A mother of young children recently attended a community event about drug alcohol use among young people. It was hosted by her school district and the local sheriff’s department. Why did she attend? Today’s guest blogger shares her thoughts. I hope more parents will engage early to prevent and address future issues that may lead toward a substance-use disorder. MWM
I remember watching my three-year-old son Harrison standing on one of the five boulders separating a playground from the parking lot. My friend and I were waiting by our cars for our respective stragglers, when we observed Harrison on the boulder glancing from his feet to the adjacent rock. Calculating the distance. The risk. The wrath.
Knowing that I couldn’t reach him in time, I said, “Harrison, do NOT jump over to the other rock. You’ll hit your head and get a black eye.”
Without a word he turned to face us, and we thought he would just jump forward into the grass. But no. Sure enough, he turned back, jumped toward the adjacent boulder, and missed sticking a top-of-the-rock landing. As predicted, he hit his face. I ran to my sobbing child to comfort him and assess the damage.
The experience left Harrison with a black eye and me with a clear view of my son’s emerging personality. Today, Harrison is eight years old, and just this week we had to coach him down from two different trees in our backyard. And it’s only mid-April.
In addition to his propensity for age-appropriate risk-taking, Harrison loves to make his buddies laugh. Farting? Check. Poop jokes? Check. Singing silly songs? Check. Eating gross kitchen concoctions? Check. At this age, it’s all pretty harmless.
But it won’t always be.
As a parent of three elementary-school-age kids, I want to do everything that I can now to help them develop the tools, skills, healthy habits, and positive relationships to ward off future battles with addiction, knowing full well that I could do everything “right” and still face the struggles confronting many in the Our Young Addicts community.
So when I got the email from Wayzata Public Schools about the March 20 #NOverdose community forum at the high school, I immediately put it on the family calendar.
Why did I choose to spend two hours on a Monday night hearing harrowing statistics and stories when my biggest safety concern right now is the giant rock at the base of Harrison’s favorite climbing tree?
- The statistics scare me. The opioid prescription rates, deaths from heroin overdoses, increased ER visits, and the rise in overall addiction, among other alarming trends, terrify me as a parent and as a community member. I want to do what I can to help reverse these trends.
- Drugs today seem more lethal. At my 25th high school reunion this fall, a classmate remarked to me that one of his biggest concerns of living in his wealthy suburb was the rampant heroin use among teenagers. He said, “I did my share of drugs in high school, but nothing that was going to kill me. Kids today are doing heroin, and they’re dying. We never touched that stuff.” When my husband and I warn our kids about the dangers of drugs, we tell them that it only takes one time for a drug to kill you.
- Kids are under too much pressure today. Two years ago in the midst of planning my 20th college reunion, my classmates and I were discussing programs that we could contribute to the college’s overall reunion schedule. A friend suggested having a session on what we could do now to better prepare our kids to get into Amherst. I said, “Your son is 10! How about we do a session with a child psychologist on what we’re doing to our kids?” I worry that stress over performance expectations is contributing to the increase in drug addiction.
- Personality traits in my kids concern me. Among my three children are a range of traits that are compelling and engaging – and potentially concerning. Stubborn, change averse, indecisive, intense, perfectionist, a need to please others, and self-critical: it’s a list that I personally know all too well, and one that would be familiar to my own mother in raising me! I’ve thought a lot lately about the pride I took in being unique; in middle school I wore a shirt that said, “Why Be Normal?” My kids and I talk a lot about being true to yourself, and not feeling the need to follow everyone else, yet at the same time maintaining high standards for personal conduct and respect. It’s a fine balance.
- I wanted to learn what I can do now. Bottom line, I want to know what I can do right now to help my kids grow up to be kind, happy, healthy, resilient, and drug free. I want to learn from the experience of experts and other parents, and then share that knowledge with my parental cohort. I also want to work to create a space where parents in my circle can talk openly about their challenges without fear of being judged or rejected…or having their child judged or rejected.
I attended #NOverdose to determine how I can contribute to the overall community effort to combat opioid and heroin use. Writing this blog is my first step.
Kristen Spargo is a freelance writer and communications consultant who specializes in health care and nonprofits.
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