Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Private Lives of Teenagers: Drugs and Your Sweet Baby

We live in a very suburban suburbia, personified by the characteristics of blandness, a total of 5 cars driven by everyone, a plethora of Starbucks, children that were conceived via in vitro or surregacy ( the rate of twins is wow ) to older moms, constant roadwork, lots of sports fields and a profound absence of African Americans. Our neighborhood is middle class, even though we aren't- we don't really 'make it' living here, and we aren't even good at looking like we do: once, I had no car for months because I smashed up our minivan and we couldn't afford even a miserable wreck of a replacement. We live here ( if you know me, you are probably wondering why in the hell we do live here ) because of shared custody, grandparents and the safety and kid friendliness of the place. Most people here have kids, and revolve their lives ( obsessively? ) around them, worrying endlessly about every decision from when to take the pacifier away to what teacher they have for fourth grade

-And in my experience, completely and often willfully ignoring the number one concern of teenagers in our ( and most ) communities now: drug abuse.

Totally ignoring it. Blackout. As in,
maybe that grubby looking ear stretched kid I see hanging out on the corner of the high school smoking cigarettes is popping pills, but my kid's not.

Let's see.

Overview of Reasons I've Come Across That Parents Believe Their Kid Isn't Using Drugs *

too old - too young - too focused on college/hisband/herart - there's no way Coach x would let him/her get away with that - not interested - we told her/him he/she could always talk to us - we don't abuse drugs or drink heavily - our family is really close - he/she is so smart - he/she is always home - he/she doesn't have friends who do that - too innocent - too busy ( ??? really? ) - too religious - he/she knows someone who is an addict and doesn't want to be like that - he/she isn't around drugs ( ??? ) - her/his mentors are sober - too happy - too confident - and most frustrating to me personally ' he/she told me he/she would never, ever use drugs'

When I was a little girl I clearly remember telling my Mom that I would never, ever be the kind of kid who smokes cigarettes. I remember also that during that same year I was still picking my nose and wiping them on the wall next to my bed, but apparently that didn't stop my mom from being shocked when at 15 I took up smoking. Our children grow up, but not only do we not see them as grown up ( outside of rarefied moments of illumination, usually during some kind of ceremony where everyone is pointing out how grown up your child in fact is, and you sit dumbfounded for a moment, seeing them in that light, and then the next second you remember how on a five dollar dare they ate the goldfish you bought them for their 10th birthday, and how they spent the next entire day pouting and alternately screaming because you refused to buy another ) we refuse to see that they are creating an entire private life inside of themselves and outside of our house, the same kind that we did yeah, but surely, they aren't like
us. Because we aren't our parents! So.

I'll let you think on that while we move on and consider what the private life of a teenager is. It's
private. This means we don't know shit about it. Your teenager's private life is not a sexless and sober hangout where everyone is playing video games, kissing, skateboarding and practicing violin, I swear to God. Regardless of looks ( preppy glasses or pierced eyelids ) background ( Egyptian or American ) home life ( shitty or fantastic ) your teenager's private life is steamy, dangerous, ridiculous, embarrassing, rule breaking, game changing and sometimes seriously illegal. Teenage years are when even if you think you've just figured out exactly who you are for a second ( I'm an athletic/partier/lesbian ) a big weekend or even, hell, a movie or novel( ghostgirl?) can leave you reeling, realizing that the world is much bigger and more exciting than you ever knew, and you have no idea what you want your place in it to be. On top of that are the enormous and healthy flashes of rebellion that teenagers experience, those biological boosts to independence, where suddenly everything your parents taught you feels suspect, and you wonder why the hell you were just taking it all in as gospel, when maybe they were just making it up on the fly.

And it is in those moments and those weekends and those gaps between teenage maturity and teenage craziness that teenagers use drugs, even teenagers who completely and totally swear, Mom and Dad, that they won't and never will
ever want to.

And there are no absolutes, so there will be the rare teen who doesn't ever want to and doesn't. One of the problems is that every parent wants to believe this is their child.

Dakota said to me once
I always saw you taking pills. I never thought anything about it. You talked to me about drugs like crack and pot but never about pills. I just thought it was no big deal. Like a party drug, whatever. No big deal.

I take 50mg zoloft for anxiety and a drug for hypothyroidism. That's it, not a pharma going on here. But those and the supplements add up to a lot of throwing back pills in my mouth, and then there are the surgeries and the drugs after that, and the all over impression is a casual one. I think this is true for many homes.

