Shattered Dreams: What Parents and Teens Should Know About Drugs and Drinking

Shattered Dreams: What Parents and Teens Should Know About Drugs and Drinking
Jay Strack

Of all the problems in America today, few are more disturbing to most adults than the problem of drug abuse among the young.

Millions of youth are hiding behind a chemical curtain of drugs, and millions more are drowning in a sea of alcohol. Let’s face it: If you are a parent with a child between the ages of 5 and 20, your child will be exposed to drug abuse through the medicine chest, the school, the hangout, the radio and the television. Drug abuse is spreading at epidemic proportions in middle schools, senior high schools and colleges. It involves not just our teenagers and young adults but even those under 12 years of age.

This booklet is a timely response to our nation’s tragic drug problem. It is written for people who desire to understand, help and rescue those whose dreams have been shattered by substance abuse.

Why Young People Turn To Drugs

There is no single cause nor set of conditions that clearly leads to drug abuse. Those who use drugs often will not admit to doing so. However, the reasons usually given for drug-taking are: to feel in with the group; to feel good; to win the admiration of friends; to escape boredom; to have fun; to escape pressures; and to satisfy curiosity. Although we know much today about the dangerous and damnable effects of drugs and their abuses, the drug user himself still remains a mystery.

In general, drug abusers can be classified in three main groups. The first group consists of the occasional users. This includes the housewife who takes diet pills for extra energy to do household chores; the college student who uses amphetamines to stay up all night and study for exams; the executive who uses sleeping pills or tranquilizers to soothe the pressures of the day; the smoker who says he can-but can’t-quit.

The second group is the thrill seekers. These are usually junior and senior high school and college people who use drugs just for the experience or so-called thrill of it. Because of this sporadic use, there is usually no physical addiction. Some thrill seekers may take drugs only once or twice and decide that drugs are a dead-end street or that there is more to life. The thrill seekers could be called “weekend users” because almost all of their drug use is on weekends in groups or at parties. These recreational users include a large segment of the entire student population. In dealing with this group it is wise to remember that they consider themselves open-minded, critical, sensitive, aware and hip.

The third group is the addicts or junkies. The addict’s entire life rotates around the drug scene and drug experience. He exhibits strong psycho. logical dependence (habituation) and physical dependence (addiction). Usually, the junkie began to use drugs for the thrill, but now he is hopelessly dependent and does not believe he can function apart from the drug scene. His main objective in life is getting a constant supply, and this obsession frequently prevents him from continuing his education or job. He is often in trouble with his family, friends and the law. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that drugs will cost the addict a loss of 15 to 20 years of his life.

The great “turn-on” among millions of teenagers can be attributed to several factors. I will focus on the most frequent reasons for drug-taking given by teens across the country. They are pressure, escape, availability, curiosity and emptiness.


Psychologists tell us that many youths turn to drugs for the sole purpose of belonging to the group. It has been said that teens desire peer-group approval more than parent or adult approval. They are preoccupied with being accepted by the gang, particularly since this is the age when family relationships may be strained. It is evident that today’s youth has substituted role conformation for goal attainment.

One of the teenager’s greatest needs is to be accepted, not different or left out. The importance of popularity increases with the decline and fall of the family and home. It seems that every part of society is at war with the family. For example, the United States government and big corporations move fathers to new jobs across the country, uprooting entire families. This makes the “new kid on the block” easy prey for sexual advances and drug involvement because of the tremendous pressure to be accepted in the new place. With over one million divorces yearly and with 12 to 15 million teenagers living in broken homes, the drive to be accepted by peers is increased.

My own life is a good example of how peer pressure can lead to drug abuse. I come from a broken home, thanks to alcohol. Alcohol cost me my dad through divorce, my brother (because my mother could not provide financially for both of us), and my mother because she was forced to work two or three jobs. Needless to say, I hated alcohol and swore I would never drink it.

But in the seventh grade, on the way to my first dance, I was offered beer, along with the rest of the gang. Yes, I made my stand and said, “No way!” but after being called “chicken,” “square,” and “sissy,” I gave in. Feeling as though I had lost my family, I was willing to try anything to be a part of the “in crowd.” Any weak-willed teenager will follow the crowd, whether it leads to smoking, drinking, drugs or immorality. The gang became my god; it determined my hairstyle, my mode of dress, my friends and my attitudes toward school, church and sex.

Fourth graders across the United States report that they are perceiving peer pressure to start using drugs, according to a January 1983 survey published in the widely distributed Weekly Reader classroom magazine. Even more alarming is the fact that 50 percent of the fourth graders believe their peers have experimented with drugs, and the 25 percent report “some” to “a lot” of peer pressure to try drugs or alcohol.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse conducted a 1983 survey of 16,000 seniors at 130 high schools. The results showed 5.5 percent as daily drug users; 63 percent had experimented with illegal drugs; 16 percent had experience with cocaine; and 12 percent had tried heroin. The strong indication is that students are introduced to drugs by friends. The herd instinct is as unconscious and automatic as a reflex action.

Studies indicate that the urge or drive for affiliation is especially intense when an individual is undergoing an anxiety-producing experience caused by problems at home or by physiological changes. This drive, also called the “gregariousness instinct,” serves as a defense mechanism that operates on the principle of strength in numbers.

