Empowering Your Child Starting Today

When sophomore Jamie Lewis was cornered on the stairwell at Lincoln High* he was scared. The four boys who pushed Jamie against the wall warned him again not to report the drug dealing he’d seen a few weeks before. But being scared wasn’t his only feeling. He was mad.

He was tired of being afraid every morning when he came to school. He was tired of feeling that he had no control over what happened around his school or in his life. It was time, he decided, that the majority of students took back the power from a tough–but nevertheless outnumbered–minority.

Jamie didn’t just climb into a phone booth and come out swinging. The first thing he did was go to a youth agency he’d seen advertised on a school bulletin board. The agency specialized in helping kids fight crime. The counselor there said Jamie was on the right track. “What we’re talking about here is believing that you have the right and the might to take back your school. What we’re talking about is something we call empowerment.”

Jamie had never hard the word before. But it was going to become the most potent word in his vocabulary.

Taking Charge of Your Life

Empowerment, as the counselor explained to Jamie, is the process of taking charge of your life. It means no longer feeling helpless. It means believing you can change things. Ultimately, you empower yourself, but it also can happen that another person helps empower you. When your mom says you’re going to have to choose and fix your own lunches from now on, she’s empowering you. You benefit by gaining control; she benefits by gaining freedom.

You can empower others by being positive about their abilities. That helps build their self-esteem. And don’t do things for them that they can do for themselves.

Empowerment is a word that is used in many different contexts. Social agencies feel that empowerment of community people can help them to use their political influence. Empowerment, as used by government, means people helping themselves rather than relying on official resources. Empowerment in the education context means students taking more responsibility for what they learn and how they learn it. Empowerment used by mental health experts means helping people feel confident about managing their own lives. The term is used in business to refer to mid-level employees sharing authority with top-level executives.

The business world, in fact, has refined many of the concepts of empowerment. There’s the idea of “participatory” processes, which means employees take part in planning and decision-making. In some companies, for example, department workers plan their own budgets and set production goals. Business publications now write about “flattened hierarchies.” Think about a hierarchy as being a group of people arranged by rank, with a few leaders at the top making the rules for the many people below. A flattened hierarchy has fewer ranks within it, with more people having a say in what the policies should be.

All in the Family

Empowerment can be especially effective within a family. Delaney, for example, felt she had no say in what her family policies should be. Her father had lost his job, and he and Delaney’s mother fought every day. It seemed to Delaney that she and her family were out of control. She felt trapped in a situation that couldn’t be changed.

Delaney looked for answers from her favorite aunt. “You have the answers within yourself,” Aunt Judith told her. “You have the power to change things that you’re not happy with.”

She helped Delaney see how she could separate herself from her parents’ problem and concentrate on what she wanted for herself. For example, the family had no money to give Delaney to go on the class trip to Washington, D.C. So she got a part-time job. She felt tired a lot of the time, but she paid special attention to eating right and getting exercise. She was also uncomfortable with her feelings of divided loyalty to her parents. So she explained to her parents–and that wasn’t easy–that she didn’t want one of them to tell her tales about the other.

These were giant steps in Delaney’s empowerment. She took responsibility for her own feelings and stopped blaming others for “making” her feel mad or sad or happy.

Taking Responsibility

Empowerment isn’t only for deep problems like gangs in schools or families falling apart. It can be part of everyday growing up, and it seems to have special meaning for teens. That’s the time you may naturally want an oceanful of independence and grownups are meting it out by the thimbleful.

In schools, adults plan curriculum, choose textbooks, hand out assignments, and make judgments in the form of grades. Students can be a lot more independent if they are empowered to take responsibility for their own learning. Empowerment for students might mean deciding what they want to learn (within certain guidelines) and how they want to learn it. That might mean setting up their own committees and planning their own deadlines. The teacher doesn’t give up authority; he or she still sets the direction, but the students figure out how to get there. This is being explored in some schools.

Where it has been tried, it’s harder than it sounds. It takes a lot more effort to set goals and figure out how to implement them than to just follow directions already mapped out by the teacher.

“Students like the concept of this, but not always the responsibility,” says a high school coordinator from the Chicago area. “And it’s a lot more work for teachers, too. They have to teach learning strategies as well as subject matter.”

Home Rule

On an individual level, empowerment starts when we are young. Parents can empower their children to be independent and responsible. When a mother tells her 3-year-old to decide whether he wants a cereal or toast for breakfast, that’s empowerment. When a father tells his daughter to talk to the baseball coach herself if she’s unhappy sitting on the bench, that’s empowerment. It’s giving children the feeling they can have an impact on others, that they are capable of getting what they want for themselves. This is not a new idea; thoughtful parents have used the technique for a long time.

Calling it empowerment emphasizes that it’s a two-way process–one party has power and hands it over; the other party has capability and accepts it. And–defying the rules of mathematics–they both have more than they started with.

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Chances Your Child Makes The Major Leagues? (Hint: It’s Low)

Dave took a quick pass from John, who had just rebounded the basketball under the opponent’s basket. Dave quickly dribbled down the outside of the gym floor, driving for the basket.

