Oak Park resident, parent of an OPRF student and social worker who works with kids and families.