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Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
May 8, 1998, Metro Edition

Parents' role in fighting drug use:
Kids have friends; what they need is strong guidance

Sue Rusche

A new survey by the Partnership for a Drug Free America brings disturbing news. Boomer parents seriously underestimate the presence of drugs in their children's lives. They are certain their children won't use drugs, but many have already started. What can parents do about this?

First, recognize that parents never think their children will be drug abusers. By the time they discover that's not true, they are disbelieving, frightened - and full of guilt. "It's my fault - I have failed as a parent," is the universal, but false, response. In much the same way as the tobacco industry, which targets teenagers to persuade them to smoke, similar forces target children to persuade them to use drugs. Because these forces hide in the adolescent culture, most parents are unaware they exist.

For 21 years, our organization has taken calls from parents seeking help for a drug-using child. They always begin, "I had no idea my child was using drugs." Sometimes they add, "We knew something was wrong and placed our child in the care of a therapist who ignored the drug use and treated the symptoms. Our child only got worse."

For some, it's too late

Some parents don't get to call for help. In just two years, 11 young people - male and female, aged 15 to 21 - died from heroin overdoses in Plano, Texas. A video to alert other parents to the danger features one mother who describes her initial reaction to a phone call saying that her 18-year-old son was dead. She was taking notes for a lawsuit against the hospital for even suggesting that her son used heroin. "I knew our son would never use drugs, let alone heroin."

What can you do to ensure you'll never have to make - or receive - such a call?

First, if your child is using drugs, get help now. Your goal is to free her before drug use turns into drug abuse or drug addiction. Second, if your child is not using drugs, prevent him from starting.
Educate yourself about the harmful effects of drugs. Teach your children that drugs hurt people, particularly adolescents, who must build personal, social, academic and job skills to become productive, responsible adults. Drug abuse prevents them from acquiring these skills.

Tell your children you expect them not to use drugs - period. Tell them there will be consequences if they do and what the consequences are.

Let your children know you love them enough to do whatever it takes to protect them. Protecting them means setting limits.

Do not be your child's best friend. Children have many best friends, but only one or two parents. If you won't be your child's parent, who will?

Get to know the parents of your child's three or four best friends. They are your most effective allies. Together, you can establish a set of age-appropriate guidelines you all agree to abide by. You can help each other stick to those guidelines when your teenagers pressure you for permission to do things that place them at risk, such as attending parties where parents are absent and drugs are present. Many stores break the law and sell drugs - alcohol, tobacco, nitrous oxide and other inhalants - to children. Others break the law and sell drug paraphernalia - crack pipes, marijuana rolling papers and drug-using instruction booklets - to children.

Do not expect the culture to help. Many movies, videos and songs glamorize drug use. Moreover, drug legalization proponents dominate the Internet and influence your children in unbelievable ways. Type the word "marijuana" into an Internet search engine and see for yourself. You will be horrified.

You'll find that children can buy marijuana and marijuana seeds over the Internet. You will see a barrage of claims that drugs are harmless. You'll begin to understand why parents and children are on different wavelengths about drugs.

It's hard to say no to someone you love, but you must nonetheless do so sometimes. Your teenagers will rail, protest, fuss and fume. But one day, after they've made it safely through adolescence, they'll tell you they understand why you imposed limits. They'll thank you for protecting them from the difficult challenges children face growing up in today's world.

- Sue Rusche is a cofounder and executive director of National Families in Action, an antidrug organization. She wrote this article for Newsday.

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