I challenge every teen: Be different! Wear a white hat. Dare to be great! Any dead fish can float with the current, but only a live, fighting fish can swim against the current. Anyone can be dirty and guilty and rebellious; it takes no real effort or determination. I have noticed that great and honorable men don’t travel in groups they usually fly alone. Geese fly in gaggles and ducks fly in flocks, but an eagle soars high in the heavens-alone. How do you want to go through life? Honking and quacking? Or will you mount up with wings of strength and courage like eagles?

There is another type of pressure on youth to try drugs. We have already examined peer pressure, but now let us look at “pusher pressure.” Most adults don’t realize that teenagers can obtain virtually any type of booze, drug or sexual thrill at their favorite youth hangout. Almost every drug imaginable is available in the restrooms of our public schools and in many private schools. These are startling statements, and I make them only after personally visiting many hangouts and schools across the country and learning the truth firsthand. I have been approached many times by sellers of illegal drugs.

The first time I ever used marijuana was when my friends and I went to the corner market to buy a bottle of booze, and the man said he wanted us to try something better. He had been our usual supplier for all kinds of liquor, selling it to underaged teens for a few dollars above retail. That is how it has started for millions of teens.

Although the sale of illegal drugs is a multimillion-dollar business that often involves the underworld, it is important to destroy the myth that pushers are shabby, beady-eyed men in big overcoats who hang around the schools slipping drugs to our innocent little children. Most pushers are friends and contemporaries of teenage users. I began pushing by accident. I bought grass for myself, but soon discovered I could be popular with the crowd and make a few fast bucks by selling marijuana.


Many teens take drugs in order to escape the hassles of home, school, dating and even the pressure that comes from physiological changes within them. The stresses on the adolescent who is coping with anger, sexuality and an emerging identity can lead to drugs, which offer an alternative.

In order to understand why teens need to escape, it will be helpful to review basic psychology. Adolescence is the transitional stage in human development from the beginning of puberty to the attainment of the physical, emotional and social maturity of adulthood. Most psychologists view it as the most stressful period of development in life. The adolescent must adjust to vast changes occurring rapidly within him after a long, peaceful period of relatively slow growth.

Many physiological changes cause confusion inside the teen. The pituitary gland, located at the base of the brain, controls growth and stimulates the hormonal activities of the sex glands. Both sexes begin to develop primary and secondary features of femininity and masculinity. Growth comes in spurts, and different parts of the body develop at different rates. These physical changes, including such problems as acne, have great psychological impact on the teenager. The self-image begins to change, and if the teen feels awkward or ugly (because of acne, overweight, underweight, under- or over-development), he tends to develop a poor self-image. Sexual feelings may also be overwhelming at this time. Since most parents fail to properly explain such feelings to their teens, it is understandable that the young people want to escape.

Some teens have never learned to accept themselves, and they feel lonely, unloved, depressed and guilty. The drug scene offers an apparent escape that actually leads into a vicious cycle. Drug abuse only makes the problem worse. People get high to escape the guilt of past actions, but behavior while high may compound that guilt. Teens will commit acts while high that they would never have committed straight. So, in effect, the very problems teens want to escape-guilt, failure, family and school problems, frustration-are increased due to the drug dependence. This is the boomerang effect of drugs.


The easy access to every kind of drug at youth hangouts and in most school restrooms is another reason why so many are turning on. Teens are faced with the temptation almost every day and at almost every party. As we have already discussed, most kids know where to go and how to find the drugs they want. As I have shown, most kids are turned on to drugs by their own friends, and many first used drugs at school.

Not only do teens have easy access to all sorts of highs, but our affluent society helps them to be able to afford the drugs. An example of the availability of drugs is the magazine High Times. This is a slick publication aimed at promoting drugs and sex to the teen masses. It contains such articles as “All You Need to Know About Marijuana Botany,” “Trans-High Market Analysis” (What type of drug to buy for the best high and the expected prices), “Trans-High Quotation Market” (a chart of prices on various drugs in the United States and nine other countries), and more. The High Times Bookstore offers Cooking with Cannabis, How to Grow Marijuana Indoors and How to Identify and Grow Psilocybin Mushrooms, to name just a few. In addition, High Times prints a monthly schedule of smoke-ins, protests, pot conferences, etc. All this from the magazine which calls itself “The Magazine for ‘High’ Society.”


Many teens want to try drugs for a new experience. According to the Arizona-based drug education program “Do It Now,” 70 percent of teenagers nationally and 90 percent of Arizona teens listed curiosity as the reason why they started taking drugs. I remember a young girl who came to our home to crash while on a bad trip. The next day, I asked her why she had taken the drug (LSD) since I knew it was her first time. Her answer was, “I wanted to see a TV melt before my eyes.”

Many teens get curious after listening to music that incorporates drug experiences and terms into songs created essentially for drug users. This is the reason most adults and non-drug users have a difficult time understanding much of today’s rock music. Teenagers hear this music all the time on the radio and even in movies. A bragging teen who is trying to act cool, while describing the excitement of a high can cause his teenage friends to think, “Maybe I can have that, too.”


