Friday, April 21, 2006

Drugs don't Kill Kids, Lack of Parental Responsibility Kills Kids!

If you've been following my blog for a while, then you'll know about the teen who died from a drug overdose. Said death touching way too close for me. Well, the saga continues.

Last week, my eleven year old son came home from elementary school with a letter in his hand that confused him. The letter was from the school, they were planning on April 21 to hold a pajama day and each child would donate at least $1 to have the privilege of wearing said pajamas and the monies collected would be used to plant a tree in honour of this young girl who had "passed away".

"Mommy," my bright little boy asked, "why are they planting a tree for her, didn't she overdose on drugs?".

He showed me the letter. It gave no mention of "drug awareness", it gave no mention of the lesson to be taught from planting this tree, and indeed, left ME wondering why a tree was being planted.

I phoned the school.

I was told that the children of the school had decided to erect the tree to remember a classmate who'd died. I was left with the impression that regardless of what insensibility this project might have, it was closed to discussion and there would be no further discussion on the matter, it was set. I requested the Principal call me.

That was last Thursday.

Yesterday, after no response from the Principal, I wrote a letter and rather than write several letters, I decided to write one open letter.

This is the letter:

(The young girl's name has been removed to protect her family).


I am writing this open letter to tell you how irresponsible I find the to-date shoddy planning of "Pajama Day", this Friday at Mount Pleasant. Allowing the children to memorialize the death of this girl in this manner is an affront to any parent hoping to teach their children not to go where this girl went.

It makes sense to me that these children want to do something to remember the fact that one of their ex-school mates has died. But I find it insensible that the guiding adults at this school are allowing the desires of the children to proceed, seemingly, without wise adult guidance.

This girl died using illegal drugs. Sending a letter home to parents asking them to donate money to purchase a tree to memorialize a child who "passed away" puts this girl's death on par with that of our recently deceased teacher, Mr. Nagy or someone who might have passed away due to leukemia or some other malady. Furthermore, simply planting a tree in her honour without surrounding the function with an opportunity to teach our children not to do drugs, is thoughtless, irresponsible and misguided.

Stevie was a bright child, with a bright future and her life was snuffed out because she voluntarily did Ecstasy.

Aside from planting a tree, there are many ways that the children of Mount Pleasant can remember this girl without turning her into a bizarre cult figure who simply "passed away".

The RCMP, across Canada offers the DARE program to elementary schools. This program sends trained police officers into the schools to teach children how to avoid using and misuing tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs, such as ecstasy.

The D.A.R.E. curriculum includes both the K-4 Visitation Program, and the Elementary (5th/6th grade) curriculum. These programs are specifically designed for the children of Mount Pleasant and the workbooks are available in both French and English.

DARE is a comprehensive prevention program designed to equip school children with the skills to recognize and resist social and peer pressures to experiment with tobacco, alcohol, other drugs and violence.

The D.A.R.E. workbooks cost .89 per student, and I believe that instigating an annual D.A.R.E. day program, designed to raise money to help pay for this program, is a better memorial to this girl than simply planting a tree.

I would further hope that the plaque that accompanies this "memorial" tree will state clearly the mistake that Stevie made in doing the illegal drugs that took her short life, so as to not give undue honour to Stevie's death.

It seems highly plausible to me that had Mount Pleasant had such a program in place on an annual basis, this girl's death might have been avoided.

I would suggest that taking the adult upper hand and guiding the children to do something to memorialize Stevie, by instigating a program such as D.A.R.E. within the walls of Mount Pleasant will have far more future value to our children than simply planting a tree.

In protest of this lack of thought, I will be keeping my son home from "pajama day".

I do hope that you and the other teachers involved will put a little more thought into this project.


I guess someone (or several someones) that I sent the letter to decided to forward it. Perhaps they agreed, perhaps they didn't, but the letter ended up in the hands of someone who for whatever reason didn't think this is any of my business. They called to tell me so, and the conversation ended with them threatening me.

I understand, all too well, how painful such a situation can be for people, but that's no excuse to threaten someone's life. I called the police and filed a report, but didn't press charges. I might have empathy, but I don't take chances with folks I don't know very well.

Later that afternoon, I received a phone call finally from the Principal. He was a little annoyed that I wrote the letter. He said he'd been given the impression that the "problem" was taken care of. I guess it wasn't, surprise, surprise.