The ball dropped through the hoop just as the buzzer sounded, giving Dave’s team a one-point win! Everyone jumped all over Dave, celebrating the win.

Dave scanned the stands through the crowd, looking for the college scouts he knew were there. Like many high school star athletes, he was hoping to play on a college team. And beyond that, who knows. . .?

Sports are very important in the United States. Sports are a source of fun and fitness for millions. For a very few people, playing a sport provides a living.

According to recent statistics provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations, more than 1 million boys play high school football; almost 500,000 play basketball; and about 400,000 participate in baseball. From high school to college, the number of participants drops drastically. Only about 11,000 athletes altogether participate in college football, basketball, and baseball.

Some athletes who do go on to play college sports and have successful collegiate careers can indeed look forward to playing in professional sports. However, only about 8 percent are ever drafted by professional teams, and only about 2 percent sign a professional contract. Even signing a contract doesn’t mean that an athlete will make the team.

The Football Odds

There are 28 teams in the NFL, with 45 players on each team. During the NFL draft, each team gets 12 picks. Only 336 college players are drafted each year out of about 15,000 eligible players. Of the 336 drafted, approximately 160 actually make NFL teams.

Many young athletes think that if they make it to the pros, they will be rich. According to the NFL Players Association, the average player’s salary is more than $200,000 a year. Although this looks like a lot of money, most players’ paychecks will stop immediately if they get hurt and are unable to play or they do not make the team.

The Basketball Numbers

Many boys dream of being a Michael Jordan and being a star on a professional basketball team. But here, too, the numbers reveal some hard facts. There are 23 teams in the NBA, and each team carries 12 players. In the United States, there are more than 553,000 boys who participate in high school basketball. Only about 11,550 of these high school players go on to play college basketball at the 730 colleges with basketball teams. These colleges range from junior colleges to major universities. More than 90 percent of the NBA players come from large universities that are classified as Division 1 schools, such as the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV) or Iowa, Kansas, Indiana, or Duke. In Division 1 schools, there are 1,320 starting players. The NBA drafts only 161 players each year, and only 50 new players actually make an NBA team.

In the NBA, the average salary is more than $350,000, but players only get that salary when they play.

Baseball’s Major League

Of all professional sports, baseball has the highest average salary of more than $400,000. There are 725 players on the 26 major league teams. Baseball is somewhat different from other professional sports because of its extensive minor league program. Each year, the major league draft selects players for the 26 teams. A player who is drafted very rarely goes directly to the majors. There are more than 4,000 players on 164 teams in the minor league program, and it usually takes several years at the minor league level to tell if a player has the skills to play in the majors. The salary at the minor league level has been described as just barely enough to live on as a single person.

Professional athletics may look very glamorous and high-paying, yet very few people are able to make it to the pros. Athletics are good for people to develop cooperation, leadership skills, and goal-setting, and to learn to deal with success and failure.

Most coaches stress to their athletes that they should set goals that are realistic, achievable, and have a time frame. Some high school athletes will play college sports and a very few will go on to play professional athletics. The Greeks taught centuries ago that a person must live by the “Golden Mean,” which states that a person must keep things in balance. For teen athletes, this means keeping the balance between academics and athletics, for only one out of every 12,000 high school athletes will become a pro.

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Enablers: Don’t Let Them In Your Life

Jerry had a hectic week, so hectic that he didn’t have time to study for Friday’s social studies test. Basketball practice on Monday and Tuesday, a game on Wednesday, and his girlfriend’s birthday on Thursday. But he didn’t waste time worrying. He was sure his mom would be willing to help him out.

“Ma,” he said, “please call me in sick. If I don’t get some extra time to study I’m going to flunk.”

So Mom called him in sick on Friday, and he got a C when he took the test on Monday. Jerry gave her a big hug and called her his chief helper. Another description would also fit: his chief enabler. If that sounds like a compliment, it’s not.

Jerry’s mom enabled him to postpone taking the test and get a passing grade on it. But she also enabled him to avoid his responsibilities. She enabled him to think he could lie and get away with it. And she enabled him to depend on other people to rescue him from a difficult situation.

Alcoholism–and Beyond

Enabling is a term that’s been used for a long time as it relates to alcoholism. The term refers to family and friends who smooth the way for alcoholics so that they never have to face the consequences of their behavior. The term enabler has been broadened to include anyone who enables a person to continue with destructive behavior.

In the family of an alcoholic, a spouse, a parent, or even a child can enable the alcoholic to continue drinking. That’s one reason alcoholism is often called a family disease. Enablers hardly ever realize that they are doing harm. They are just trying to help.

Let’s say the father is an alcoholic and the mother is an enabler. She may see her husband as the culprit and herself as a martyr, acting selflessly to save the family.

When her husband has had too much to drink the night before and can’t get up for work, she calls into the office to say he is sick. When he’s sprawled out on the sofa in a drunken haze, she tells the children that he’s tired from a hard day at work. When he’s too drunk to attend a family birthday party, she tells the relative he’s unfortunately loaded down with work.

She enables him to deny his drinking problem and postpone the day when he must face up to the consequences of his behavior.

The Great Pretenders

The children is an alcoholic family may act as enablers by pretending the drinking isn’t happening.