The first four reasons give us some insight as to why teens try drugs, but this last one is the reason millions stay on drugs. An emptiness seems to plague mankind. The Bible calls it being bankrupt in soul. Although we are conquering our solar system, we have a void in our own inner space.

I believe the actions of youth and adults today reveal this emptiness. The epidemic of drugs, the flood of immorality, the rash of suicide attempts (about 2 million last year, with the suicide rate tripling since 1955), the increase of divorce (50 percent of all children will live in a broken home at some time during their formative years), and the rising number of adherents to Eastern religions are all evidence of emptiness.

A 1983 survey cited by the Observer News from the Johnson Institute found a high proportion of teenagers who use alcohol or other drugs said they are trying to alleviate depression, loneliness or anger. The burden is great on those who want to respond to this cry for help.

America is in a great spiritual famine. It is this aimless desperation and emptiness that has caused millions to hide behind a chemical curtain, drown in a sea of alcohol, or dive headfirst into the cesspool of fornication, adultery and homosexuality. That same emptiness drove me to try anything to fill that void in my life, including alcohol, drugs, cheap thrills and even Eastern religion. An empty man is like a man writhing in pain, unable to find relief. An empty man doesn’t know who he is, why he is here, or where he is headed. With no direction or goals, a teen resembles a ship adrift without a destination. He develops the “I-don’t-care” attitude and a poor self-image. It is no great mystery that teens don’t care or that they are so empty in this age of affluence. Even the institutions we hold dearest-the home, the church and the school-are crumbling in their failure to meet natural and legitimate needs.

Human history began with a family. It was the first institution God created. When the earth was flooded in judgment, the new world began with the family of Noah. When God chose the nation of Israel as His own, He started it as a family. The family structure is so significant that the incarnation of Christ was set within the love of a family. The family structure is the foundation of our nation, and those who, for whatever reason, revolt against the family are revolting against the nation and against God.

It is little wonder that teens feel they are just existing instead of living. This emptiness also brings about spiritual and moral blindness. The Bible teaches that Satan, the god of this age, has blinded the spiritual eyes of those who don’t know Jesus. Some teens turn on out of ignorance; they just don’t know what they are getting into. (This seems incredible considering all the effort toward drug education.) Most, however, are blinded by the glitter. Outside, the scene looks so good-the pounding music, the sensuous lyrics, the seductive dress of performers and participants; it promises escape from problems and rebellion without responsibility.

All the glitter covers up the fact that lives are ruined and destroyed. The undisciplined, empty life can lead to the neglect of studies and of physical well-being, to promiscuity and abortions, to accidents that cripple and bury friends. If you are going to follow the crowd, you had better find out where the crowd is headed. My emptiness led me to adopt the philosophy of “I’ll try anything once.” Mark it down: This attitude is a desperate cry for help.

Recognizing Symptoms Of Drug Abuse

The old saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” is apropos of drug abuse. Addicts aren’t made in a day. They don’t just arrive; rather, they travel down a long, well-marked road. They are out of step, and they can be identified by alert and concerned adults.

It is imperative to remember that the effect of the drug on the user involves physical and psychological factors. The physical factors include the type of alcohol or the potency of the drug, how much and how fast the alcohol has been drunk, or the dosage of the drug. Whether the user has a full or empty stomach at the time of taking the drug determines the rate of absorption into the bloodstream and, thus, the drug’s effect.

The psychological factors that vary the effects include the personality, mood and attitude of the user. If the user is extremely upset (angry or sad), his high will be different than if he is in a pleasant mood. The expectations of the user and his previous drug experience also will determine the effects of the drug.

LSD. The most obvious physical reaction is a dilation of the pupils, causing the user’s eyes to become very sensitive to light. A trip lasts anywhere from eight to 16 hours, during which time the user is restless and unable to sleep. There is an increase in the heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar and temperature. Many times the user will experience “goose bumps,” profuse perspiration and even nausea. LSD may also cause hyperventilation (excessive and rapid breathing in deep, gulping breaths) and induce tremors (uncontrollable shaking and quivering of the whole body or limbs). If an unusually large quantity is taken, LSD may cause convulsions.

While high, the user experiences extreme changes of mood and loses control of normal thought processes. His moods may range from hilarity to uncontrollable exhilaration to withdrawal from reality; he may experience delusions or hallucinations. He may believe he cannot be harmed, or become paranoid and panic, depending on his emotional state at the time of taking the drug. If a teen is an experienced user, he will be able to handle these reactions, whereas many a novice will believe he is going insane.

Mescaline. This high involves a dreamlike trance and an exaggerated sense of joy and well-being. As with LSD, perception is affected, a condition that can last up to 18 hours. Mescaline has been known to cause vomiting and headaches, and it lowers the blood pressure and heart rate.

Psilocybin. The effects are very similar to LSD’s but last a shorter time. There is an inability to concentrate and the user may feel relaxed and detached. Bad side-effects include a flu-like nausea, dizziness and tremors, accompanied by anxiety. A trip lasts six hours at the most.

STP. Dilation of the pupils, nausea, confusion, and sweating are the results of STP use-effects similar to those caused by LSD. A trip lasts eight to 10 hours.

