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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Partnership for a Dufus-Filled America

At least once per day, as I click on a story from The New York Times and wait for it to load, an ad comes up. Now, I don't mind sitting through the ad--I want to The Times to make a buck. I want to encourage their foray into cyberspace. If it takes sitting through an occasional ad, so be it. I don't click on "Skip This Ad"; I let them sell me.

A fair amount of the time, these ads are pieces of propaganda from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, a group that takes lots of money from drug companies. Anyway, as the ad rolled today, I was struck by the thought that what these ads really sell isn't abstinence from that great kitchen-midden called "drugs." What it really sells is the idea that parents should look at their children as being worthless little evil factories who cannot--and must not--be trusted.

Now, I was a teenager once--for a period of years, as I recall--and it was the '70s and drinking and smoking dope were quite popular activities. And I had periods in which I indulged and others in which I steered clear. My parents even found me passed out on the bathroom floor one Saturday night. But they never stopped trusting me, and they never acted in any way resembling the tactics put forward by the Partnership for a Dys-Functional America. My mother just stopped talking to me for three days, behavior that was so out of the norm that I straightened up immediately.

A year later, faced with the prospect of my first cast party, she instructed me on drinking responsibly and gave me tips on how adults drink. I was fifteen, and I think I may have had one beer that night.

Now, I am a parent, and while my son is still only 8, I know that one day he is going to be faced with the same temptations that I was, and even more with the easy availability of porn on the Internet. It's frightening, but, at the same time, I have faith in him. He's a good boy, and I can already see the good young man emerging. However, I also know that he's human, and I know that he will do stupid things. We all do. And I'll never find out about all of them, but a few will fall through the cracks. And when they do, my wife and I will both be there for him, not as thought police, but as parents. We'll make our share of mistakes, too, but we will not turn him into a criminal.

The real point here is that these situations are complex and subtle and must be approached in such a manner. Teenagers are trying to figure out who they are and how to survive in the world without Mom and Dad, and you have to be engaged with that entire process, not just in the messy parts that you disapprove of.

Oh, yes, and what will I tell my son about my own history with drugs and alcohol? The truth. The unvarnished, idiotic truth. And when he asks me about marijuana or coke or Boone's Farm Apple wine, I'll tell him the truth, not some slogan. It's a very complicated subject, and he deserves to have me respect him enough to tell him the truth.

We'll see in a few short years. Wish me luck.