“My dad is an alcoholic,” says 13-year-old Jenny. “One night he got so drunk he punched my brother and would have socked my mother, too, but he tripped and fell on the floor and passed out. No one in the family paid attention. They acted as though it weren’t happening.”

Enabling doesn’t happen only in families of alcoholics. It happens when one family member does things for other members that those members could do for themselves. It happened in Hannah’s family, and her parents don’t drink at all.

Hannah was an eighth grader who cared a lot about the way she looked. Her clothes were always perfectly coordinated–just the right color socks and shoes to go with her outfit, and earrings to match.

But much as she loved clothes, she never wanted to go shopping with her friends. What they didn’t know was that Hannah never made her own decisions about her clothes. Hannah’s mother bought all her daughter’s clothes and laid out a proper outfit each night. Hannah had no confidence in her ability to make some choices about her own clothes–and make many of her own decisions–like her friends often did.

Two-Way Street

What’s in all this for the enabler? For one thing, it ensures that the other person will stay emotionally dependent on the enabler. But a strange thing can happen. The enabler can become dependent, too. It can work like this: Janey enabled her boyfriend Frank to take unfair advantage of his asthma. Whenever he was upset, he’d start wheezing, so Janey felt she could never disagree with him. If he wanted to go to the movies, that’s where they went, even if Janey had seen the film already. If Frank wanted pizza, then pizza it was, no matter how Janey’s mouth watered for a burger.

Janey also tried to keep others from upsetting Frank. When they were with friends, she worried that someone would say something that could send Frank into an asthma attack. She felt she had to control the conversation and the entertainment so he’d stay happy and healthy. She felt personally responsible for his well-being, and took pride in every day that passed without a wheeze.

Her self-esteem was dependent on how Frank felt. If he felt good, so did she. If he was unhappy, so was she. He depended on her to enable him to control others with his asthma.

But Janey was equally dependent on Frank. She had become what psychologists call a co-dependent, a person who focuses on another person rather than on himself or herself. Janey’s enabling let her sidestep unpleasant feelings about Frank’s behavior. Such feelings can be a normal part of facing problems, making mistakes, and growing up.

Some of the nicest people are enablers. In fact, the problem is that they are too nice: They do too much, too soon, too often. When it comes to helping other people, sometimes less is more.

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Travel And Education Needn’t Be Dull!

Vacation may mean a break from school, but that doesn’t mean education has to take a hiatus. In fact, vacations can be the perfect time to expose your children to lessons in American history, geography, and science.

MUSEUMS FOR KIDS

During the past decade, dozens of cities have opened up “Children’s Museums.” These facilities, dedicated to the education of children from toddlers to teens, offer a mix of science, entertainment, computer interactivity, and art.

kids-at-museumConsidered the world’s largest, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis features a Dinosaur Den, an underwater coral reef, a Victorian carousel and collections of antique dolls and model trains. The museum hosts many special exhibits and classes as well. This summer, for example, My Bones: An Exhibit Inside You, will allow kids to touch and experience the bones within humans and animals.

San Francisco’s Exploratorium is a one-of-a-kind museum of science, art, and human perception. Located in the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts, this massive space has more than 600 hands-on exhibits, including a tactile dome, a tornado in a box, and a centrifugal force machine that takes visitors for a spin. By the time they are done in this place, your kids will be experts in the principles of light, motion, sound, and electricity.

MUSEUMS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

Of course, there are plenty of other museums that are perfect for families even though they are not kids museums per se. For example, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry is always a big hit with kids. Situated on Lake Michigan, the museum features unique attractions such as a World War II German submarine, a 16-foot pulsating heart, a coal mine, Colleen Moore’s Fantasy Castle–a dollhouse containing more than 1000 miniatures–and an OmniMax theater.

Meanwhile, a drive northeast to Dearborn, Michigan, will bring you to the Henry Ford Museum. As is appropriate, considering its namesake, this facility highlights how technological innovation and industrialization have changed American life. One of the most popular exhibits is The Automobile in American Life, which takes visitors down the highway of automotive history. Included in the exhibit: an authentic 1946 roadside diner, a 1940s Texaco station, and a 1960s Holiday Inn hotel room. The Henry Ford Museum also has an impressive collection of trains, including a 600-ton Allegheny locomotive that was used to haul coal.

Then shuffle over to Buffalo, New York, where larger-than-life robotic insects will be taking up residence at the Backyard Monsters 2 exhibit going on this summer at the city’s Museum of Science. The whole family will also enjoy the centennial celebration of the 1901 Buffalo Pan-American Exposition. The Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society Museum is featuring a commemoration of turn-of-the-20th century memorabilia, inventions and items from everyday life 100 years ago.

Other places rating high on the family must-see list: New York’s American Museum of Natural History; Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute Science Museum; and the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix. In Washington, D.C., the National Museum of American History and the National Air and Space Museum, both part of the Smithsonian, are always highlights for kids visiting the nation’s capital.

