A Tribune Editorial
They say that any person in the world is separated from any other person by
only six degrees, the humblest laborer in Kampala from the richest producer
in Hollywood by no more than half a dozen handshakes.
Parents: How many degrees separate your child from the pushers and users?
You can take your children to church and say grace at the table. You can
shuttle them to soccer games and debate tournaments, involve them in
scouting or 4H, teach them to hunt or to fish. You can also monitor their
time on the computer, question them closely about their activities and
whereabouts, compare notes with the parents of their friends. You can do all
of the right things, and still discover to your horror that the baby whose
diapers you changed is smoking dope or huffing paint thinner or shooting
heroin. Because the one thing you cannot do is to be with your child always,
to say No for him, to whisper in her ear when some other kid hands her a
joint or worse.
Again: How many degrees separate your child from the pushers and users? You
know your child’s friends—of course you do—but do you know your child’s
friends’ friends and the friends’ friends’ acquaintances? How well can you
plot the shifting of the circles in which your child travels? And how can
you ever protect your child from the chance meeting, the random contact, the
awful coincidence that puts your son or daughter and a needle or crack pipe
in the same room together?
The odds are excellent that at some point between your child’s enrollment at
CMS and graduation from CHS he or she will come into the physical presence
of poison, be offered the opportunity to try it, could in fact be a fat
target of opportunity for a dealer in the market for a new customer. Your
child may not be looking for drugs, may have no particular desire to
experiment with drugs, may even prefer—all things being equal—to have
nothing to do with them. But drugs will find your child. The world has
become that small, your child’s school that cosmopolitan, your neighborhood
The moment may come in that new kid’s car on the way to the mall, after
practice, at work, in your own basement when you’re gone. And it’s a moment
whose significance is likely to be lost on your child, so casually have
events led to it. Don’t credit your child with common sense, not at this
juncture. The brightest kid is capable of acting with phenomenal stupidity
for the silliest reason or for no discernible reason at all. Your child may
have argued with you that morning, flunked a test that afternoon, is
dreading a homework assignment that evening. He may be tempted to prove his
loyalty to a buddy. She may be tempted to impress a boy. Or your child may
simply be tired, sapped by a busy schedule, and not thinking clearly. There
are as many reasons as there are first times, and what seems ludicrous to
you in your wisdom may appear perfectly cogent to a child with a child’s
inability or unwillingness to think beyond the moment.
The least you can do as a parent—possibly the best you can do—is to prepare
your child for that moment, when your son has a monumental choice to make
and nothing like the maturity with which to make it, when your daughter is
as isolated and vulnerable as she is ever going to be in her life.
Talk with your child, now. Invest that moment with its true significance: as
a knife’s edge separating the present from a radically uncertain future.
Impress upon your son or daughter the basic law of physics: every act has
its consequences and the consequences have consequences, utterly
unpredictable, often unintended, and potentially nightmarish. Tell your
child the truth.
That pot may be fun and all but that it dramatically lowers the bar for
doing any other drug.
That, like it or not, pot is also illegal.
That a night or a week or a month at JDC is probably not as great as it
That a jolt at PCJ isn’t great at all.
That snorting and huffing and shooting kill, sometimes on the very first go.
That you can die in the blink of an eye from an OD or slowly from AIDS or
That you are exactly as knowledgeable and savvy about drugs as the guy they
just buried was.
That you do things when you’re high that you would never do when you’re
sober, like have sex with strangers or fall asleep at the wheel or drown in
That some people may be less prone to addiction than others are but that by
the time you realize you’re not one of them it’s too late.
That even if you don’t become an addict, you will still be a criminal.
That a drug conviction will go on your permanent record.
That employers hate druggies.
That junkies have no friends, only habits; no dignity, only a craving; no
self-respect, only a hole.
That drugs not only addle the brain, some drugs alter it forever, and that
while you may eventually beat the addiction, the itch will always be there,
faint and niggling and waiting to be scratched.
That drugs waste your time, your energy, and your talents. Ask Robert Downey
Jr. Or just ask that kid who had the great arm in Little League, if you can
That the anti-establishment appeal of drugs loses some of its edge when
you’re scrambling for a fix or puking in the gutter. You can be a genuine
revolutionary or a drooling idiot but you can’t be both.
That if you hate your teachers, your family, and your life, you have a
problem that drugs will only make incalculably worse.
That there are less suicidal ways of establishing your slacker credentials.
That if, now and then, you really desire that spike of euphoria, try
skydiving, rock-climbing, skateboarding, or hang-gliding.
That drugs have a way of turning you into a liar, a cheat, and a thief.
That addicts are dupes who say anything to justify their self-degradation
and their suppliers are pimps who make a killing on human misery.
That in a moment, in that moment, you are engaging the gears of a grinding
machine which jeopardizes everything you ever planned for or dreamed about.
Prepare your child for that moment. And prepare yourself to prepare your
child. Collect your information, marshal your arguments, gather your wits.
This is no time for timidity or embarrassment. Nor is it time, for fear of
being a hypocrite, to soft-peddle your message because once upon a time you
experimented yourself and made it out alive and well. Parents are supposed
to be hypocrites, to impart the lessons learned from their own mistakes to
Naturally your words won’t stick, not the first time. Nor the second or
third time either. You need to begin a conversation with your child which
lasts for years. Because your child is assuredly having conversations with
other people. Do you know who they are?
Ask yourself: How many degrees separate my child from the pushers and users?