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Talking dope to your kids: Tell it like it was

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
November 9, 2007
— So you inhaled when you were in college. Maybe you enjoyed yourself immensely. Wouldn’t trade those days for anything.

But now your child is 10 or 13 and wants to know: Did you smoke dope, mommy?


What’s a parent to do?


Tell the truth, said Kate Baldwin of Partners in Prevention of Rock County.


Tell the truth, said Carrie Kulinski, the Janesville School District’s drug/alcohol coordinators and a longtime drug abuse counselor.


Tell the truth, said Ben Masel, perhaps the most famous marijuana user in Wisconsin, known for organizing an annual marijuana festival.


But what truth?


“You should tell them that you’ve learned your lesson,” Baldwin counseled. “Just because it was OK for you, it doesn’t mean it’s OK for them.”


For one thing, dope is a different drug these days. It’s so much stronger, Baldwin and Kulinski said.


Masel said marijuana’s potency always has varied, but he said the solution to that objection is simple: Use less to get the same high. There’s even a side benefit: Less smoke means less of the harmful substances taken into the lungs.


Yes, even Masel agrees that marijuana smoke is harmful. But it doesn’t have to be smoked, he noted.


Kulinski counters that it’s not just lung damage. Research into brain scans of teenagers shows decreased energy in the frontal lobes of regular teen users, she said. Regular use is defined as three or more times a week.


The scans were taken 30 days after the last time the person used marijuana, so the brain scans are showing the damage is long lasting, Kulinski said. One result might be a lessened ability to perform well on a test, she suggested.


Masel said he wouldn’t go on record as advocating teenage marijuana use, but “the reality is, it’s something kids are going to do, and no amount of sanctimoniousness or warnings is going to stop it.”


So the best thing to do is teach your children how to go about it safely—health wise and legal-wise, Masel suggested.


Oh, so wrong, Kulinski said.


For one thing, studies have shown that kids actually listen to their parents about drugs, Kulinski said.


For another thing, most teens don’t do dope. The percentage of 12th-graders who had ever used marijuana has been dropping nationwide, Kulinski said.


Locally, a 2006 Janesville School District survey showed just 37 percent of 12th-graders had used marijuana at least once in the previous year. That’s down from a high of 48 percent in 2002.


Suggesting that kids will try it sends the wrong message, Kulinski said.


“It’s not inevitable that all kids are going to use marijuana. In fact, most kids do not, and I think we need to reinforce that,” Kulinski said.


Even Safety First, an offshoot of the pro-legalization group Drug Policy Alliance, agrees that parents need to tell the truth about themselves as they warn their children.


“While you do not need to rehash every detail, it can be very helpful to share your own experiences with your teen because it makes you a more credible confidant,” the Safety First booklet states. “… Teenagers have a knack for seeing through adults’ evasions, half-truths and hypocrisy.”


Kulinski, who spent a year of research for an anti-marijuana course she created, has seen the conflicting information about marijuana. She said she chose to believe the research, which convinced her that we now know more than ever. For her, there’s no doubt marijuana is more harmful than was assumed in the past.


Kulinski just finished teaching her course to another group of teens, and although many of them seemed resistant to her message, her post-test showed that more of them were considering halting their marijuana use.


But Kulinski said her message would pack a bigger punch if kids also heard it from their parents.


Test kits available

One way to talk to your kids about drugs is to tell them your rules and announce you’re going to test them for compliance.


The Janesville School District continues to offer vouchers from TestMyTeen.com for home test kits. The district got the vouchers last spring.


So far, very few parents have asked for the vouchers, said Carrie Kulinski, coordinator of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs programming for the district.


The only cost for the kits is $6 for shipping.


The kits test for marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamines, oxycodone, propoxyphene, barbiturates, benzodiazepines and opiates such as codeine, morphine and heroin.


The voucher kits are for one-time use, but parents can buy more online for $18.99 plus shipping.


Advocates say the kits give students a reason to “just say no” to peer pressure.


Critics have said such kits can undermine the parent-child relationship and that professional help would be more effective if a parent thinks his child is using drugs.


But the kits come with instructions on how to institute a program, which includes communication about acceptable behavior, rewards for compliance and punishments if the child tests positive.


Janesville parents who want a test kit can contact the assistant principals’ offices at Craig or Parker high schools or Kulinski at (608) 743-5087


Advice for parents

Both sides of the marijuana debate agree that kids should abstain from drugs. Both sides agree parents should educate themselves about marijuana and talk to their kids about it.


The two sides disagree about the facts, but even the would-be legalizers agree marijuana use is risky, both medically and legally.


Two good sources on the opposing philosophies, with advice for how to talk to your children can be found at:


-- Abstain: www.theantidrug.com. Click on the “Advice” tab at the top of the page.
-- Abstain, but…: www.safety1st.org.

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