LIVING HISTORY

If the whole concept of a museum visit seems a bit foreboding, consider time travel. Scores of living history museums around the country provide visitors the opportunity to step back in time and experience life in 1620 … or 1760 … or 1830 …

Given the unfolding of colonization in America, it is no surprise that most living history museums are located on the Eastern seaboard. There is Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, a re-creation of the original village set up by the Pilgrims back in 1620. Complete with costumed interpreters, a craft center, and cooking demonstrations, kids can absorb the story of the pilgrims in a fun setting. While in the area, make sure to visit Plymouth Rock, the site where the Pilgrims landed, and the Mayflower II, a replica of the three-mast, square-rigged ship that brought the Pilgrims across the Atlantic from the Old Country.

Mystic, Connecticut, is home to Mystic Seaport, the most extensive living history museum dedicated specifically to New England’s maritime heritage. Containing 17 acres filled with old boats, historic homes and craft shops, Mystic depicts life as it was in a 19th century coastal village.

Tidewater Virginia is a mecca for fans of living history. Start in the 1600s, where the Jamestown Settlement, in Jamestown, offers a recreation of the first English settlement in America. Another interesting feature is Powhatan Village, which shows how Native Americans lived at the time.

The Yorktown Victory Center and Battlefield is adjacent to Jamestown. This area covers events leading up to the American victory in the Revolutionary War. It features a Continental Army Camp complete with historic interpreters and a seven-mile driving tour of the battlefield.

And then there is Colonial Williamsburg. Perhaps the most famous of all living history museums, Colonial Williamsburg depicts 18th century life prior to the Revolutionary War. Containing more than 500 buildings on nearly 175 acres, visitors can chat with shopkeepers and politicians, visit museums of American folk and decorative arts–even eat in an authentic 18th century restaurant or stay overnight in an authentic colonial house.

Of course, the East Coast doesn’t have a monopoly on living history museums. For example, Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, located near Lexington, is the largest and most completely restored Shaker village in the country. The Shakers, an ascetic religious sect, practiced celibacy, and are now all but extinct. But the family can get a good feel for the puritan Shaker existence, thanks to Shaker Villages costumed interpreters, who chronicle their spartan daily life. There are plenty of demonstrations as well, featuring broom making, spinning, weaving and Shaker furniture making.

Another singular way of life is depicted at the Amana Colonies of eastern Iowa. Founded 150 years ago by a group of Germans seeking religious freedom, the self-sustaining Amana Colonies, a communal settlement, were left unchanged for almost 100 years. Now a tourist attraction, visitors can get a taste of the old ways at the historic Amana Meat Shop and Smokehouse, famous for ham, bacon, and sausage, and at the Amana Stone Hearth Bakery. The Amana General Store, built in 1858, is filled with old-world Amana charm and lots of fun and hand-crafted gifts.

LIVING HISTORY THE WESTERN WAY

Living history out west takes on a different connotation. Instead of visiting museums and recreated sites, families heading out to the Rockies can actually experience the challenging life of the pioneers or the rowdy ranch wrangling of the cowboys in the middle of spectacular natural settings.

For example, families can tour the mountains of the Wyoming wilderness via covered wagon. Jackson, Wyoming, is a popular take-off point for covered wagon adventures. Two major operators, Wagons West and Teton Wagon Train & Horse Adventure, are based there. Wagons West trips range from two to six days, while Teton offers four-day, three-night journey, both provide an authentic pioneer experience, complete with covered wagons, campfires, chuckwagons, and cowboy crooning.

According to tour operators, usually about one-fourth of the participants are kids, so there’s always plenty of camaraderie for all ages en route and at the campsite. “This type of trip levels out everything,” says Jeff Warburton of Teton Wagon Trains. “It all goes back to the old days, when everyone, from little kids on up, worked and played together. So almost all activities are suitable for all ages.”

In addition to traveling via covered wagon for several hours a day, participants can ride horses, learn roping, and enjoy nature hikes from base camp. The Teton Wagon Train adventure costs $745 for adults, with reduced rates for kids 14 and under. Wagons West charges anywhere from $340 adults/$300 children for two nights to $865/$765 for six nights.

THE ABCS OF RVS

If you prefer a motorized vehicle to horseback or covered wagon, consider renting a recreational vehicle. Going by RV allows families to take most of the comforts of home on the road … while having the opportunity to get up close and personal with a wide variety of landscapes and scenic vistas.

While the campers of your childhood may have been rather, let’s say, rustic, today’s RV’s have amenities such as queen-sized beds, fully equipped kitchens and bathrooms, and even central heating and air conditioning. Some might even be considered luxury lodges on wheels, complete with computer workstations (with Internet access), satellite dishes, and slide-out rooms that expand the interior living space at the touch of a button.

Traveling in a recreational vehicle is an ideal way for families to explore the country while keeping expenses to a minimum. Depending on the model you rent, going by RV can save you up to two-thirds of your normal vacation costs. RV rentals range from $90 to $200 per day, with reduced daily rates for longer rentals. Right there, lodging and transportation are covered. And eating expensive meals out becomes an option, not a necessity.

What better way to learn about this country’s vast geography than by RVing through the Southwestern desert, past the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota, or the rolling farmland of Western New York? Your kids will be amazed at the sheer diversity of the USA … and so will you.

