Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Death of Corey Haim: A Time to Act

If you wandered in today looking for a sweet story about parenting or children, you may want to wander out. I am upset. I don't honestly know if blogging with my head so full is really a wise idea. Consider yourself forewarned. Sometimes, parenting is fun or funny or warm and fuzzy. Sometimes it is gritty and hard and leaves us wishing we could shirk some of the responsibilities set before us. Today is a day to prepare for the gritty.

A long time ago in the mid-eighties, a group of amazing cheerleaders from my high school were chosen to be in a movie. This teen flick was to be directed by David Seltzer and would star people like Winona Ryder, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Charlie Sheen and Jeremy Piven. What an amazing opportunity. Our cheerleaders played... well... cheerleaders in the movie and going to see it was the coolest thing to me! Sitting in the darkened theater, I saw people I knew well cheering at football games and serving as a normal, American backdrop in this fictional high school. The movie? Lucas. The star? Corey Haim.

Corey Haim died today at 38. I didn't know him at all but have always felt some strange connection to him because of our high school's connection to the the film. Over the years, I have seen his drug and alcohol use completely overtake his young life. And today, I am not only sad to hear about his death, but I am angry. I am angry because this happens too much. I am angry because it is totally needless. I am angry because this man, this boy, needed help and for whatever reason, didn't get it or couldn't take it. And now, he is dead. At 38.

So what? He is famous, had money, is totally different from us, right? This death has nothing to do with us as we sit safely in our little homes with our babies at our feet. Right? Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I contacted a friend of mine this morning who worked with Corey on the movie. I asked her what she knew of him then, when they were both teenagers. I will tell you that I already knew I would blog on this and honestly thought I would get a response that spoke to his young, adorable self, to the tragic nature of this loss. What my friend said was much more important and much more revealing. She said that, from her perspective, he had few limits. She said, from her perspective, that he needed attention. Does it have anything to do with us yet?

Here is some of what Corey Haim said about his own drug use:

"I was working on Lost Boys when I smoked my first joint."

"I did cocaine for about a year and a half, then it led to crack," he said.

Haim said he went into rehabilitation and was put on prescription drugs. He took both stimulants and sedatives such as Valium.

"I started on the downers which were a hell of a lot better than the uppers because I was a nervous wreck," he said. "But one led to two, two led to four, four led to eight, until at the end it was about 85 a day."

I want to ask Corey a simple question today. I wish he could answer. All I want to know is who intervened on that very first day? Who saw this boy, having smoked his first joint, and pulled him aside and said, "No. Don't do this."

Maybe there was someone... maybe there wasn't. But there should have been. And in the lives of our children, THERE MUST BE.

A bit of disclosure here. I know too much about this. I have come way too close to the reality of addiction in way too many ways. And, I have worked in prevention for a very long time. I have listened to people talk about how it is a right of passage and that it is inevitable that all kids will drink and experiment with drugs. And I have seen those children go in to rehab... or worse, never find it. I have loved addicts and struggled with their pain. And I know it's real. But, do you know what else I know? It is preventable. Hear me please, if you are still reading at all. This does not have to happen. Your child does not have to try it out and you do not have to allow it. We are parents! It is our job to hold the big picture for our children and it is our job to raise the bar high. We do not have to give in to what common culture says is normal and we do not have stand back and watch our children get caught up in things they may or may not be able to get out of.

My friend Beth sent me an article last week about a very recent study of teen drug and alcohol use. The whole study can be found here but some important highlights are:

"After a decade of consistent declines in teen drug abuse, in which methamphetamine use dropped by over 60 percent, and past-month alcohol and marijuana use were reduced by 30 percent, the 2009 study points to marked upswings in use of drugs that teens are likely to encounter at parties and in other social situations.

The number of teens in grades 9-12 that used alcohol in the past month has grown by 11 percent, (from 35 percent in 2008 to 39 percent in 2009),

Past year Ecstasy use shows a 67 percent increase (from 6 percent in 2008 to 10 percent in 2009),

Past year marijuana use shows a 19 percent increase (from 32 percent in 2008 to 38 percent in 2009)."

Do you see it? For 10 years, teen drug use has declined. But, in the past 11 months, alcohol use, ecstasy use and marijuana use have all increased between 11 and 67%! This is insane. We know how to help kids make wise choices about their lives. We know how important education is in the field of prevention. What is going on that suddenly use is rising?

When Mark and I were engaged, we heard about a couple getting a divorce. This was especially difficult for me, having gone through my parent's divorce many years earlier. Mark leaned in and sought to comfort me, saying, "Isn't it great that this will never been us? This will never happen to us."

I turned around and looked at my fiance (who comes for a long line of stable marriages) and said, "That is exactly how it happens. No one ever thinks it will happen to them. You have to PLAN for it to NOT happen... you have know that it could."

My friends, the same is true for drug and alcohol use in our children. No one ever thinks their child will be an addict. No one ever thinks it will happen to them. And that is how it happens. As parents, we have to assume that it could and then work to make it unlikely. You can do that. You have that much power. And please, if you are sitting with a two year old on your lap, do not excuse yourself from this topic. Prevention takes a long time and it starts young.

So, what do we do?? How do we effect change in those dismal statistics? Here are some hands-on ideas to consider.

1. What messages do we send our children about substance use or abuse with our actions, not our words? Do you talk about needing to unwind and and then reach for a bottle of wine? Do you seek to solve every medical issue with a medication? Are wine and medication bad? Not at all. This is not about a parental guilt trip. It is about intentionality. We must examine our messages because they are being interpreted by children who do not process this information, only accept it.

