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Teens Discuss Drug Abuse

Students Who Are Educated About Drugs And Its Affects Are Less Likely To Abuse Them

Crack, PCP, ecstasy -- these are just a few of the names given to illegal substances available. Ask any teen to name them and you're sure to hear more.

More than 15,000 teenagers ages 14 to 18 have experimented with illegal substances, according to a national confidential survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control. Of these, 37 percent have smoked marijuana, 7 percent have tried cocaine, 18 percent have used inhalants and 11 percent have used methamphetamines. The remaining 27 percent have tried more than one of the above substances, along with experimenting with other drugs.

Following the introduction of the "Just Say No" drug awareness program, drug use by teens declined by 23 percent through 1995. However, the use of cocaine and marijuana has increased by 27 percent, reports the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

What is the reason for this rise in teen drug use? Talking to teens, it sounds like it may be a lack of information.

"I've never had any classes cover drug awareness or prevention," says Holly, a 16-year-old from Springdale, Ark. "I think it would be awesome if they would have that kind of class at my high school and make it a required class like physical education, health or oral communications. I think that it may keep teens from doing drugs if they would talk about what all the drugs do to you and maybe even show pictures."

Holly also would like to hear guest speakers at her school, who would share their experiences. "[They could] talk about what they did, how they thought it was fun and then talk about what happened to them. They could tell them what lessons they learned from being out there doing drugs," she says.

School districts that offer drug awareness courses seem to be making a difference. Students who have attended these classes develop a strong ideal against the use of illegal substances.

"My parents have talked to me about drugs and that I shouldn't use them, but I think I have learned more from health class and my friends than I have my parents," says Mallory, a 17-year-old from Leaf River, Ill. "I am a leader in a group called TASA -- that stands for Tigers Against Substance Abuse. Our whole purpose is to help steer our peers from drug and alcohol abuse and at the same time to keep non-users away from it."

Yet knowledge isn't the only shield against drug abuse, says Dr. Paul Coleman, author of "How to Say It to Your Kids." Various factors play a role in a teen's choice to use drugs.

"One is simply age," Coleman says. "When teens enter middle school and especially high school, they meet many new classmates -- some of whom use drugs. And as they enter their teenage years, there is an increased need to feel accepted by peers."

Accessibility is also a factor.

"In teen years, drugs, alcohol and cigarettes become more readily available," Coleman says. "Inhalants -- glue, solvents, cleaning chemicals -- are easily accessible."

The American Academy of Pediatrics claims parents can be the number one force against their child's drug use. But how do parents talk to their teens about drugs without offending them or making an already uncomfortable situation worse?

Start by establishing rules within your home, says Coleman.

"Teaching about drugs and alcohol and how to resist peer pressure without being clear about the guidelines -- such as drug use will not be tolerated -- is evading responsibility to make clear what is right and wrong," he says.

Yet, Coleman warns, you must couple this approach with lessons about how to handle peer pressure.

"Stating the guidelines without teaching about drugs and how to resist them is like sending your child into a danger zone unprepared," he says.

You must also reinforce the lessons over time. "Just as children change on the outside they change on the inside, and the lessons will need to change, too," Coleman says.

Teenagers are smart. They listen. They learn. And they can apply what they hear and know to situations they face.

But they won't listen until they know they have been heard.

"I don't think a parent can really teach their kid to stay away from drugs," Mallory says. "I think that the best way for a parent to keep their kids away from drugs would be to spend time with them, love them, cherish them and protect them. It's as simple as that."

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