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Drug Culture And Denial

Around 100 years ago, the British government produced two well researched reports on opium and cannabis, drugs that were grown and used in India. They pronounced that each substance was relatively harmless when taken in moderation, that they were important to local cultures (opium was also important to the revenue of the Indian government, which sold it to China), and that their growth and preparation should remain under official control, including quality control. They were not prohibited.

How times change! In the aftermath of Clare Short’s public dressing-down for inviting a rational debate on cannabis use, the Anglican priest and social reformer Kenneth Leech wrote to NSS bemoaning regressive changes since the 1060s. As we saw in the intense moral panic over the death of Leah Betts, drugs operate as a signifier of pure evil in the worlds of politics and the tabloid press. While there are, in parts of the country, policies such as harm reduction–which imply acceptance of widespread use–a language of debate that frankly embraces the pleasures, as well as the dangers, of drug use is–as Leech pointed out–unwritable. The desire for drugs is the love that dare not speak its name.

Yet this particular love is all around us. Its devotees or analysts acknowledge its mysteries in guarded tones, fearful of unwanted media interest or even official intervention. There’s a real problem here. Why should people incriminate themselves? Will Self, introducing his collected journalism (Junk Mail, Bloomsbury, 12.99 [pounds]), is understandably defensive. Yes, he has in the past taken whatever’s going, but no, he isn’t going to paint himself warts and all. As for joining a more general debate about drugs, well, that is too constricted by hypocrisy.

Sarah Thornton in Club Cultures: music, media and subcultural capital is equally careful. She positions herself to one side of the culture built around a synergistic relationship between drugs and music. At the most journalistic point in her text, she acknowledges the consumption of half a tab of E in a London club–and then says nothing about the impact of that experience or any other, and next to nothing about the pharmacological-musical connections that drive the culture.

Nicholas Saunders, by contrast, has a mission to explain precisely this connection. He starts his handbook Ecstasy and the Dance Culture (from Nicholas Saunders, 14 Neal’s Yard, London WC2H 9DP; 9.95 [pounds]) with a brief history of his own experiences before moving into the wider culture and pharmacology of MDMA, its derivatives and substitutes. It’s a clear, confident text (albeit with a footnote system devised by a devotee of chaos theory) that mixes “useful” information, including an impressive bibliography, with a strong cross-current of personal accounts, some very negative.

Saunders is happy enough with his own and most others’ experiences of E, but he knows the dangers of aggressive criminality and/or contamination. He wants at least an interim “Dutch model” of tolerance and testing, backed by clubs with free water and chill-out rooms. In other words, not legalisation as such but legalised toleration or harm reduction, in which quality is controlled and sale–if not production itself–is policed.

The reasons for all this lie in the section on the dance culture, “contributed by Mary Anna Wright”, whose interviews with DJs show the music’s close connection with drugs. The case is clear. Most young people go to clubs or raves; most of them take drugs; they know that official campaigns are hypocritical nonsense; drugs should be quality controlled.

So why do so many young people rave on? Club Cultures is a commendably brief academic companion to Saunders’ exploration of the dance culture. The “summer of love” didn’t just happen, and Sarah Thornton looks hard at the pre-history of rave, noting the developments of recorded dance music (often against the furious opposition of musicians, who, even in the 1920s, feared for their future in an age of DJ culture). Using, but twisting, the now antique language of “subculture”, she examines the ways in which young people adopt the dress and musical vocabularies of “authenticity”.

They create for themselves imagined communities of the like-minded, by excluding a notional “mainstream”. Its borders-peopled by the mythical Sharon and Tracy, dancing around their handbags–are threateningly fluid for the elitist insiders, who react with defensive connoisseurship. Club Cultures’ insistence on the complexity of media intervention in this process, and young people’s reactions, is timely and useful.

Discounting her understandable defensiveness about the chemical aspects of the scene, Thornton’s account pales by comparison with the enthusiastic missionary work of Nicholas Saunders. Yet there is enthusiasm here too, and an important implicit argument about the feminising of popular culture through the foregrounding of dance and the subordination of music and drugs to this end. In contrast, the masculine individualism of “rock” and its criticism fetishises the individual creator, and the use of drugs a form of inspiration.

Male authority is too often stuck in this psychodramatic pharmacology. So it’s refreshing that Will Self argues that his own belief in this Faustian narrative left him a useless junky at 21. Of course, the rest of the story doesn’t match the unhappy beginning, and his concern with drugs policy and its surrounding discourse is not that of a habitual non-user.

Sometimes the tone is a bit prim; maybe Self was trying to hit the house style of a wide variety of papers and magazines. But when he relaxes, or when he’s excited, the prose flows and coruscates. Drugs are routinely the subject of these passages. He gets to hang out in crack houses and talks to drug-dependent prisoners, reviews books on drugs, genuflects before the self-proclaimed junkie William S Burroughs (my word, Mephistopheles will be looking forward to seeing him again) and discusses with Martin Amis whether or not smoking dope aids the writing process.

Whether or not it does–and whether we are dealing with individual inspiration or mass consumption–the use of stimulants, depressants and psychoactives is utterly routine within our culture. We had better get used to the idea. We may have “progressed” too far for a return to the liberalism of British policy in India; but we–by which I mean Clare Short’s shadow cabinet friends–should look again at those Victorian values.