I spoke to him for about an hour and he left me with the words; "You raise some very valid points", resonating in my ears. Unfortunately, I have nothing in my head, nor my heart that leads me to believe that the letter or the phone conversation changed anything. We'll see.

I told him that I believed that several parents had already dropped the ball when it came to this girl's death and that I couldn't simply sit idle and watch it get dropped again. And I mean it. Wednesday night, the town community center is holding a drug awareness meeting. I will be there. I wonder if the tree planting will come up as a topic of conversation? I hope it does. If we're to leave a legacy for our children, it should be one of truth. And the truth is, this girl died from lack of parental supervision.

She was at a friend's home for a sleepover. There was no parent. The two girls went to the house of a third kid, slightly older and again, there was no parent. The kids did ecstasy, and one of them is now dead. Where were these kids' parents? I don't know where these kids' parents were or what they were thinking.

What I do know is that three families, already in crisis, have been destroyed by this incident and I've taken it upon myself to make sure that someone who has the time to do so, picks up the ball, and runs with it. And I really hope I find someone, because if I don't, I feel I will have to be the one to run with the ball, and I really don't have the time for it.

In the event that I don't find someone to run with the ball, I've been doing some research. I've learned several things.

Teaching kids to "Just say "NO"!", and programs like "Scared Straight" and "D.A.R.E." may only work on little kids. By the time these kids are teens and are into fully experiencing life, wanting to be adults before their time, these programs aren't enough. So the next questions are: What is enough?; What works?; and, Why don't these programs work?

Unfortunately the answers to these questions are a little elusive. Mostly because not everything works for everyone. So is there a bandaid, one size fits all solution? or is there a lot of work to do?

A woman named Dr. Marsha Rosenbaum started the Safety First program, a Reality-Based Approach to Teens, Drugs, and Drug Education in 1999. The program came about after the San Francisco Chronicle published a letter that Rosenbaum had written to her teenage son, as he started high school. Rosenbaum's idea was to put in place realistic strategies that her son could use as he wended his way through this new path in his life.

Dr. Rosenbaum earned a PhD in Medical Sociology at the University of California at San Francisco in 1979, and was a recipient of study grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse for eighteen years. Dr. Rosenbaum has completed studies on Crack and Heroin addiction as well as ECSTASY and drug treatment.

I printed Dr. Rosenbaum's brochure: Safety First: Teens and Drugs. and will offer free copies to anyone who wants one, at Wednesday's meeting. And I hope to find someone enough in support of something like this to really want to run with it. And ultimately, please, cross your fingers that I'm not really alone in this; that would kill me.

Me out.


Mitch said...

Wow. intense post. . .thanks for sharing all that.

Anonymous said...

The trouble with the issue of the use of illegal (and legal) drugs by young people is that it is not as simple as getting young people not to take drugs.

I grew up on the West Island of Montreal, my parents were very present in my life, and I still chose to experiment. I am now 34 and quite successful in my field. It isn't the fact that people do drugs that is the problem, drugs can be consumed in a very safe manner. However, if society persists in prohibiting these drugs, it persists in forcing kids to find them from undesireable people, in unsafe ways, and without any information. Instead of having this pipe dream of kids not doing drugs (which is about as realistic as hoping that adults will not drink alcohol), we should be teaching them about the drugs, warning them of the problems and risks associated with them (as we do for alcohol) including addiction and the loss of life. One may argue that making drugs legal will promote the abuse of it, I would say that the use and abuse of drugs will go on with or without prohibition, just like alcohol. Without prohiobition we can at least have an open discussion with our children about the drugs, without having to rely on hearsay information, and questionable quality.

Pepperfire said...

Anonymous... How unfortunate that you didn't post your name or email. I would have liked to respond to your note.

I have been working with grassroots organizations and retired police officers to decriminalize drugs. I agree with you. Prohibition is a mistake. Society learned that in the 30's.

I apologize if it seemed to you that my blog simplified the issue, but the issue you bring to forebearance is neither here nor there as it pertains to my blog.

You stated in your note that your parents were very present in your life and that you chose to experiment. I wish you could have pointed out that you did NOT experiment in a safe manner, ie with a responsible human being (adult) present. You alluded to this being part of the solution.

You will agree that regardless of how parents deal with their children, the number one way to keep their children out of a graveyard, is indeed to deal with them.