PCP (angel dust). This drug causes a high degree of agitation, anxiety and mental confusion, and can produce a zombie-like, drunken state. This is a tranquilizer, so it has a downer effect. Large amounts of PCP have caused comas, convulsions and deaths. The PCP user may feel as though his arms or legs are shrinking, may be unable to control bowel or bladder use and may be unable to walk.

Marijuana. The physical and mental effects can last from two to four hours and include loss of coordination in various degrees, insatiable hunger, inflammation of the mucous membranes and bronchial tubes, and dilation of the pupils. The effects are similar to those caused by mild alcohol intoxication.

Often there is uncontrollable hilarity and a feeling of being beyond reality. However, large doses have been known to cause hallucination and paranoia. (Remember, grass is often cut with chemicals.) Marijuana allows the user to be more open and talkative. Marijuana intoxication is probably the most difficult drug state to detect, because an experienced user can function normally while high. Brown stains on fingertips, small burn holes in shirts or dresses, and the presence of paraphernalia (pipe, water pipes, roach chips, rolling papers, etc.) all indicate excessive use. Adults should become familiar with the marijuana symbol painted on shirts and street signs and plastered on walls. A very important sign of drug abuse is the development of tremendous apathy in the user.

Alcohol. An experienced drinker can compensate for impaired behavior due to this drug. In small doses alcohol has a tranquilizing effect; the user feels relaxed and free from tension, and inhibitions are loosened. In larger amounts, muscle coordination, memory and judgment are affected. Alcohol may cause drowsiness in one person and act as a stimulant to another. Of course, all the usual manifestations of drunkenness are obvious: staggering, bloodshot eyes, alcohol breath, blurred vision, and often, vomiting. A hangover the next day, indicated by nausea, fatigue, severe headache and anxiety, is a symptom of drinking abuse.

Amphetamines. Amphetamines are stimulants that speed up the central nervous system activities. They produce a sense of well-being, alertness and boundless energy for a short time. Pupils become dilated, appetite diminishes and the blood pressure and respiration rate increase.
While under the influence of an average dose, the user becomes overactive, irritable, suspicious to the point of paranoia and sometimes violent. As the effect begins to diminish, the user experiences headaches, nausea, nervousness, restlessness, cotton mouth, heavy perspiration, confusion, blurred vision and shaky hands. After the high is over, the body pace slows dramatically from its tempestuous race, causing extreme fatigue.

Many who abuse amphetamines neglect their bodies in various ways, suffering drastic weight loss, malnutrition, vitamin deficiency and dental decay. The days without sleep cause vital organs, especially the kidneys, to suffer. Whenever a needle is involved, there is always the chance of infection and hepatitis.

Cocaine. The typical cocaine user has many cocaine-related health problems. Loss of energy, insomnia, sore throat, nosebleeds, headaches, sinus problems and a runny nose are a few. Trembling, seizures or convulsions, nausea or vomiting, constant licking of lips or grinding of teeth are others. One of the early symptoms is a constant sniffing or rubbing of the nose. In regular users, loss of consciousness, trouble with breathing or swallowing, heart palpitations and lack of interest in personal health and hygiene may occur.

From a psychiatric perspective, anxiety and irritability, depression, panic, delusions and paranoia, lack of concentration, hearing voices, loss of interest in friends and non-drug related activities, memory problems, thoughts of suicide, blackouts and compulsive behavior are key indicators of cocaine dependence.

Barbiturates and Tranquilizers. These are sedatives, which means they slow down the central nervous system activities such as breathing and coordination. These drugs are readily absorbed into the bloodstream, and the effects can occur within 20 minutes. Small doses of barbiturates produce effects similar to alcohol’s. Users become relaxed, drowsy, and have a false sense of well-being. The reason these drugs are so popular to slip to dates is because they cause girls to become more jovial and social, and as a result they may lower their inhibition and impair moral judgments. Teens on barbiturates may more readily follow others’ suggestions. Often, even small doses can induce sleep, but if the user remains awake he appears drunk because of his slurred speech, awkward movement and coordination, and impaired perception. Under a heavy dose, the user can lapse into a coma and even die.

Opiates, Heroin. A junkie can usually be detected by the dilation of his pupils and his tendency to nod off and on; his lethargy and apathy give him away. If the user is a novice or one who uses heroin only intermittently, withdrawal is very severe, as you may have seen on a TV. show. The sickness begins four to six hours after the last injection, but becomes very severe after 12 to 16 hours.

The presence of an outfit (drug injection kit) or of a cap or bag of white powder are evidence of heroin use, of course. Other telltale signs are neglected health, blood poisoning, hepatitis, tetanus, skin infection, track marks (scarred veins), ulcers and abscesses (collections of pus in body tissue).

Solvents. These are the most difficult drug habits to detect because the effects only last from five minutes to one hour. Sometimes chronic users have ulcers around the mouth and nose that will not heal. They often experience a marked weight loss. Sniffing solvents produces a zombie-like effect. Be suspicious of partly used glue or paint containers unless your child is putting them to a legitimate use, such as model-building.