External resource on ecstasy abuse: http://www.rehabinfo.net/ecstasy-abuse/

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Key Signs Of Drug Abuse

As her friends figured out, Lucyna is smoking marijuana, an illegal drug. She is one of millions in the United States who abuse marijuana and other illegal drugs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that 23 million people age 12 and older have used illegal drugs during the past year.

Like Lucyna, abusers take drugs for nonmedical purposes and end up impairing their physical, mental, emotional, or social well-being. The major illegal drugs of abuse are:

* Cannabis: marijuana

* Depressants: alcohol, barbiturates, and tranquilizers

* Hallucinogens: LSD and PCP * Narcotics: heroin and opium

* Stimulants: crack/cocaine and amphetamines, including methamphetamine and ice.

Each of these drugs affects the user’s feelings, perceptions, and behavior. People abuse these drugs because of their psychoactive or mind-altering properties. All these drugs also affect users physically. When Lucyna smokes marijuana, for example, her reaction time slows down. She may not realize she is slower because the drug alters her sense of time and movement.

Know the Risks

Anne and Serena decided to get more information on the health effects of marijuana and other drugs of abuse. Here are some facts they learned:

* Cannabis – Marijuana (grass, pot, weed, dope) increases the heart rate and causes red eyes, and dry mouth and throat. Because marijuana blocks messages going to the brain, it alters perceptions and emotions, vision and hearing. Users have difficulty keeping track of time. Their short-term memory decreases. They can’t carry out complex tasks well, such as driving a car, because their concentration and coordination decrease. Marijuana increases the appetite, resulting in weight gain. With chronic use, both males and females can have lower fertility. Chronic female users can sprout facial hair and. more body hair, and develop acne.

* Depressants – These drugs depress or slow down the central nervous system, calming the user and causing sleep. Depressants alter judgment and are addictive. Alcohol is a depressant. Producing effects similar to alcohol, barbiturates (barbs, downers) include phenobarbital, amytal, nembutal (yellow jackets, nembies), and seconal (reds, red devils). Non-barbiturates produce similar effects. These drugs include methaqualone (quaaludes) and tranquilizers such as benzodiazepines (Valium, Librium). Users develop a tolerance and must take more of the depressant each time to produce the same effects. Combining alcohol with other depressants is dangerous and can be fatal.

* Hallucinogens – These unpredictable, mind-altering drugs affect a person’s perception, feelings, thinking, self-awareness, and emotions. Taking lysergic acid (LSD, acid) can result in panic, confusion, anxiety, terror, and hallucinations. This can lead to serious injury. Phencyclidine (PCP, angel dust, crystal) can cause bizarre behavior that can be combative, wide mood swings, and speech problems. Use of PCP by teens may interfere with hormones that regulate their normal growth and development and can interfere with the learning process. Hallucinogens increase the heart rate and blood pressure and can cause muscle tremors, convulsions, coma, as well as heart and lung failure.

* Narcotics – Opium-based narcotics are derived from the juice of opium poppy seeds, but now there are synthetic ones as well. Narcotics relieve pain and cause sleep. All narcotics, including opium (Dovers Powder) and heroin (junk, smack, brown sugar), are extremely addictive. Users of narcotics develop a tolerance and must take increasingly large doses to get the same effects.

Heroin is responsible for most narcotics abuse, quickly building tolerance, and physical and psychological dependence. Withdrawal symptoms, such as vomiting, severe diarrhea, stomach cramps, and runny eyes and nose, begin four to eight hours after the last dose, so users always want more of the drug. The risk of AIDS infection is high because users inject heroin with a syringe. Their syringes and needles may not be sterile. One-third of AIDS cases are related to IV use.

* Stimulants – These drugs include crack, cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamine (speed and ice). Cocaine and crack are highly addictive. Cocaine is a white powder that comes from the leaves of the South American coca plant. Users call it coke, snow, blow, toot, nose candy, or flake. Crack is cocaine that has been chemically changed so it can be smoked. Both drugs decrease appetite and cause sleeping problems, a runny nose, erratic behavior, sweating, anxiety, and tremors. Cocaine and crack stimulate the central nervous system and increase blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and body temperature. This can lead to swift death from a heart attack, stroke, brain seizure, or breathing failure.

Methamphetamine is speed; ice is the crystalline form of methamphetamine. These share many of the same health effects as crack and cocaine: excessive activity: increased pulse rate, blood pressure, and body temperature; sleeping problems; loss of appetite; sweating; and confusion.

Keep Your Eyes Open

If you think someone is taking drugs, look for these warning signs:

* Red eyes, constant runny nose, or sniffles * Changes in friends, especially if the new friends use drugs * Rapid mood swings * Withdrawal from family, former friends, school, former activities, hobbies * Being vague and secretive about friends and non-school activities * Unexplained weight loss or gain * Loss of coordination, attention, or balance * Smell of burnt marijuana on clothing * Unusual sleep patterns * Stealing or borrowing money from family members or friends * Cutting classes, dropping grades

What You Can Do

If you think a friend is using drugs, get involved and be active. Talk to your friend about your concerns. Try to remain calm, factual, and honest when speaking about your friend’s behavior and its day-to-day consequences. Let the person with the problem know what you have learned about drug abuse.

