Jan 27, 1995

Children and Drugs

By all the published facts in the case,

Children belong to the human race.

Equipped with consciousness, passions, pulse,

They even grow up and become adults.

So why's the resemblance, moral or mental,

Of children to people so coincidental?

Phyllis McGinley, 1960

People seem alarmed by the statistic that more children are trying marijuana and that they are trying it earlier in their young lives. If the marijuana industry was a public company, like the cigarette producers, that would be a good reason for the stockholders to rejoice.

Unlike the combination of automobiles and drugs, mainly alcohol, the chances of a kid being able to repeat his mistake with marijuana alone is excellent -provided he doesn't drive an automobile for the next 24 hours. A kid who tries to drive a car the way that he sees it done in the movies stands a pretty good chance of being killed or seriously maimed. Every year we read about some kid who decides to prove his manhood by chugalugging a fifth of whiskey. That is usually lethal. Similarly, a couple of beers and an automobile is a good recipe for an early death.

My father tried to keep me from smoking in every way except the one way which might have worked -quitting the weed himself. I smoked cigarettes for about 20 years, before I came to my senses. The weed killed him, but he lived to a ripe old age. He was one of the lucky ones.

The process of growing up consists of gaining experience. The important job for a parent is to allow a kid to get that experience without killing himself. It's a tough job that is filled with uncertainty. In a world where virtually everyone drives a car, every child has to learn to do so. To help him to learn without killing himself is one of the most difficult challenges of parenthood. The most dangerous period is just after he has learned how to drive. At that stage he is most dangerous to himself and others. Don't take my word for it; just check the insurance premiums which reflect the risk. After a parent has done all that he could, he can only keep his fingers crossed and hope that if his kid has an accident, it will not be a serious one.

The major problem with children experimenting with drugs is less the effect of the drug, than it is a contempt for the law. When a parent gives his kid a taste of a beer or wine, it is in violation of the law; yet many parents do so. The message given to the child is that it is okay to break the law a little. That, I suspect, is the attitude, of many parents. That attitude does not apply to major crimes: it is never okay for a child to steal or kill -except in the service of your country. Lying, which is not against the law unless it is in court or testifying before congress, may be viewed as a serious transgression among family members. It is considered so because it is very important for members of a family to be able to trust one another.

Attitudes about sex differ widely, ranging from an absolute prohibition outside of marriage, to tolerance under most circumstances. How kids react to those prohibitions is another story entirely.

In a nation populated by people of diverse cultures and religions, it seems to me that prohibitions should be considered very carefully before they are made the laws of the land. It is far better to have fewer laws, restricting them to serious transgressions, rather than prohibiting anything that legislators feel should be prohibited. In the long run, the vast majority of people obey sensible laws and often ignore the frivolous ones.

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