In summary, there is a deterioration of moral, social, familial and religious values, as well as a neglect of personal hygiene and appearance when drug abuse is concerned. A user is characterized by a restless, bored attitude which is exhibited not only in the dress but in the language and in the choice of friends. The individual shows a change in personality and in school-related areas such as grades, sports, involvement and attendance. There are emotional flare-ups, outbreaks of temper, and withdrawal from the family. The young drug abuser may need more money, and money may disappear. A change in behavior is the major symptom of all drug abuse.

Stages of Drug Use

The following checklist, developed by Dennis D. Nelson for use with groups of high school students, can be helpful to anyone who wants to know more about the stages of drug abuse.

1. Experimental Use

Junior-high-age students, especially boys, are great experimenters with various types of mood-altering substances. Some may never go beyond the experimental stage. They may decide that chemical use is not for them. But a majority of them will continue to experiment and become regular users. They will use beer and pot in this stage and will learn to seek and enjoy mood swings that these substances provide. A child who exhibits abuse at this stage may be establishing a lifelong pattern. Or the chemical use may level off and stay at the “social recreational” level, causing no intrapersonal conflict or externally harmful consequences. It is difficult to assess chemical dependency at this stage. The normal turmoil of adolescence is baffling to both teenagers and their parents, and caution is advised in any evaluation procedure. Many students have been inappropriately labeled as dependent when in fact they are not. They may be using drugs, but that fact alone does not make them dependent.

2. More Regular Use

Simply using more does not, by itself, indicate dependency. But a pattern of regular use, coupled with some adverse behavioral changes, can show a definite move towards possible dependency. The point here is not how much is being used, or how often, but why it is being used and what behavioral changes occur as a result of the use. If teenagers have to lie to their parents about their savings accounts, about why they have dropped out of school sports or other activities, or about who their companions are, and have to maintain these fictions in order to continue using drugs, they will begin to experience real guilt. Unfortunately, this guilt produces feelings of intense self-hate, which results in increased drug use. A cycle of use-guilt-remorse-increased-use begins.

3. Daily Preoccupation

Preoccupation with drugs is one of the major indicators of a chemical problem. More and more of the student’s time, energy and money are spent on thinking about being high and insuring that a steady supply of drugs is available. Questioning a user at this stage will reveal that very few of his or her daily activities do not include drug use. The user accepts this as normal. Problems with parents or police may cause the abuser to decide that it would be smart to cut down or to quit using drugs all together. And they may succeed for a few weeks. Generally, though, these periods of abstinence will not last. They do serve, however, to strengthen the abuser’s sincere delusion that because he or she “quit,” there is no problem. It can be pointed out to the abuser that, even though he or she feels that there is still a choice as to whether or not to use, the “choice” is always the same: to keep using.

4. Dependency

By the time the user has reached a state of dependency, negative personal feelings have been building steadily until they require daily, even hourly, medication with drugs. Abusers in this state are unable to distinguish between normal and intoxicated behavior. To them, being high is normal, and no rationale or moral argument can break through their chemically maintained delusion. This delusion persists even in the face of overwhelming evidence that his or her abuse is out of control and is physically, mentally and emotionally strangling him or her. The abuser will continue to insist that there is no problem, that it is not out of control, and that he or she can quit at any time.

The Response Of The Home: Prevention At The Grassroots

In describing a solution to the drug dilemma, the message of John the Baptist is appropriate:
“And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees”(Matthew 3:10). This “grassroots” prevention must take place where drug abuse and alcoholism most often begin in the home. Here are some things you can do.

Provide Wisdom and Guidance

A basic tenet of behavioral psychology is that all behavior is caused, and it is unanimous that the number one cause of deviant behavior is the breakdown of the home. A fractured family fails to provide children with an opportunity to develop healthy attitudes and self-images. Increasing numbers of parents each year are reaching the ends of their ropes. What can we do about the problems our children are having? It is obvious that many desperately need wisdom and guidance.

As a parent, I am grateful that there is a Book of wisdom and guidance to help give direction to my children so they will not choose to experiment with drugs. This book that is filled with wisdom literature is the Holy Bible.

Be a Living Example

You must be a good example in word, conduct and attitude. Children deserve and must have a living example.

If you want your children to handle their emotions, then don’t overreact and fly off the handle about every little thing. Well-behaved children are imitating well-behaved parents. If you desire your children to have clean mouths, then you must keep yours clean of all profanity.

Set a good example by respecting drugs yourselves. You can expect your children to model their drug-taking attitudes after yours. The Johnson Institute feels its studies show a strong correlation between use and misuse rates in adolescents and the standards of their parents.

It is wise to remember that the family medicine chest is often the source of a child’s initial drug experience. Most medicine chests are stockpiles of drugs no longer needed; easy access to diet pills, tranquilizers, sleeping pills and pain pills is a key factor to the “great turn-on.” The drinking parent who forbids his child to take drugs is a hypocrite in his child’s eyes. The drug lecture I got on the evils of marijuana was not very effective when delivered by my drunken stepfather.

Understand Your Child’s World

Parents can prepare themselves by keeping in touch with the world around them and with the world of their children. Most young people view their parents as old-fashioned and “out of it” because the parents don’t know what is happening in life. There are scores of helpful books available. It is tragic that television documentaries, magazines and newspaper articles on drug abuse or moral problems are ignored by most parents. Many teens are screaming on the inside, “Help me, Daddy. Help me, Mother. Help me to understand drugs. Help me to understand sex. Help me to understand me.”