Your friend may deny using drugs or that there’s a problem. Realize, though, that most people with drug troubles really want to talk it out if they know you are concerned about them.

Find nearby sources of help. Write down some treatment referrals and support groups, and give this information to your friend. Health agencies, schools, community mental health centers, and other organizations often provide short-term counseling. Discuss your concerns with someone you trust – a counselor, friend, parent, social worker, teacher, or someone from the clergy.

Protect yourself! Refuse to ride with someone who’s been using drugs. Avoid parties where getting high is the only reason for going. Be wary of a date, friend, or anyone who is trying to get you to take drugs.

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Getting A Handle On Addiction

To deal with school and her problems, Jolene drinks alcohol in the morning, then continues throughout the day. If she doesn’t drink, Jolene feels nauseated and gets a headache.

Devon chews half a can of tobacco every day. When he tries to stop, he gets strong cravings and starts chewing again. Devon has a painful white lump inside his mouth where he places the tobacco.

Devon’s brother Alan is addicted to cocaine. Four months ago, Alan tried some cocaine at a party and now snorts it regularly. He has lost weight and his nose runs constantly. His grades have slipped and he dropped off the hockey team.

Who has the drug addiction? Actually, all three teens are addicted to a drug: Jolene to alcohol, Devon to nicotine, and Alan to cocaine.

Mind and Body Dependence

Any substance that can change a mood or state of mind is called a psychoactive or mood-altering drug. Using psychoactive drugs can escalate into an addiction, which is a physical or psychological dependence on the drug. With psychological dependence, a person needs to keep taking a drug to get its effects. A physical dependence means that if someone stops taking the drug, withdrawal symptoms occur and the person feels uncomfortable or sick. Some people have both types of drug dependence.

An addiction takes time to develop, usually weeks, months, or years. The drug addiction process follows a typical pattern:

Relief–If bored, lonely, unhappy, scared, angry, or feeling pressured, some people try a drug or drink alcohol for quick relief.

Increased use–To feel the same relief, the person must take more of the drug or alcohol more often.

Preoccupation–The person frequently thinks about taking the drug and/or about its effects. Daily use becomes the norm. Problems with parents, relationships, or school increase.

Dependency–More of the drug or alcohol is needed just to feel OK. Physical signs such as coughing, sore throat, runny nose, weight loss, and fatigue are common Blackouts and overdosing may occur. The person now has an addiction.

Withdrawal–If users can’t get the drug, most experience withdrawal symptoms: itching, chills, feeling tense, nausea, sweating, and stomach pain.

These physical effects vary, depending on the drug, but are signs that a teen is smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, or using other psychoactive drugs.

Watch Out!

Use these questions to detect drug use or addiction:

* When faced with a problem or stressful situations, does the person drink, smoke, or use other drugs?

* Does the person drink until drunk?

* Does the person miss school, work, or fun times because of alcohol or other drugs?

* Is the user preoccupied with how to get drugs?

* Does the person drive while drunk or high?

* Can the person have fun only if using drugs or alcohol?

* Has home and/or school become intolerable because of drinking or drug taking? Or is the person drinking or taking drugs because of a miserable home life?

* Has the tobacco, alcohol, or drug user tried to quit and failed?

Teen drug users may hide or carry cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs; have abrupt mood or attitude changes or unusual flares of temper; steal, or borrow more and more money from family members or friends. They may skip school or let grades slip. Also some teens start hanging out with a new group of friends who use drugs.

Heading Off Trouble

People who take drugs or alcohol for fun or to deal with unhappiness may find they can’t stop and end up addicted. Teen drug abuse often starts with alcohol or tobacco. Although legal for adults, these drugs are illegal for teens. Users may next try an illegal drug such as marijuana, then possibly others. Use of other illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin is unusual in those who have not previously used alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana. So, the surest way to head off an addiction is to not use these psychoactive drugs:

* Alcohol, a depressant, is the world’s most widely used drug. It slows down the brain, body systems, and reactions. More people are addicted to alcohol than to any other drug. This addiction is called alcoholism.

* The addicting ingredient in tobacco is nicotine, a stimulant. Users find nicotine addiction difficult to break because nicotine is a potent drug with painful withdrawal symptoms. More teens are addicted to tobacco than to alcohol.

* Other psychoactive, drugs include marijuana, PCP, and solvents. Marijuana remains the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States. People can become psychologically dependent on marijuana and find it hard to stop using it. Cravings to smoke marijuana are very intense. Withdrawal from PCP also causes extreme cravings for the drug. Although inhalants are legal products (glue, hair spray, paint thinner, etc.), some people use them illegally. Inhalants depress the central nervous system. They can affect liver function and can kill.

* Stimulants or “uppers” are powerful and highly addicting. They include cocaine and methamphetamine (speed). Cocaine acts directly on the “pleasure centers” in the brain so that users want to feel this pleasure again and again. This triggers an intense craving for more cocaine. Many people who try methamphetamine also go on to compulsive use.