Pill popping is becoming the number one problem in our community of teenagers, as far as I can tell. This year my son's high school had a pill overdose death, and my son has told me a few stories of girls he knew who were or thought they were overdosing- one girl crashed her car and another fell off a balcony and busted her mouth open. Ecstasy and oxycotin are huge, and easily- so easily- obtained. Simply stepping foot on a campus day after day ensures that your teenager will be aware that if they want to- ever, even if one afternoon- they can get their hands on drugs.

From the CDC :

While illicit drug use has declined among youth, rates of nonmedical use of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medication remain high.9 Prescription medications most commonly abused by youth include pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and depressants.9 In 2009, 20% of U.S. high school students had ever taken a prescription drug, such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Adderall, Ritalin, or Xanax, without a doctor's prescription.6 Teens also misuse OTC cough and cold medications, containing the cough suppressant dextromethorphan (DXM), to get high.10 Prescription and OTC medications are widely available, free or inexpensive, and falsely believed to be safer than illicit drugs. Misuse of prescription and OTC medications can cause serious health effects, addiction, and death.1

Think of how easy it is to throw a pill into your mouth. Swallow. That's it.

I just thought it would be fun at a party. Like to hang out and chill.

I wanted to have sex but was too scared, so I took it.

I was sick of being me.

I felt depressed and wanted to feel something else.

I was angry at my boyfriend.

I was angry at my parents.

I just wanted to have one night to remember, to totally go crazy and do whatever.

I don't know why I took it. I really have no idea. I can't explain it to myself.


Without exception every single parent that I have spoken to in the last five years of my oldest son being a teenager has reacted to the topic of teenagers and drugs with what I can only describe as the greatest of ease. The shrugs, the half smiles, the raised eyebrow and, in the face of reality, inexplicable comments " Kids are so much more innocent than people believe " or " Teenagers have a bad rap, most are good kids " leads me to believe that parents either refuse to believe their child would ever use drugs or refuse to believe that using them is a problem.

Dakota has many friends whose parents let them smoke pot and or drink. As long as they get good grades. As long as it's at home. As long as they don't sell it. It's the biggest load of bullshit ever. Marajuana is a gazillion times more potent than it was in the 70's, let's say ( look it up ) and now it's often tampered with ( like crop spraying with a slight misting of cocaine ) to make it addictive. Major news outlets just did a story on the rising deaths in marajuana caused car accidents. I knew of a handful of kids in high school- all boys- who died at a party or right after a party of drinking related causes. The thought of Dakota going to a party where a parent supplies kegs and let's my kid get wasted makes me FURIOUS. I rarely get angry. Even more rarely, like the winged unicorn, do I get furious. That makes me furious.

I could link you the news stories to make my point. The one that Mr. Curry told me about where the parents supplied kegs and the kids got drunk and beat the living shit out of each other, to the point of hospitalization. The one in the news right now where a young girl was drinking at a slumber party and never woke up. But you know. You can find them. These stories are everywhere.

Stories of kids, good, sweet kids who play guitar and sing and made up plays as kids and tell the funniest joke you ever heard and have the most beautiful artistic sensibilities and who are going to change the world because they are so caring and passionate, kids who didn't make it.

They are next door to our hearts.
Add on top of that these two crucial points:

Teenagers brains are highly subject to whatever is put into their bodies. An example: drug use can instigate bi-polar disease in a kid who was predisposed to it but didn't have it yet. Not that it's good to be a drug user as an adult, but it is definitely less immediately damaging to the overall picture- emotional and mental health. If you have the years of 'growing your brains' before you add chemicals, you might be able to go through addiction and come out still you. Have you ever met a drug addict who started young and kept using? Even if they become sober later in life, they are lost in a more profound way, because their brains never grew up.

You don't know if your child will become addicted quickly, or take a little bit longer. PILLS ARE HIGHLY ADDICTIVE LIKE TO THE MAX. A kid who has an addict's special brain makeup can become an addict in ONE USE.

I know our children are, and always are, our sweet babies. We look at them and see the first curls of hair, smell their vanilla necks, feel their legs wrapping around ours on sweaty summer nights. For the love of God, we have to let go of our desire to not see, and see what is happening in our communities, so that less and less kids get hooked on drugs, get hurt, get killed. We can't prevent use every time, but we can sometimes. We can't prevent addiction, but we can get them help. We can't prevent every death, but we can prevent many. Let's do it. For our sweet, sweaty teenage babies.


*especially "
not popping pills. i mean, my kid's not a dumbass druggie."
SJ said...