Establish Unity in Your Home

Unity is the key to a harmonious home. It would be wise to remember the words of Jesus, later quoted by Abraham Lincoln: “Every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” (Matthew 12:25). A house without unity will never be home. Since the definition of the word “unity” is “oneness” (from the Latin word uniat), our reference to unity is that loving oneness that meets the most basic needs of man: the need to belong and the need for security.

Most homes take on one of two appearances. One is the appearance of prison, in which everyone lives in his own little cell or microcosm (his own world), having little or no communication with others. In this day of amazing communication, many families don’t really communicate and relate to each other.

The other appearance given by many homes is that of a battlefield, where members of the family are constantly wounding each other.

Unity in the home attracts like a magnet. The light and warmth from two parents in love and united in life draws the children to their parents. Lack of this unity drives children away, depriving them of security and instilling in them a sense of inadequacy. As a result, children develop a loser’s philosophy that causes them to have poor relationships with others. They do not learn how to give and take. Instead they learn: “It’s either my way, or no way at all.”

The vast majority of troubled teens I counsel cannot remember their families ever doing much together. Members of a fractured and fragmented family often feel they have nothing in common. In an effort to spend time with my child, I give my little girl at least one hour a day of my undivided attention. It is her hour; we do whatever she wants to do. Most homes need to call a cease-fire, or truce, on backbiting, clawing and chewing on one another with cruel remarks. Lack of unity wounds the spirit, and a wounded spirit causes rebellion.

The family needs to be united in direction, duty, discipline and dedication. Parents can overcome division by calling a family conference to determine goals for every member of the family.

United in Directions

Unity of direction will prevent children from playing divide-and-conquer with parents by pitting one against the other. It doesn’t accomplish much for Mom to encourage the child to practice the piano if Dad insists music is sissy stuff and complains about the racket. I know a couple who are divided on the educational goal for their child. The mother wants her son to read many of the outstanding books available, but the father considers such reading silly and a waste of time. I have seen teens greatly confused by parents who cannot agree. There is a need for a clear and well-defined direction that the family will travel together.

United in Duty

The family also must share duties around the house. Most husbands have no idea how much work the average wife does in one day. There must be a delegation of the chores. For years, mothers have had to face diapers, dishes, and cleaning alone, while preschool children constantly demand their full attention. My college psychology professor taught that men and women can tolerate stress and pressure much better if they know someone else realizes what they are enduring. Not only should the father be grateful for a job well done, he should be helpful.

United in Discipline

The family also should be united in discipline. The Bible teaches that children are to be disciplined, because there is no way a child can teach himself to be good. However, no one has to teach a child to disobey, to rebel or to be just plain bad. As a Christian parent, I desire my children to revere God and to respect authority. The reason teens seem to have little respect for parents, school, church and the law is because they have no respect for authority-period. There are certain words many “child experts” are trying to remove from our vocabulary; one is the word “discipline” and another is “chastise.” This has resulted in an epidemic of permissiveness that is on the verge of being a national disaster.

The word “discipline” comes from the same Greek word that translates “disciple,” meaning “to be a learner.” When I discipline my child with love and consistency, I am helping her learn self-control, responsibility and respect for authority. A rebellious and disobedient 3-year-old grows up into a rebellious and disobedient teenager. Discipline should begin at an early age. The parent should always make clear, before, during and after each discipline session how much he loves the child. A young couple I know teaches their children, “I love you too much to let you act like this.” Explain to the child that all of us are held accountable by God and by society for our actions.

Self-discipline (on the endangered species list in America) is the natural result of external discipline. As a child learns discipline, he learns to say no to various temptations. Children who are disciplined in love develop a strong desire to please their parents; as they learn about the love of God, they will desire to please their heavenly Father. I desire the very best for my children, and I want them to achieve great things. But if I don’t teach them how to control themselves, I have failed. Proverbs teaches, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Proverbs 16:32). The one who can control, restrain, and discipline himself will be a champion.

United in Dedication

Members of the family must be united in their dedication to each other. Dr. Kenneth Kenniston, author of The Uncommitted, calls this “the age of the uncommitted.” One reason a teenager is so committed to the gang or to the peer group is because he has never experienced commitment to the family. Parents should let their children know of their dedication to each other. My children should know there will never be a day when I will go off and leave them or their mother. Little good to hear daddy say, “I would protect you even if it meant death for me,” if daily they see daddy refusing to live for them. Spouses should be dedicated to each other. Use your energies to make your marriage and your family a success.

Quality Communication Is a Must

Most parents fail to realize the tremendous opportunities they have when their children are young. In the early stages of a child’s life, parents are able to build bridges between themselves and their child that will allow passage in the years to come. Yet most parents fail to realize this great opportunity. This bridge of communication is the greatest asset a child can have in the perilous teenage years to come.

I believe the Lord intended for the home to be a small sharing group and a place of fellowship. Fellowship means two fellows in the same ship, both paddling toward the same port. It is so important for the family to be united in direction. A lack of fellowship, or communication, is one reason why so many ships are sinking and why teenagers are abandoning the sinking ships.