It may be oversimplifying things but everyone around here keeps saying that this girl died because of the drugs. I contend that had either one of these three kids been a little better supervised she might have ended up in the hospital, but she might not have died.

Thanks for your post. It is possibly fodder for a future blog.


FTS said...

It's an age-old battle. Unfortunately, like you said, the answers are extremely elusive. I believe it's possible to honor her life without paying homage to the cause of her death.

I wonder if there ever will be a solution.

Pepperfire said...

The now 17 year old boy from whom the girls got the drugs was sentenced this week and the judge considered his time served and gave him 150 hours of community work and a list of restrictions that included heavy duty parental supervision.

What I only found out today, is that after the girls had taken the drugs, the one who died, took more. The boy who provided the drugs to her had no less than three occasions to go from his house to the girl's house with remedies and help for the overdosing that she was experiencing. She was obviously in distress; but neither of the three teens contacted an adult. It was only much later, after the girl stopped breathing, that any adults were called into the picture. I've been told by someone who would know that the girl who died explicitly told the other kids NOT to call her mother.

Unfortunately, by the time they did, the girl was already dead.

There is a solution, FTS, and if you ever have kids, please remember it.

Know your kids, have a relationship with your kids and if they happen to get into trouble, such as caught in a position where they are overdosing on drugs, you will at least have formed the kind of relationship with them, where they will call you for help BEFORE they slip into the coma.


OrigamiKitten said...

This is the letter the principal should have written to you:

Dear Heartless,

I think what is most tragic about your post and remarks are that the opportunity to teach your child about compassion did not even occur to you. Does the fact this child died from drugs make the people who feel their loss any less? No. Does the fact, this child did something you don’t approve of make them any less of a person? No. Should her classmates not morn their death or be allowed to express their grief because drugs were involved? What’s the big lesson here? That if you do drugs no one will care if you died? Oh yeah, that’ll show em! There’s schools brimming with kids who are 100% drug-free because their number one fear was that some bitter, compassionless mother withheld money on “pajama day” to hold up planting a tree in their honor.

People do drugs for two reasons. The first is to relieve pain. Emotional pain that’s as real as cutting your hand or breaking your leg. Tell them not to feel it or to punish them only makes it worse. Secondly, people do drugs to destroy themselves. They eat, smoke, shop, drink, watch too much TV, get addicted to porn, play too many videos games, excessively clean, have irresponsible sex or in your case simply turn their feelings off. Not one of those things is better than the other and escaping a major category of “checking out,” doesn’t make you any better of a person.

When you failed to teach your child to value and respect another person, in life or death you failed to teach them about valuing themselves. That’s just one more push in the wrong direction and one step closer to giving them a reason to check out of life. God, help you!

Pepperfire said...

It is honourable that you sign your name. Thank you for posting. :)


You make some interesting points... All the more interesting because you missed the point of the letter. And had our school Principal missed it so badly as you did, I'm sure he would have written such a letter.

For your information... The child who died is not the classmate of the children who are being asked to plant the tree. Most of these children have never met her, nor would they know her if she got up out of her grave and bit them on the nose.

Is it compassion to think only of the family whose child died, a family who along with two other families, failed to be attendant on this tragic thirteen year old?

How the child died is entirely relevant to my compassionate feelings in this incident and were we talking simply about the family planting a tree on school property and nothing was to be said, who would care? But we aren't. My family was asked to pay for the tree and ceremony. My concern dictates that one simply does not plant memorials in such incidents, not as a community.

FYI, her classmates are mourning her death and were given counselling for that death by the school and their school board. They are publishing a Drug Awareness Memorial Page in their year book. The child was in grade 8. My son... the one who expressed surprise at the tree... The one who was the catalyst for my asking questions... He is in grade 5. He was not her classmate. They were not even in the same school.

So really... what is the big lesson here???

This isn't about caring that the child died. This is about memorializing her inapproriately.

As for bitterness? I question the venom that comes across in your post. Did you lose someone to drugs? Are you a recovering addict yourself? I don't know, but if someone asked me to pay for the planting of a tree for you, my answer would be the same... Why? What did you do that deserves a tree?

People do drugs for a third reason. They are young, are unsupervised and want to see what it's like. Curiosity. And the fact is that most of these people grow up, live strong productive healthy lives and some even go on to become very important people. I believe your President Clinton admitted to using illegal drugs, even if he didn't inhale. That doesn't make him a bad person.

