Saturday, November 1, 2008

Illicit Substances-Ned's Story

When raising middle school kids, it must be remembered that our kids might be involved with legal or illegal drugs in various ways. Unfortunately, even in the best homes, experimentation with drugs during the middle school years is common. Just as unfortunate, our middle school kids often don’t see the link between their actions today and the consequences tomorrow. They also have a tendency to feel indestructible and immune to the problems that others experience. You remember that feeling, don’t you?

Using alcohol and tobacco at a young age increases the risk of using other drugs later. Some teens will experiment and stop, or continue to use occasionally, without significant problems. Others will develop a dependency, moving on to more dangerous drugs and causing significant harm to themselves and possibly others.

During my years as a Middle School Assistant Principal, I once lived in the same neighborhood as my students (unbelievably, my house was never egged!!). One of my neighbors, Ned, was a classic, textbook case of a middle school child who initially engaged in smoking cigarettes behind the shed in his backyard (he stole the cigarettes from his dad and uncle) and then “graduated” into cigars, marijuana, alcohol, inhalants, cold medication, and then illegal drugs that he was able to purchase (his dad was quite wealthy and, instead of giving him the love and guidance that he needed, he peppered him with money, not only the $100.00 per week for allowance, but also anytime Ned asked for money, his dad gladly forked it over!).

Early on, before I realized the details of Ned’s forays into the world of the Use of Illicit Substances (UIS), I sought to gain Ned’s confidence, so that I could help him succeed. Ned was a very bright student with good leadership skills and a promising future. However, he always seemed to choose the wrong road with his school work, his teachers, his choice of friends, and his relationship with his parents and sister (also a student at my school). As I began to spend time with Ned, it was clear that he was perpetually bothered by something.

His mother seemed quite nice, although somewhat immature and, perhaps, not the best candidate for a mother to a child who was suffering. His father, a successful attorney with movie star looks seemed to be the only hope for Ned on the home front. Although I delved into every aspect of Ned’s life with him, I always came up empty, as he never wanted to talk about his parents, he wanted to keep all of his friends (most of whom also seemed to be destined for failure in life), and he certainly didn’t want anything to do with school, even though he was easily capable of earning all A’s on his report card.

Then, of course, it finally hit me. Ned’s problems centered around not only his continual UIS, but particularly his never-ending request to get more and more and stronger and stronger substances. Ned continued through cigarettes, cigars, marijuana, alcohol, inhalants, cold medication, and then illegal drugs to the point that he needed serious intervention and medical attention for his highly developed addiction.

After Ned entered a treatment program, I began to get to know his dad. His dad was very difficult to get to know, as he always seemed distant and unwilling to discuss his family’s situation. At times, Ned’s dad became visibly angry with me as I asked questions that were intended to help his son.

After spending about six months speaking with Ned’s dad off-and-on in my office, in the backyard, and near his mailbox, he began to share his reasons for his anger. He had lectured and yelled at Ned since he was young about the dangers of UIS. Hardly a day went by in which his dad didn’t blast away about the perils of UIS. As such, his dad was hurt and angry that Ned had gone down the road of drug addiction to the point that he needed intervention to save his life. His dad felt like a failure.

However, I learned that the behavior of Ned’s dad did not align with his daily spoken words to his son. Ned’s dad drank heavily (he was inebriated on most nights and actually became drunk once or twice a week), he smoked marijuana in the basement, he slept with a variety of women (yes, we was married!), he was gone for a few days each week, and, in general, his personal life was a mess.

So, even though his words to Ned were accurate and were delivered with great consistency, since his actions did not even remotely mirror his words, Ned fell into a world of severe drug addiction. To paraphrase the song “Cat in the Cradle”, Ned had an inner desire to be just like his dad, despite his words. Unfortunately, Ned had accomplished his goal. With Ned’s I.Q. and desire for success, I am convinced that, if his dad’s behavior had been aligned with his words throughout Ned’s early years, Ned would have not been enticed by the world of UIS.

Yes, somebody is watching you, but it's not Big Brother .... it's your children! Yes, parenting can be difficult (you actually have to watch your own behavior - OUCH!), but the rewards of successful parenting will bring a lifetime of rewards for you, your children, the children of your children, etc.

Hang in there and remember that your kids are watching you! Outwardly live the life that you want them to live!!

Paul W. Reeves

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