The challenges of being a parent are never-ending.
They start when the helpless little babies are born and you have trouble using the car seat; they continue when they first start to move around and you try to protect them from any sharp edges, and they continue through adolescence and all the fun that goes along with that stage of life, when kids are emotional, hormonal, and, worst of all, possibly experimental.
It’s particularly challenging — and dangerous — when the experimentation involves drugs.
Some parents are lucky enough to coast through that stage; they have children who are either smart or clueless enough to never take a drink or smoke or have any desire to try anything at all that could affect their brain development. But not every child is like that. Peer pressure can be strong.
And of course sometimes kids model what they see at home, when they watch a parent come home from a long day at work and relax with a bottle of wine.
And there are always new drugs coming out, drugs that parents don’t even know about it but kids are quick to pick up on. For example, do you know what a Juul is? It is a rechargeable and reusable smoking device — a vaping device — that can pass for a magic marker. It comes in different flavors, and kids can use it to smoke nicotine. Two hundred puffs from these devices is equal to an entire pack of cigarettes. You also can use a Juul to smoke 80 percent pure marijuana — and there isn’t even any smell that can alert a parent to what’s going on.
In order to help parents help their kids deal with peer pressure and with drug use, the Center for Alcohol and Drug Resources, which is a program of a nonprofit organization, Children’s Aid and Family Services, runs a program called Hidden in Plain Sight. The genius behind this program, now three years old, is that it creates a teenager’s bedroom, and invites adults to walk around it to see if they can find the drug paraphernalia that kids have learned to hide in plain sight.
What you think is a USB stick for a computer actually is a cartridge for Juul cigarettes. Water bottles are filled with alcohol. Pringles cans have fake bottoms so kids can hide things from their parents.
It is both eye-opening and disturbing.
The guidance departments at the Ma’ayanot High School for Girls and an all-boys school, the Torah Academy of Bergen County, both in Teaneck, were the first two yeshiva day schools to host Hidden in Plain Sight. The program, held last week, was aimed at parents and teachers from both schools.
Shelley Stuart, the Center for Alcohol and Drug Resources director of coalition and community services, led the Hidden in Plain Sight program. “Knowing the difference between normal adolescence and when there actually is an issue is a very fine line,” she said to the group, which included more than 150 parents. “You have to look out for behaviors that are not usual for your child, and then know it is time to get involved.”
Ms. Stuart described the makeup of the adolescent brain, and how drug use affects its development. “The rule of the thumb is usually that the age when the child becomes addicted is the age at which the brain remains throughout the course of the child’s life,” she said. “That is why it is so important to address the issues and get help.”
The evening included a panel discussion featuring a TABC graduate, Dr. Matis Schulman, now a psychiatrist specializing in addiction medicine, TABC guidance counselor Rabbi Scott Friedman, Ma’ayanot guidance counselor Dr. Oshra Cohen, Ma’ayanot guidance department head Dr. Rayzil Yaish, and TABC guidance department head Rabbi Steven Finkelstein.
“We realized it had been some time since we had an educational evening for parents on the topic of drugs and alcohol,” Dr. Yaish said. “Sometimes it is hard to get strong attendance at parent programs, so I reached out to Steven Finkelstein at TABC to see if he’d want to offer it jointly to increase attendance.”
But what if your child doesn’t know about Juuls, or huffing — inhaling the fumes from whipped cream cans or paint thinners, which can evoke reactions ranging from a quick high to a deadly aneurism — or other drug activities that were discussed at this program? How do you know what is too much to share with your child? “I think this since this was a parent program, parents can bring back info and gauge where their children are at in terms of what pieces they share,” Dr. Yaish said. “And as all the presenters said, it seems that keeping communication lines open is super-valuable”
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, who heads Teaneck’s Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, addressed the issue in a sermon that Shabbat morning. “Parents used to have primary responsibility for parenting, discipline, and instilling values in their children,” he said. “Sometime in the recent past, many parents seem to have abdicated that responsibility to the schools or other agencies, and the results have not been pretty.
“They must reclaim that role, especially as their influence on their children is greater and they have many more and effective ways to moderate their behavior and teach them values.”
And if you don’t know how to begin this discussion? What should you do? “Try to hear from your child what they think they know about drugs, and start that dialogue so you can address and misconceptions,” Dr. Cohen suggested.