The funny thing is -- my teenage life WAS "sitting around playing video games and kissing at most." We sometimes found ourself with the elusive beer, but that was so innocent compared to what I hear about now. And I'm only 30...those years werent really all that long ago. I had a very difficult time sometimes thanks to stepparents who always assumed the absolute worst and read into situations that actually WERE completely innocent. This in turn, pushed the trust for our parents out of US. It was hard. It was years before I finally convinced my mother, for example, that i really wasn't a smoker or having sex. She just genuinely thought that no matter what I said or did, I had to be lying or otherwise living out some lurid lifeee outside of her presence. I know it's different for everyone...but just my perspective out there.

clearness said...

This post is awesome. The secret life of a teenager......you said it. I'm terrified that in seven short years I'll have my first teen in the house and it's scary. But what are some things we can do? How can we help our kids see and understand that drugs are not good. Not when they are teens, not when they are in college. Not at all?

Anonymous said...

I was one of those kids "least likely" and yet I still did. Pot.

Then in my late teens and into my early 20's: speed, LSD, cocain (occaisionally), more pot, ecstasy, and a few other things I probably shouldn't have. Never heroin though.

All of this, my parents never knew about. None of it. Because they didn't want to, because I was good at lying and covering things up. Also, because most of it happened after I'd moved out of my parents' home. I left when I was 19.

There was plenty of alcohol though, at much earlier ages. They didn't know about that, either.

All kids do it, and parents are fooling themselves if they think otherwise, and they do that because it's nicer to avoid the scary heart-rending fear of the unknown. Of what might happen to their baby when they aren't looking, because their baby doesn't want them to see.

On another note... I've just been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, caused by the auto-immune disorder Hashimoto's. Seems like every other person I speak to has it.

So I'm in awe. You do all of the things you do and raise a family and so on with anxiety and thyroid issues. You're awesome. :)

Grease Monkey GIRL said...

Maggie, you're so right. I am pushing 30 and afraid to have children. I dont trust kids, I dont trust teenagers, I dont trust teachers, I dont trust the neighbors. by the time I was 12 I was a smoker, partied on weekends, drinking and smoking pot. By the time I was 14 I was selling weed to my teachers neighbors and friends...taking coricedin by the handful (cold pills) I had taken acid and "x" and "candy flipped" which is when you take both of them together. I have taken various pain killers, opiates, mood stabilizers, anti-psychotics, and muscle relaxers, I have even "smoked" a pain patch. I've done opium, special k and cocaine. I completely quit doing drugs when I was 19. My biggest accomplishment to date is surviving my teen years. I am here to tell you, my parents had absolutely NO idea! None, wouldn't have guessed, I had good grades, I was active in church, and basically....i was the perfect little liar. I hate my teen self, the little bitch that had everyone fooled, but I survived. all of that drug use has caught up. My kidneys don't work the same, my bones ache, I have frequent headaches, a horrible memory, and wild emotions. God help any parent trying to raise a teen right now. Even with all of my drug use history, I dont know the first thing about the drugs out now....what the hell, how can you get high on epsom salt??? I am scared. Keep the conversation between you and your children open, but people, remember....check their drawers, lockers, backpacks, cars, closets, between mattresses....everywhere. Teenagers dont deserve privacy, no matter how good or trustworthy they are...in reality they should be treated with caution. By the way, my parents were no dummies. The had my older brother in rehab by the time he was 16. They looked for signs: slipping grades, etc. it's just sometimes, the signs aren't there.

Angella Lister said...

thank you for this, maggie. i talk to my kids, and then by god, i pray, because i know how stupid i was even though everyone thought i was smart. this is the most terrifying part of raising kids. by far. so thank you.

6512 and growing said...

Deep breaths and great big prayers for all parents of teenagers. I know I'll need it when my time comes.

Jo said...

I'm not a mom, and and as each year goes by the likelihood that I ever will be grows less and less. I'm in my 30s and feel that times have changed so much since I was a teen. I lived in a small California town, and was that good girl in high school who did no wrong, even though I dated a college guy. To break it down, I didn't want to disappoint my parents. Not sure how they instilled that in me, but...
I was completely happy to be completely innocent.
Then when I left home, life happened, it hit me hard, and I had no one to turn to. No one to talk with, or get advice from...because I didn't want to disappoint. All this is to say that it is so tough to be a parent. I can't even imagine. There were no drugs, but there certainly was drink...and lots of it. All I can say, from the childless perspective, is that in my early 20s I sure wish I wasn't so afraid to be human, or so embarrassed to talk to my parents.

anymommy said...

Maggie your persuasive writing is just as good as your descriptive writing. Painfully good. "I don't even know why I took it." That is it. Right there. I didn't know why I did really stupid things. I hope to hold onto your wisdom for the next ten years.