Parents, don’t forfeit the great opportunity to communicate when your children are young, because the older they get, the more difficult it is to influence them. They become wise with worldly wisdom and less receptive to your ideas. Besides, if you wait too long to put in the lines of communications, they won’t be sturdy enough to withstand the storms of adolescence.

But remember: A basic psychological tenet is that normal rebellion leads to maturity and opens up communication. It is through conflict that family members learn to solve problems, learn to respect the rights of others and learn to understand each other. Normal rebellion leads the teen to try his own wings to see if he can make it on his own; it encourages him to leave the nest when he is completely prepared to leave. Abnormal rebellion, the result of careless indifference, is destructive. It shuts the door of communication and isolates family members from one another. It is imperative that the door always be open.

Recreate with Your Kids

A basic childhood need psychologist remind us of is the need for adventure. Adventure, of course, means a thrill, a stirring experience, a risky or exciting event. It would be wise for us to remember that those who are most attracted to drugs are those who are bored or discontented with life. Life should be exciting and fulfilling. Helen Keller was blind and deaf from infancy but became a great writer and lecturer. She said, “Life is a daring adventure, or nothing at all.”

By example, parents show life as a matter of existing or enduring or living vibrantly, constantly learning and loving. Many parents show by the emptiness in their lives that life for them is like an incurable disease. Someone said, “Life protracted is protracted woe.” Life is one long process of getting tired, according to many parents’ attitudes. Of course, you can, by your life, show your children that life is exciting, exhilarating, and worth living.

Every parent should sit down with his children who are in or near the drug-abuse age for an “I care” session. Start with, “Son, it is natural to want adventure, but don’t miss the boat and drown. Don’t look for thrills and adventure in the wrong place.” Aesop’s fable, The Dog and the Shadow, warns, “Beware lest you lose substance by grasping at the shadow.” This is good advice for young people today.

Don’t Be Overprotective

One of the cardinal sins a parent can commit is to be overprotective. I counseled a young man who had just been busted, and we talked about the restlessness of teens and the need for adventure and excitement. He told me of his domineering mother, who smothered him with baby treatment. All his life she had forbidden him to ride a horse, to play football, to go water or snow skiing, or to go camping because these activities were too dangerous. So he sought an artificial thrill in the drug scene, and it almost cost his life.

Personally, I would rather my son or daughter run the risk of breaking a leg playing football or skiing than ruin his or her mind and body in the drug scene. I now realize that scuba diving, learning to fly a plane, karate, sports, learning to play an instrument, traveling or just plain learning all provide far greater thrills for teens and their parents than do artificial, destructive chemicals. All these activities develop sound bodies and sound minds and teach responsibility. Parents, don’t prohibit without providing adequate substitutes. After my “born-again” experience I didn’t just quit the drug scene; I filled that gap with positive alternatives. Now that cheap and plastic scene has no attraction for me.

How To Counsel

If you are going to counsel a youth who is taking drugs, you must be prepared. Scare tactics don’t work anymore. Youth today are much better informed. You will need to stay informed and be aware of which drugs are popular in your community. Stay familiar with the symptoms of drug usage. You need to recognize whether the one you are counseling is in any condition to be counseled or not. Many counseling sessions or late-night confrontations between parent and teen have been wasted because the adult did not realize he was talking to a pill instead of to a person. The teen’s mind must be clear before he is approached. If a person is drowning, it is not a good time to teach him to swim. Wait for a good opportunity. If you really are concerned about helping your teens or someone your concern will show.

Be approachable and available. Teens must have access to you, or they will never come for help. A good opening for a talk is to ask your teen’s opinions about drug-related features in the paper or on television, or to ‘discuss a recent drug bust or a drug-related accident. Teens want and need to talk about how they feel. An opportunity may come at any time, usually after weeks and months of observation of the adult by the young person.

Counselors should also be careful of second-or third-hand information. Always consider the source, but treat information like smoke-maybe there is some fire. Let me remind you that there are three types of drug users: the occasional user, the thrill seeker, and the junkie. A teenager trying booze or pot at a weekend party is not a junkie, but his experiment is a symptom of restlessness or confusion.

The Actual Session

This might take place in your child’s bedroom, in the living room, in a classroom after school, or in a pastor’s study. The more privacy, the better.

1) Encourage the young person to face his problem squarely and honestly. Encourage him to talk about his feelings. This ventilation of pent-up feelings is a great beginning. As he shares, just listen. Don’t condemn, but don’t give false assurances such as, “Oh, you’re really not that bad.” Give sympathy: “I am here to help; I am on your side.” Offer the hope or condolence of “You’re not the first one to do this nor will you be the last.” In talking with you, this may be the first time the teen has actually faced his problem. Understand that the teen is not as sure of himself as he pretends. Many teens are good at sizing up other people and manipulating them, yet they are naive about themselves.

2) He must accept his own responsibilities in this problem. Maybe he has been sinned against, or has been the victim, or has been burned, but maturity means responsibility for your own condition. This is a biblical law as well as a social law. A fundamental assumption underlying the laws in a free society is that man is a responsible agent, that he can understand and follow rules, and therefore that he can be held accountable for his own actions.

