Teens and Drugs – K2 and Spice are Banned, but What Fix is Next?
Drug du jour K2 is now illegal in Michigan. But that doesn't mean parents can rest easy. What's at the heart of teen drug use? And what can families and communities do?
(page 2 of 2)
"Kids are curious and they will try things," says Mark Hackel, Macomb County's executive and former county sheriff. Hackel helped Macomb become one of the first counties in southeast Michigan to ban the sale of K2 in early June.
Hackel says "it's not one thing" that causes teens to try drugs. Rather, he thinks, "it has a lot to do with society in general."
Hackel says teens sometimes try drugs and drink alcohol because of the examples they're seeing on TV, among peers or even in their own homes.
"Parents provide a terrible example to kids sometimes," Hackel says.
For example, if parents come home from a party and tell a friend on the phone about how drunk they were, or if they come home from work and drink several beers a night, they're sending their teen the message that "it can't be that bad," he says.
"We unfortunately don't set a very good example for kids in our daily lives," Hackel says. "(The) reality is we don't realize the impact we're having on kids."
When all of these influences mix with teenage curiosity, kids try drugs for the first time – or "the worst time," as Hackel puts it, because the teen is then "always chasing that same high."
McGunn says that a majority of alcoholics and drug users began using during adolescence.
"We don't know the long-term implications of drug use on the developing brain," McGunn says. "What we do know is that if we can postpone the use of alcohol until the age of 21, we will not, very likely, have an alcoholic."
The powerful role parents play
Following the battle to get his son help and inform others about K2's dangers, Miskokomon has formulated advice for other parents: "Get more involved."
Parents, he says, are "so busy" with their "day-to-day lives" that sometimes, they believe "as long as my kids aren't in trouble, they're fine."
"I just think as parents, we need to step back and take time with our kids," Miskokomon says. "Pay attention to what's going on in their lives."
And if parents see a change in their teen's behavior, he says, "Ask why."
As McGunn has found through the teen focus groups she studies with her coalition, teens want their parents to be involved in their lives, and studies have shown that parental involvement is one of the biggest factors in preventing teen drug use.
"(Teens) don't want parents to be controlling their every movement," she says, but "they want parents to be involved. They really want parents to listen." When parents supervise their teens' actions and whereabouts, get involved at their schools and listen to their thoughts and feelings – even those they don't like – teens feel protected and cared for.
"All the common-sense parenting ideas are really the most important things that can occur for kids to keep them from experimenting," she says.
Teens are susceptible to making bad decisions based on their premature brains, so "parental presence is so very important" to help kids make the right choices, McGunn says.
What parents can do
To talk to teens about drugs, parents must be informed, McGunn stresses.
"In terms of what parents should be aware of, I think it starts with parents educating themselves on current trends," she says.
The next step is having a conversation about drugs with kids at a young age.
"Basically by starting to ask what the teen knows, (and) what they're observing," parents can start the dialogue, she says. She suggests parents also do this by "expressing considerable concern about any drug – alcohol, marijuana, tobacco – really anything at all that might be used."
And again, parents should also keep in mind the examples they're setting for teens, Hackel says.
"I think they need to start realizing it's our responsibility to set the tone," he says. "We don't realize that we're role models and mentors to kids – not just kids in our own homes."
McGunn suggests parents occasionally throw parties at their home that don't include alcohol, for example, since alcohol is "the primary drug that teens are going to see their parents use.
"It sends a distinct message that you can celebrate and have a good time without alcohol," she says.
Peers also play a large role in influencing teenagers. Therefore, McGunn says parents should get to know their teen's friends.
"One of the ways of determining whether a teen uses is whether they're associated with other teens who use," she says.
Fighting the never-ending battle
Sometimes, though, parents cannot stop their teens from trying drugs.
Miskokomon says he talked to his teen about drugs, and spent a lot of time in his son's life – from Boy Scouts and baseball to attending parent-teacher conferences.
"You can't stay on your kids 24/7. There's so much peer pressure out there," he says.
But Miskokomon's message to other parents whose kids are doing drugs is "not to give up on their kids." Today, Miskokomon's 17-year-old son is back home in Michigan after completing a 30-day drug rehab program in South Dakota.
"He did great," Miskokomon says, but adds that his son still "has a long road ahead of him."
While other teens across the nation face similar roads to recovery, new drugs will threaten to wreak havoc on teen lives.
"There's always going to be the drug of the day," McGunn admits. "However, that doesn't mean that parents can't inoculate their children so they're less likely to use it."
The best way to reduce teen drug use is to fight the demand, Hackel says.
"(It's) K2 today, but what's it going to be tomorrow? Something different," he says. "We can't constantly be chasing after the supply when there's the demand. How do we get people to say, 'We don't want to do drugs?'"
Getting teens to avoid trying drugs is a community effort, McGunn says, and everybody in the community – from law enforcement and churches to schools and coalitions – have a place in doing so.
Yet in the end, "It's always going to come back to good parenting," she says, and when you bring all areas of the community together on the issue, "the head of the table is always going to be the parents."