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Apodaca: Find opportunities to talk with your kids about drugs

October 15, 2011|By Patrice Apodaca

As part of his job, Anderson, a thoughtful, soft-spoken former Marine, works with kids and parents on a daily basis to combat youth drug and alcohol abuse. Tough as it is, he's passionate about the role he plays, which he sees as more educator than enforcer.

"I think this is the best assignment in law enforcement," he said. "I talk to the kids. I try to reach out to them. I really feel like this is a position where you can change people's lives."

Anderson has experienced a few eye-openers of his own over the years, such as an encounter several years ago with a student who carried three separate containers of marijuana.

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When Anderson asked the student why he had three containers, the boy replied that each held a different strain of marijuana, all producing a different effect. The episode was instructive because it was a clear example of how skilled growers had become in manipulating the potency of marijuana. But the boy's world-wise demeanor was what struck Anderson most; he had become a discriminating pot user, a troubling sign in one so young.

At a recent PTA meeting, Anderson related another sad epiphany he experienced on the job. The story involved a call from parents who were distraught over their daughter's drug use. Arriving at their beautiful home, Anderson noticed that the girl appeared to have all the material comforts that a teenager could desire.

But when he spoke to the girl, she was adamant. She wasn't going to give up drugs, she said, and nothing anyone told her would change her mind. Years later, Anderson is still haunted by the episode; perhaps that's why he strives so hard to reach kids while they're still listening.

Anderson's heartfelt dedication is reassuring, but he stresses that it takes an entire community working together to make a real impact on the problem. And the most important part of that effort is parents.

"I think we need to get back to basics," he said.

Parents need to spend time with their kids, and know the friends they're hanging out with. They should get to know other parents. Alcohol and medications shouldn't be left lying around. Parents mustn't be afraid to say no when their children want to go to a party that isn't properly supervised.

Most important: Parents need to talk to their kids, and they need to listen. If stories about other youths or celebrities with drug problems are made public, parents can use the news as an opportunity for a family discussion.

And parents must remember that kids are still kids — impulsive, hypersensitive, impressionable. It might not always feel like it, but children — even the older ones — do count on their parents to teach them good judgment.

PATRICE APODACA is a Newport-Mesa public school parent and former Los Angeles Times staff writer. She is also a regular contributor to Orange Coast magazine. She lives in Newport Beach.

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