Many teens with problems will be like Adam in the Garden of Eden. They will try to cover up their shame and guilt by sewing fig leaves of excuses together. Others will avoid their parents or avoid the church, just as Adam and Eve hid themselves from the presence of God. Even after they were caught, Adam blamed the woman, and Eve blamed the serpent.

3) Ask the teen the question Jesus asked, “Wilt thou be made whole?” (John 5:6). (“Do you really want to be healed?”) To a lame man who had been a cripple for 38 years, it sounded like a foolish question. But people don’t always want to be healed. They sometimes choose not to accept responsibility. Some you counsel may just want to talk about their problems or seek your sympathy. I have run across young people who, on our first meeting, have told me every minute detail of their sins. Rest assured, these are talkers who want sympathy, and they will tell anyone who will listen to their problems. Others love their sins and refuse to give them up. The Bible describes them as “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4). By questioning them, you will be able to determine if they really want help.

4) As the teen shares, his story will probably be in bits and pieces, so be a patient listener. (Maybe that is why the Lord gave us two ears and one mouth; we need to listen twice as much as we talk!) Never push the teen too hard to reveal facts he isn’t ready to reveal. Give him time to answer or to ask what he feels comfortable with. Be sensitive to signals of nervousness, irritability or boredom. Every person wants to feel important and wanted.

Many times as I hear problems, the young person comments, “You are the first person who has ever listened to me to find out what I have to say.” Most teens will take you through a tunnel of trivia, but continue to listen because they will give you clues as to what the problems actually are. If we don’t have time to listen to small problems, we cannot expect the teens to listen to our counsel and guidance. Remember, the single greatest compliment you can pay another human being is to listen to him.

5) One of the biggest mistakes a counselor can make is to react with shock or disgust. Facial gestures and other body language can give away disappointment or shock. The adolescent is asking for help, not a reprimand. Be sensitive, and try to understand the real problem.

6) Parents, when talking to your kids, sit down in a calm, rational way. Get on their level. Listen for as long as they want to talk. Remember that you represent their greatest hope. Most parents blow up if they find their child has smoked or taken a drink or taken dope or committed an immoral act. They attack the person instead of the problem. Let your child know you are upset because you love him and are concerned about his direction in life. Concern is never out of place.

Think carefully on this: Many times parents are actually upset that they have failed in raising the child. In reality, they are more embarrassed about their failure than they are concerned for the condition of the child. Never turn your back on your child. You are his hope.

7) The unpardonable sin is to betray confidences. All it takes to ruin your reputation as a counselor is to reveal what was told you in confidence. A parent may do this by bringing up the past when he is upset with his child. Too many preachers are careless in using confidential material as sermon illustrations. As usual, the Scriptures say it best, “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint” (Proverbs 25:19).

8) Be positive. A parent, pastor, teacher or teen who wants to be confided in must be in control of life. If you are always down, always complaining, and if your life is out of control, rest assured no one will seek your help or advice.

9) A good counselor should remind teens that in real life there are no fast solutions. Many teens want instant solutions. This may be the result of seeing every problem, no matter how severe, solved in 30 minutes on television. Most teens I counsel have problems that go back into their past. The three root problems affecting most teens are: moral impurity, which is the result of a poor self-image; bitterness over experiences or treatment they have received in the past; and a temporal value system. They will sacrifice the future for 30 minutes of pleasure or acceptance today.

10) Encourage goal setting. Using John 10:10, explain that God does offer an abundant, exciting life. Help the youth to write out short-term and long-term goals. Point him in the direction to achieve those goals by introducing him to opportunities and resource materials. Set a follow-up time for the next week in which you receive a report.

11) If a counselor is a Christian, he can rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance, help and strength, and he can use the Bible, the road map to life.

12) Find out what programs are available to help teens-coffee houses, storefronts, hot lines or successful youth programs at school or church. I use publications and tapes in my counseling. If there is a question you cannot answer, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” It is no sin to be unable to solve every problem, but it is wrong to talk as an authority about something you know nothing about.

13) Most importantly, a counselor must count the cost of counseling before he begins. Counseling involves continuity. You may receive phone call after phone call, discouragement after discouragement. Counseling is not a one-time shot, by any means. It may take months for the teen to learn to trust you. In both my wife’s case and mine, we did not respond to counseling immediately. There were many trial-and-error mistakes along the way.

My objectives in counseling are three: First, I try to lead the person to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. As God, He can forgive sins and failure and take away guilt; as Lord, he cares and understands. The phrase “Jesus is the answer” is more than a cliche.

Second, I try to challenge the person to be a victor over life rather than a victim of it, to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. I try to motivate him to be real, instead of being part of the crowd or an artificial person.

Last, but not least, I try to build bridges between teens and their parents. No young person will ever be happy or fulfilled unless he learns to communicate with his parents. I try to help teens realize that parents have problems and pressures that children have no way of understanding. If I can help a young person learn to talk and listen to his parents and the heavenly Father, then much of my mission has been accomplished. I truly have been a friend.

The above article, “Shattered Dreams: What Parents And Teens Should Know About Drugs and Drinking” is written by Jay Strack. The article was excerpted from a pamphlet published by Focus on the Family in 1989.

The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.