Drugs, high school and deja vu

Opinion: Columns

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By John Hubbuch

One of the conceits of getting older is the belief that you grow wiser. That belief is poor recompense for 2 a.m. trips to the bathroom and sagging flesh, but at least it's something.

So today I share my wisdom on drugs and alcohol and the students at the high school. My bonafides are these: father of three sons who graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School in 1994, 1997 and 2002; president of the Booster Club from 1992-2002; and an abuser of alcohol in my 30s, but who quit when he turned 40. (One of the few things I have in common with George Bush.)

At the outset it must be noted that the problem of young people getting high has been with the species for a long, long time. In fact, some biblical scholars believe that Cain killed Abel in a drunken rage after consuming too much fermented lentils. Red ribbons, yard signs, parent meetings and editorials have been around for a long time.

Any approach that incorporates "one size fits all" will fail. I remember attending meetings with parents who told very different stories. On the one hand there was the parents of the freshman who had caught their child's first sampling from the liquor cabinet. On the other there was the parents who had kicked their son out of the house because he kept stealing money to support his $200-a-day heroin habit. The two couples really had nothing in common on this issue.

This is mainly about getting parents to step up to the stage. The high school with an emphasis on a closed campus, random drug checks and locker inspections can decrease drugs in the school, but there are drugs in maximum-security prisons. Besides, most kids get high before or after school or on the weekends — just like adults.

And getting the parents to step up to the stage ain't easy. I would guess 20 percent of the parents abuse drugs or alcohol themselves. Another 40 percent believe that boys and girls will be boys and girls — so a little consumption is OK as long as you don't kill your self, or embarrass the family. And then there are the clueless parents who go to the vacation home and leave the high schooler in charge. Yikes! Don't get me wrong: Getting as many as 100 parents to show up to discuss the problem is fantastic, but then there are the thousand who didn't show, and will never show.

Finally, a high school's memory and focus turn over every four years. The kids graduate and the parents move on to other worries and challenges. The school board has an election and a new superintendent is hired. It is very hard to maintain any momentum on the matter.

So what can be done? Set realistic goals. Aim low. Don't be disappointed. There will be no transformation. Moving the needle just a bit in the right direction is a worthy goal. Success needs to be measured one student at a time starting with your own kid. Parent education. Counseling services. Prayer. Luck.

John Hubbuch, an Indiana native who moved to Oak Park in 1976, is a retired lawyer. Hubbuch served on the District 97 school board and coached youth sports. He is the father of three and grandfather of one. Go to OakPark.com/community/blogs to read his blog.

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