Thursday, January 13, 2011
Posted by Maggie May Labels: Babies To Teenagers
Dakota is sixteen, a young man, a teenager, a boy, a child, an adult... the perception of what category or label a young person falls under is different for individuals and also in the eyes of the law- from state to state or judge to judge, how to prosecute, or treat, a sixteen year old or a teenager of any age is debated. When drug addiction is involved, the combination of a person young enough to still be developing significant areas of the brain, drugs, and the law... becomes a train wreck.
When Dakota choose to smoke pot at fourteen, he also choose a peer group geared toward acceptance of pot smoking and access to it; he choose a peer group who were more likely to be involved with the law. And so at sixteen, friends and acquaintances of his- all boys, that I know of- have been arrested, received probation, gone to jail and rehab, ended up in prison. Dakota has been sober now for about half a year, he's never been in trouble with the law, never had court enforced rehab or programs, never been kicked out of a school, but watching the repercussions of drug use in the lives of his friends and acquaintances has terrified and provoked me. As with all hydra-headed issues, drug use and it's criminalization, the handling of teen drugs users inside the law and all the ways those intertwine have no easy solutions or answers, no easy way to the solution. We do have better answers to these issues, answers that can be- and in small ways, are beginning to be- implemented.
The path of addiction is one that is linked inexorably to the law because the abuse of drugs is illegal. A teenage boy who has the right predilection for addiction will become addicted quickly, depending on the substance he is using it could take a week or a few months- with the right type of brain and the additional help of enormous stress and the incredible changes in the teenage brain it will happen even faster. ( This resource, Pleasure Unwoven, is one of the most compelling and informative pieces I've ever seen to explain the process of addiction in the brain, and why it truly is a disease. ) Not all abusers will be come addicts, but once a person is an addict, there is a set of changes that happen so deeply in the fundamental workings of the physical brain that only targeted intervention can typically bring that person back to their former self. The worse the addiction, the more removed the addict becomes from the thoughts and feelings and actions that reflect their true person, and the more the addiction dictates the course of that person, the more baffled and trapped and miserable that person and everyone around them becomes. It's not unlike any disease of the brain- mental illness such as Bipolar or degenerative such as Alzheimers- which change the person affected profoundly and negatively.
Knowing this and being the mother of two teenage boys has given me a new perspective on the handling of teenage boys in our legal system who have drug involvement. It brings me back to a foundation of effective parenting- it's about teaching consequences, not punishments. When a teenage boy has hurt an individual or group in some way- stealing a car, forging a check, public drunkeness- who is a drug abuser, what is the ultimate role of the court? To protect society and to have the offender pay their debt. Neither is being accomplished when the punishment is a criminal record and jailtime. What is needed is treatment for a disease. Look at my son's face. Boys just like him- that young, that completely niave and arrogant and confused and still only partly formed, that beautiful for their youth and their promise and their vulnerability - are going to jail and spending weeks and months hardening their hearts and minds against the onslaught of emotional pain around and inside of them. The drug addict will worsen. The boy will get out of prison and be even more likely to need drugs to cope.
I keep watching these boys- to me, they are boys, I see boys in sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen year olds, just boys... that's what we call them when they go off to war, isn't it- in recognition of the ridiculousness of the waste and the vulnerability of our youth- with their baby faces and adult posturing and intelligence and total and complete obvious confusion about how to handle being a human being, I see these boys go to jail. And I watch them come out, angry and hurt and hard and even more lost than before.
I want a treatment focused solution for our children. I want punishment to be the last control to protect society, and treatment to be understood as the most effective tool to achieve our judicial goals.
I want boys like my son to be considered boys. In the eyes of the law, law that is supposed to be wise, fair and just, we can clearly see the young addict needs guidance, consequence, treatment. Not the immediate incarceration and punitive strike. Not the release back into society of a boy even more convinced he must posture as a man who knows how to make it in the world, when really he is somebody's boy in the grip of addiction.