How to Help Teenagers Say “No” to Drugs & Alcohol

September 1992By Thomas Lickona

Thomas Lickona is a developmental psychologist and Professor of Education at the State University of New York at Cortland. He is the author of the bestselling Raising Good Children and editor of the widely used professional text Moral Development and Behavior. The above article is adapted from his new book, Educat­ing for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Re­spect and Responsibility, and is used with permission of Bantam Books. His article “Teaching Sexual Abstinence to Teenagers,” appeared in our July-August 1992 issue.

Station KYW/TV in Philadelphia recently aired a program called “How Honest Are Kids Today?” I served as one of several panel members who were asked to comment on issues such as why kids lie and whether that’s a bigger problem than it used to be. When the discussion turned to drugs, the host took phone calls from the viewing audience. The first caller was a girl, and the dialogue went like this:
Girl: I’m a teenager, and I do drugs. Host: How old are you? Girl: Fifteen. Host: Why do you do drugs? Girl: I like them. I like the way I feel when I take them. Host: What drugs do you take? Girl: Cocaine. Pot. Speed. Host: Uh…do your parents know you take these drugs? Girl: No. If they ever knew, they’d say, “You’re outs here!” I wouldn’t want that. Host: Where do you get the drugs? How do you pay for them? Girl: I don’t. My friends give them to me. Sometimes I get them from my boy­friend. Host: Wouldn’t you like to stop doing drugs? Girl: No. Host: Don’t you consider yourself an addict? Girl: I’m not addicted. I haven’t done cocaine in two weeks. Right now I’m just smoking pot and drinking.
I reported this dialogue to a class of my undergraduate education students, only two years out of high school themselves. “I’m not shocked by that,” one of my students said. “I knew a lot of kids in high school who did drugs all the time, and their parents didn’t have a clue.”

Others explained that it’s easy to hide marijuana and alcohol use with perfume and breath fresheners, and that a lot of kids just go to their rooms and don’t see their parents very much anyway. I asked what percentage of their friends in high school did drugs on a regular basis — at least once a week. About half, they said. How many were into drinking on a weekly basis? More than 75 percent. When did the drinking start? Eighth grade. How about the drugs? Ninth grade.

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