* The opiates, another type of mood-altering drug, include heroin. Heroin induces addiction by causing users to crave the drug. When they try to stop, they experience great physical pain.

Breaking Addictions

Addiction treatments vary according to the drug and are sometimes combined. Some people try going “cold turkey.” That is, they stop drinking or taking the drug all at once. Going cold turkey is not easy. When the body becomes physically dependent on a drug, it goes through withdrawal when the drug is absent. The physical and mental pain of an abrupt withdrawal can be difficult.

Another technique is to taper off. The addict gradually stops taking the drug or drinking. This method reduces the effects of withdrawal, giving the body time-to adjust.

Another approach is to use different substances to help people withdraw from their addiction. Alcoholics can take Antabuse, a drug that makes them sick if they drink, or a once-a-day pill that dampens alcohol cravings. Nicotine gum or patches help smokers ease away from smoking.

Twelve-step and other support group programs such as Rational Recovery have proven successful for many. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was the first 12-step program and is now used worldwide. AA has been adapted to many other addictions, including stop-smoking groups and drug-withdrawal programs.

Other treatments include crisis intervention, and hospital, clinic, and private programs. One-to-one or group counseling works for some people, too.

The long-term goal of treatment is to change the person’s life so that drug use is no longer satisfying. But it’s tough work to break a drug addiction.

External resource for individuals seeking help with opiate addiction: http://www.detox.net/clinics/methadone/california/

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Talking To Your Child About Drugs

Recently a friend called to ask me what I thought who has taken drugs years ago should say to their kids if they asked about it. I hadn’t given it much thought as my 9-year-old son hasn’t asked yet, and right now is happily negative about drugs. He believes what he’s told at school and even on TV–that drug taking is creepy and for losers, not the kind of thing a budding pro hockey star would do.

So I thought for a second. The only thing I knew I wouldn’t tell him is that I had “experimented” with drugs. for I was not wearing a lab coat. Then I added that you can’t control your children’s future decisions, that all you can do is raise them well and accept that they’ll make up their own minds, yadda yadda.

But I detected a kind of defeat in my answer, an offhand resignation that is, when you’re talking about the future of your child, inappropriate. (Interesting how we say “inappropriate” these days when what we mean is “wrong.”)

So I thought about it some more. I knew I didn’t want to lie to my son, didn’t want to be a hypocrite and pretend I was innocent in this area when I wasn’t. So I called two wise friends and asked what they thought. They, like me, had smoked marijuana on and off in college and. like me, had stopped. We all just grew out of it.

“You should lie,” said the first, firmly. “If you tell them you took drugs, you’re giving them implicit permission. You’re still here and fine. so they can smoke pot and be fine too.”

“Don’t lie,” said the second. “Tell them you tried it and didn’t like it.” Mmmmm–a semi-lie. And one that suggests that liking it is the criteria by which to judge. My friend said this is what she’d told her daughter, an independent sort. who had rolled her eyes.

What caught my attention about my friends’ advice was not that they disagreed but that they had such different tones. The first friend was unalterably opposed to drug use and tailored her strategy to preventing it. The second friend was more temporizing, more accepting of the inevitability of independent choices.

She sounded more like me. And I didn’t like the way we sounded. Then I got some data that stopped me cold.

Drug use has doubled over the past four years among kids ages 12 to 17. The reason is debated, but a recent study from Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse suggests it may not be so mysterious.

The study showed that teenagers who know their parents once used marijuana and whose parents directly or implicitly communicate that marijuana is relatively harmless are at greater risk of using drugs. What’s more, 46 percent of parents expect their children will try drugs; 40 percent believe there is little they can do about it. Whereas teenagers far less likely to use drugs are those whose parents teach them unambiguously–that it is wrong. Joseph A. Califano, the antidrug crusader who heads the center, said that children of baby boomers are being let down–by parents who cannot or will not teach with conviction that pot and other drugs are dangerous.

This may sound stupid, but it hadn’t quite occurred to me that my attitudes would shape-profoundly–my son’s actions. I wasn’t aware of how accepting I was that kids make their own mistakes, how I assumed that if I had smoked marijuana for a short time with no ill effect, then so could he.

But maybe he couldn’t. Maybe he’d find it a gateway to other things. And anyway–it’s wrong. Once, we viewed drug taking as a victimless crime, a personal choice. But who after living through the past 30 years in America could think that now?

One psychologist had good advice, I thought, for parents whose kids put them on the spot. Make it clear that drug taking is one area where you expect them to do what you say and not what you did. Make clear the dangers–remind them that even experimentation is dangerous, stupid, and bad. What will I tell my son’? I’ll tell him that I did it, that I liked it for awhile and then I didn’t, and that I was wrong to do it.

So this is where I finally come down: Don’t be a fatalist, don’t cede authority. Realize that what you think colors what your children think. Ambivalence is just another way not to decide, not to take responsibility. It’s also a kind of pathetic way of trying to be cool-which is sort of a low ambition for a person in one’s forties. yes? We ought to get over that one.

I guess what I’m saying to myself and other boomers is this: Get over it. You did it; it was wrong.=Be an adult and say so. It’s one thing to be ambivalent about your own choices. It’s another to be ambivalent about your child’s.

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