Anonymous said...

I was on my son from four years old on. My family drank...my brother was an alcoholic, now recovered. The father of my son's best friend was an addict and went to rehab. It opened the NO DRUGS door. I chanted the words, gave him clear explanations, looked in his eyes when he came home at night. After his teenage years were done, and he had "apparently" remained drug and alcohol free, he said I was paranoid. He said, "If I had wanted to use drugs I would have," meaning that I had little influence. HA! Make me laugh, son. Now that he's 28, and drinks, I worry still about that accursed gene and pray it will leave him unscathed.

Malande said...

The hardest thing to deal with is the fact it's most out of your control, as a parent, by the time it becomes an issue.

Education at an earlier age helps but even then if your child has friends who think its something fun to mess around with, it can still be a problem.

I was one of the geek-iest kids I know at school (in the UK) and even I had started drinking by 15, and experimented at the weekends by early college. But I think those our our most vulnerable years. By the time I was 18 I'd come to the realisation I didn't have to 'do what was popular to fit in' and the people who liked me liked me for who I was rather than what I did.

And that I think is a lesson parents have a hard time getting across. I thank my mother, and her trust that i'd come straight and heart felt advice, for that one ^_^.

So as with most things in life I think the best you can aim for is to talk about drugs early, TRUST your children (even if they're deeply un-trustworthy); they're more likely to come to you with problems if they don't feel you're constantly pushing them, and be there for their later teen years to reinforce their individuality and to listen when they need you.

Oh and be sound in the knowledge that although they may experiment when they're young teens, it's better for them to get it out of they're system early and to learn about these things, as before you know it they'll be young adults and what's learnt in their teens will help them when they're out in the world on their own.

Elizabeth said...

I personally don't know anyone who blows this off or is casual about it -- most of my friends are terrified, even those who claim to have been wild as teenagers themselves. I don't know, Maggie -- I don't think there's a way to control all the variables. We can write all the beautiful words we want and extol the virtues of staying drug free -- be as vigilant as possible -- but we can't control everything, and our children are going to make their own paths. As for the people who blow this serious stuff off completely -- avoid them like the plague --

C.M. Jackson said...

excellent post and important advice for parents--great work.

Caroline of Salsa Pie said...

Maggie, this is awesome.

Addiction runs in both sides of my family and on my husband's. I am from a family that has an addict who is still struggling and therefore I must also work a program of my own recovery (addiction is not just a disease of drug abuse--it's a disease of relationships). Part of that recovery involves trying to change the paralysis that I feel when I think about the possibility of my own children having a problem. It terrifies me. But I promise you, Maggie, I won't be one of the parent's that becomes an ostrich.

Practical tools always help me not to feel helpless. Essays like this one (thank YOU) and I have also found lots of great tools, advice, tips, and important "inside" info (like the street language of drugs for example) at The Partnership of a Drug Free America. This link, has especially helped me http://www.drugfree.org/prevent
as it focuses on what we as parents can do to prevent our children from a life of addiction.Maybe it's not for everyone, but it has been a tool that has helped me.

Maggie, THANK YOU for this post. You have no idea how much I thank you for this. xo

Magpie said...

excellent post. my kid is only seven, but i think about this stuff a lot.

Lora said...

hooray for this post, for your bravery, and for the facts you put on this page.

we talk about drugs with our 5 year old son, we started 2 years ago. We point out behaviors that hurt him or scare him done by the people he loves when they are under the influence of drugs. we frame addiction as a disease. one that needs treatment, understanding, time. One that stems from hurt- physical, emotional, mental.

Thank you, again. For this.

Amelia said...

I'm terrified.

NodToStyle said...

yes yes yes. well said. i need to forward this to many people now.

Petit fleur said...

Also because kids and teens and tweens are still developing, the addiction process is accelerated big big time, even in kids who are not predisposed by heredity, etc... Also, their cell make up and how there organs and systems function become altered to such an extent that they really DO need the drug in question and it's very very hard to get clean.

Jen said...

I absolutely loved and hated this post because it's so in-your-face true.

The question is, how do I prevent my child from using drugs?

I don't know what will work and it scares the hell out of me.

Ignorance is bliss . . . until it's my child that overdoses.

Thank you so much for writing this. It's an ugly subject. Thank you for bringing it to light. This needs to be said and people need to listen.

Maggie May said...

SJ- I totally believe you, I mean, i hung out with kids like you so I know they exist. I also think, like I said, that that is the uncommon.

Clearness- I intend to write a post about just that.

Svasti- There are some great books out there on hypothyroidism and it's workings in the body, and how better manage it with nutritional changes. I can recommend if you like, email me.