The lesson that my child has unfortunately learned from this situation is that there ARE parents out there who do not respect their children enough to supervise them. And these parents motivation behind planting this tree is not to memorialize the little girl who died, but rather to assuage the guilt they feel at not having put the effort into developing a relationship with their child.

He has learned that there are parents who feel so badly about whatever their personal situation is, they would blindly plant a tree to publicly HONOUR a child who has done nothing that any thinking human being would find worthy of a public tree planting.

What he has also learned is that in honouring the dead, one honours the living. When a person dies under such circumstances, the planting of a memorial tree is more thoughtfully done by the family or as a life lesson to the teens left behind. These kids might think that doing Ecstasy won't kill THEM, because everybody else is doing it and none of them have died, saying nothing, when planting this tree does nothing to dispel that myth.

And those are far more important lessons for my child to learn.

My compassion and my concern is for the living children who in their turn will go through what this tragic teen went through. As heartless as it may seem, it is too late to do anything for her.

There is no value or respect in pretending that this child died under different circumstances and publicly planting a tree without explanation is an immense error.

Fortunately, my child has been educated and is being sufficiently supervised and honoured that, my hope, he will safely pass through his drug experimentation phase without incident, assuming he has one.

I have no issue with the planting of the tree, it's the planting the tree in SILENCE that I have a problem with.

God, helps me everday. God bless you!

Iris =3 said...

Hi; I had actually been looking up "lack of parental figures" on Google when I happened upon your blog. It caught my attention, so I proceeded to read.

I'm fourteen years old, in the ninth grade. I attend Stuyvesant High School in New York City. It is known to be a prestigious public high school for intellectually advanced students, but people rarely find out what happens underneath all this praise.

More than a few students take drugs at my school. They do it for several reasons-- one is, as you have stated above, curiosity. But this isn't simple "I-want-to-try-this" curiosity, but another form of peer pressure. When a ready supply of drugs is available provided you have the funds to pay for them, temptation and curiosity is already present. Add to that the fact that these drug dealers may be your friends or peers, and the fact that they may be pressuring you to try the drugs. It's completely possible that they try to persuade you as well: "Try it; it may help you become a more knowledgable person in the future."

Reason number two: stress. The academical and parental stress that results from the pressuring of teachers and parents. In this high school, excellent grades are not only hoped for-- they are expected. For me personally, anything below a 90-95 depending on the subject would be considered a failing grade. Drugs, I have been told, allows the user to achieve a temporary state of bliss when no such stresses are present.

Of couse, both these reasons are simply theories. I have not used, nor do I plan to use, drugs. I, as far as I know, at least, have no connection with drug users or dealers, and I do try to avoid them as I fear their possible influence. All I know is that drug dealings do exist in my school, and that these reasons may be possible explainations for it.

Iris =3 said...

Wow, I'd just checked the date that post was, well, posted, and realized that it was forever ago.

Pepperfire said...

Iris, thanks for that take on a sad situation.

I can't imagine it is any easier for kids today than it was for kids when I was your age, so many many years ago.

But I do hope you'll respond to this question, for the sake of my (now outdated, but still very relevant) blog...

What sort of relationship do you have with your parents?

Because truly, whatever the reasons for doing drugs, I think that it is how the kids respond to their discovering they've screwed up that makes a difference and surviving a situation like this, requires that the kid have a good relationship with their kids... don't you think?

Iris =3 said...

I have a wonderful relationship with my mom and dad. I think a bad relationship with your role models definately affects a person's liability to do drugs. I think recovering from the incidents requires loving parents as well. If the parents were accusatory, I think the drug abuser will be more likely to return to their erroneous ways.

Pepperfire said...

Thanks for commenting Iris.

I can't possibly imagine how difficult the pressure you kids have to experience these days is. I can attest though, that it can't possibly seem any greater than the pressure I had.

With that, I have to thank you for making the point that it is entirely the parents relationship with the kids that makes the difference not only between drugs and no drugs, as in your case, but also could mean the difference between life and death, as it meant for Stevie.

Hug your folks Iris. The fact that they give you rules and respect tells me they love you.

Far too many kids have parents who have no relationship with them at all. And that, to me, is a shirking of parental responsibility.

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