2. With very young children, we need to purposefully talk about medications doctors give. Try saying, "The doctor gave you this medicine for a very special job. It will help your cough. Only you can take it and only as much as the doctor says." This lays a groundwork for understanding the healthy use of medication in our lives. It also clearly explains that medication given to one person is only for that person.

3. With early school-age children, we need to talk about caring for our bodies. We need to help them understand that their bodies are a gift and that the gift is to be treasured. We do not want to do anything that can hurt our bodies or anyone else's bodies in any way. This is why we eat well, take vitamins and exercise.

4. Later elementary-aged children need to begin to be educated, in generalities, about what drugs and alcohol do and why we need to be careful. They need to understand that drinking, as a child, is illegal. Most school-aged children hold law enforcement in high regard. They want to do the right thing. We also need to help our children begin to understand what peer pressure is and why it is important. If you can explain to your child that sometimes friends will ask them to do something that they feel uncomfortable with and may tease them if they decline, before they are caught in it, they will be able to stand stronger when faced with that temptation. They will identify peer pressure as something to steer clear of... unless of course it is positive peer pressure. Did you know such a thing existed? It does and it is powerful!

5. Middle school students need to be educated about drugs and alcohol. They must know what they are, what they look like and why they should steer clear. This information needs to be specific so they can identify risks when they present themselves. If you tie this information in with the lessons above, you will find that children understand the helpful side of medicine, want to protect their bodies, seek to be healthy and can stand against negative peer pressure. Do you see how this can lead to success in helping our kids steer away from the misuse of substances?

6. You MUST tell your children that drug and alcohol use is not allowed. I know that many people fear that this will drive their children right to the use itself. But, statistically this is just not true. Even when your teen children are at their most difficult, it is your voice that plays in their heads. What should that voice say?

7. Be the parent. Please. Be the parent. Say no when it looks like trouble. Hold your child accountable. Raise the bar. Do not, for one second, assume there is no way around this. There is. I swear to you, there is. When your child says he is going to a party, call the parents. A sleep over? Call the parents. Hold your child accountable and be serious. And if they don't like you or are embarrassed, so what? This is not the time to be a friend. This is the time to hold the vision for your child's long and happy life and gently, lovingly, continue to direct them toward it. We need to be hands-on when our babies are 2 and we need to be hands-on when our babies are 12. Our teen-agers need us and they want limits, regardless of what they say. We cannot be naive about what is happening in the world and what dangers our kids can encounter.

8. Contact your child's school and ask them what they are doing in terms of prevention. Please understand that there needs to be great accountability between home and school, no matter where your child attends. Ask them what they are doing to help raise healthy children. There should be a plan for prevention at every elementary, middle and high school in America. And if there isn't? Tell them it matters to you. Follow up. If you are unfamiliar with prevention programs, do a little research. Operation Snowball is the perfect place to start. The amazing thing about having a prevention program at school is that the teachers are telling your child the same information you are telling them. Your child hears the message in two respected adult voices. It "sticks" in more places in your child's brain. And that is important. What if you home school? As you plan your health curriculum, be sure that the points mentioned above are included. Help your children to understand the issues at hand and be sure to teach this. It may seem unlikely that your child will come in contact with drugs and alcohol, but most first exposures happen in very unlikely places.

9. Educate yourself. Feeling out of the loop? Fight your way back in. If you are reading this, you have access to the internet. Do you know what drugs are what? Have you heard the media reference Pharm Parties? Wonder what it means or whether any of it is true? Poke around and soak it up and be the one who knows what is happening in the world of teen substance abuse before your child knows. Staying a step ahead of our kids is a very important thing.

10. Believe. Believe you can effect change. Believe that embracing your child and your role as parent can lead to a better path. There are no guarantees in life and sometimes good kids make some pretty risky choices. And if or when that happens, we need to pick up again from there and keep on going. But, believe it can be different. Believe that kids naturally want to be healthy... because they do. They want to feel good. And when we help them to feel good because they are talented or smart or kind or compassionate, they may not seek to feel good from artificial means. Believe. And then begin.

This is not a time to be afraid and not a time to act like we are safe. Parenting is gritty and hard and full of conversations we wish we didn't have to have. But, your place in the life of your child is VITAL. You can offer them the direction they need to make good and healthy decisions. You really can. It starts today. Right now. With a litany of healthy information that they will tuck into their memories to call on down the road.

Someone I know once told me that teens are naturally selfish and will experiment with drugs and alcohol no matter what we do. I disagree on both counts. This way of thinking is defeatist and absolves parents from the responsibility they hold to expect more from their kids. When I see selfishness in my children, I will root it out and help them find a better way. And when I see behavior or warning signs that could hint at substances being misused, I will stand up and say, "NO more!". But today and everyday, I will teach my babies what they need to know and I will hold them close and build in them a strong sense of self so that when they are faced with this issue, they will be prepared to make a choice. A good choice.

My friends, it is not about ignoring the issue. It is not about creating boundaries of steel. It is not about distrusting our kids or helicopter parenting or fearing the world around us. No. It is, instead, about raising children in a purposeful manner who will make wise, healthy decisions for their lives. And it is important. Like Corey, our children are in need of our attention and our limits and we have a job to do that will make all the difference in the world.

Rest in peace, Corey Haim.

Blessings on your day.

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

This was a great post, Nadia. Lots to think about. Neither my husband nor myself ever TOUCHED a drug of any kind EVER and we certainly will expect the same from our children. Not all kids will experiment. We didn't. And we'll expect our kids to do the same.