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When Parents Won't Parent, Trouble Is Ahead

By Douglas Yeo

This column originally appeared in The Lexington Minuteman
September 26, 1996. 1996 Douglas Yeo. All Rights Reserved.

It perhaps came as no surprise to most, but reasonable citizens likely shook their head in disbelief when, on September 10, they opened their Boston Globe to read the screaming headline, "Study: Parents expect teenagers to try drugs." What goes around comes around, I guess. Now that the pot smoking baby boomers of the 1960's and 70's have kids that are old enough to know better, their children are not only trying and using drugs but mom and dad are simply shrugging their shoulders as if it's not a big deal and they are powerless to stop it.

Drugs have been a hot topic even in our quiet little bedroom community. The alarm bells went off in January when the results of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, given to students at Lexington High School in 1995, were reported. The numbers weren't just bad - they were catastrophic. 42% of LHS students admitted they had tried marijuana (lest we think this is no big deal, reports indicated that the pot sold on the streets today is 10 times stronger than that which Bill Clinton didn't inhale in the 60's), 10% have smoked pot on school property and a stunning 44% said someone had offered, sold or given them an illegal drug on school property in the last 12 months. This is not good.

Naturally there was the predictable call for more drug education in the schools. The mostly ineffective security guard at the high school has been replaced by a policeman and our new D.A.R.E. officer (a terrific guy, I hear) is now doing his thing in the elementary schools. But all of these interdictions are too little and too late. The real solution to the problem lies with parents, and that's why the new survey telling us that parents expect their kids to "do drugs" is so disturbing.

We have reached a true crisis in our society, one that is far more serious than alleged homophobia, historically revisionistic multi-cultural education and the curricular fiasco being foisted on our elementary school students called the University of Chicago math program. The real, significant crisis is the fact that so many parents today have given up being parents. They feel helpless, unable, or uninterested in actually parenting their children, or, in the ultimate misguided application of the PC twins "tolerance and diversity," they feel they have no "right" to interfere in their children's dysfunctional journey through puberty. Perplexed and paralyzed, many parents (two-thirds in the recent survey) simply feel they have no control over their children's inevitable experimentation with drugs and turn to the schools, police and courts to parent their children.

This is wrong.

What the Globe story, in its accent on the horrifyingly negative statistics, failed to mention was that the report showed clearly why kids who don't use drugs decline to smoke a joint when it's offered. Kids who don't use drugs live in homes where religion is important, have an active, personally interactive family life, believe that using drugs is morally wrong and have a fear of the consequences should they get caught using drugs.

Alas, many parents feel that inculcating these important virtues in their children is either not possible or not permissible, as our PC police are more interested in promoting the "rights" of children over teaching them what is "right." Digby Anderson, in his insightful introduction to This Will Hurt: The Restoration of Virtue and Civic Order, comments, "Older societies were not afraid to discuss and use conscience, guilt, pain, shame, ostracism, degradation, ridicule, stigma, authority, example, approbation, and uniformity to make men good and hold society together. . . They knew that men have bad, selfish, and destructive appetites which must be restrained and that civilization is a precarious thing."

Having sensed that many parents have abdicated their role as teacher and example for their own children, our schools are giving it a go. But when it comes to teaching "virtue" (bedrock principles of right and wrong that have been the glue of societies for the last 6000 years) as opposed to "values" (personal principles that can be relative and neutral), the schools do no better. The D.A.R.E. program continues despite study after study that has proven it utterly ineffective in keeping kids from experimenting with drugs. The policeman now stationed at the High School is a near impotent enforcer; stripped of his uniform and gun (so as not to make students feel "uneasy"), there seems to be a vague hope that kids will see him as their friend rather than the authority of the law he is. And, echoing the confused thinking of many of today's parents regarding drugs, there is the condom distribution program at the high school. A parent quoted in the Globe story on parent attitudes about adolescent drug use said, "It's not so much that people are resigned [to kids using drugs]; I think they're realistic. Drugs are everywhere and that's hard." Substitute the word "sex" for "drugs" and you have the pathetic, flimsy rationale that continues to prop up the condom program at LHS. Never mind that we have a "zero tolerance" for drugs. The message is that using them is ALWAYS wrong. But with sex, well, we can fudge on that one, giving an equivocal abstinence message on one hand while handing out condoms with the other.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin has put his finger on the real problem we face. "We usually ask, 'What has caused our lives to become so much more squalid, expensive and dangerous?' Instead, we should be asking, 'What did we used to do that kept society so stable, safe and prosperous?'" The answers are simple if we have the courage to face them. Parents need to be parents. Children must be taught by example what is right and wrong. Those who disobey the accepted moral/social virtues shall meet with proportionate public punishment. And we must give up the inane notion that we are powerless to stop the slide into the abyss. Instead of throwing up our hands, we must roll up our sleeves and go about the business of getting our own families in order. Now. Before it's too late.

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