Grease Monkey Girl- I'm sure for someone like you, you knew how to hide the signs, after what you saw with your brother. I think about this with my younger kids, too.

Angella- You are so communicative and open. That is huge.

and growing- prayers for us, yes!

Jo- that is the flip side...one book that talks about what you describe is 'Reviving Ophelia'- a fantastic book.

Anymommy- Dangit. Thank you friend. xo

Martha- It sounds like you've done a good job Momma.

Malande- It's true, absolutely, we don't have 'total control'. It is our job to do the best we can with what we know, and what I'd like is for the parents in my community to know- and be willing to- more about what is really happening. It's a start, and an important and very possible one.

Elizabeth- Maybe it's the type of communities we live in that explains the difference, I'm not sure. But I run into this casual attitude everywhere, like 'not my kid' and 'ah, you're worrying too much'

CM- Thank you, kind and wise and quiet soul.

Caro- THANK YOU. It's amazing that you shared all that. I've read it twice, and your story is so common, but often untold. xo

Magpie- Thank you old blogger friend.

Lora- I imagine that you of all people are doing a kick ass job of communicating, open eyed, with your son. xo

Amelia- I was, and now I'm more like... determined.

Nod- The more we talk, the better.


Jen- I am going to do a follow up post that addresses what we can do, since I did this one which is, let's face it, a bummer. ;)

Melanie said...

Oh...my heart aches for all of those truths you wrote.

Our oldest are 18 and 21. So far, we have escaped addiction. So far.

However, I've watched some of their most creative, brilliant friends slip into the world of Rx pills. The lost potential! When they were young and playing tag in the dusk, I was so optimistic about the world's future. Those kids were so amazing; they'd change the world and all I would have to do is applaud. Now, I struggle for each positive thought as I've witnessed each of those brilliant friends numb themselves and change their futures to hoping they'll just survive.

How have we escaped it (so far?). Um...no clue. My kids had an uncle who just recently finally died of the expected overdose. Maybe it was the constant example of the creepy uncle that have dissuaded them?

Maybe it was the painful-for-me talks with them about their fears, pains, failures, successes?

Maybe it was that brain science class my one daughter took; a semester to fully describe the physical effects of drugs (even sugar) on your brain?

I don't know why they haven't taken the same paths that their friends have taken (so far).

And let me tell you, they have VERY rich secret lives. I'm clever (and creepy) enough to sneak around to be aware (like shadows on the wall) of most of their secrets. But they are theirs. Unless it was a life threatener, I would never let on that I knew what I know. And so far (as far as I know), no addiction. Trust me, I am certain there are secrets I don't know.

My begging prayers for their safety continue.

Maggie May said...

Melanie I think we are A LOT alike. I could have written what you wrote, except for that my oldest did struggle, and I pray that the struggle won't revisit him when he turns 18 and is 'free' from our oversights and drug tests.
THank you for sharing that.

Maggie May said...

btw- the brain science is SO important. that was (maybe) the best thing my son learned in the program we put him in- all the science about the brain, what addiction is in the brain, how exactly the brain reacts and changes with what goes into it. it profoundly changed my son's viewpoints.

Dari said...

You have successfully scared the shit out of me. I know this crap happens but I am so lucky that I never experimented with it and I pray that my kids will be the same way. However, I am not naive enough to think that they won't. All I can do is keep the lines of communication very open and try to be as supportive and loving as possible. I will relish in their younger years, while I can.

choi said...

Very nice post.. The article was very good for the teenagers.. Keep it up.. Room Dividers Nyc

Frank Lenz said...

As a teacher that has worked in different schools with different demographics I will say the most drug use I ever saw, WAS NOT, at the inner city school I teach at now, where most of the kids don't do drugs. They may try them but they don't do them or a regular basis.

The most drug use I ever saw was at a mostly white, suburban, upper-middle class school.


Because they have money to buy the drugs. Don't want your kid doing drugs on a regular basis? Don't give them the money to do them.

Melanie said...

Oh....and one other observational detail that may be a little different for us.

We've tried to be parents (connected, attached, but still parents) with our kids...it's way different than being their friends. Sometimes the thoughtful answer is NO.

Don't you wish all of us shiny, suburban parents would be just a bit honest with each other.

Here's to all of us parents! Here's to the ongoing struggle....it's so worth the reward!

glad said...

I think drug abuse is common to teens especially if they live in a community where they can observe their elders use drugs. We parents should be always there to help them avoid such abuse. One way to help them is through knowing what the signs that they are abusing drugs are. Once they are positive then we should do the right things to help them.

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