Steve Shay
Lisa Sharp, Tobacco Prevention: Program Specialist/Trainer, discusses statistics she helped collect of West Seattle High School's marijuana and alcohol abuse which 2008 statistics show is among the highest in the district. She spoke at a forum about teen drug abuse and parent/teen communication at Seattle Lutheran High School.

Experts urge West Seattle families to communicate directly about drugs and alcohol

A consensus seemed to be reached by parents of West Seattle teens, and drug and alcohol experts, that to “Just Say No” does not accomplish tangible results to keep kids from the temptation of abusing nor promote meaningful communication between parent and child.

Hope Lutheran Church partnered with Renae Gaines and the Southwest Healthy Youth Partnership to sponsor a town hall meeting to address the subject of underage drinking and drug and tobacco use on April 28 at Seattle Lutheran High School.

The evening program was called “A Time for the Community to Conversate: A Community Forum.” The purpose was to bring the community together to provide tools to address underage drinking and youth marijuana use in the West Seattle community. A panel expressed the importance of adults and the community to send a consistent message to young people that alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, and other drug use is unhealthy, illegal, and can negatively impact their future.

The panel included Stephen Bogan, a mental health and addiction counselor. Also speaking was Lisa Sharp, who surveys middle and high school students for alcohol and drug use for the Seattle Public School District, Yvonne Zick of Parent Tool School provided strategies to communicate with your teens to get positive results, and Frank Couch, Science and Management of Addictions (SAMA) program director. Renae Gaines, whose office is in Madison Middle School, hosted. She has written columns about under-aged drinking for the West Seattle Herald.

“I don’t know if we have any parents in here from the Woodstock Generation,” said Bogan as his eyes scanned the gym of about 50 adults and a dozen teens. “The marijuana that kids smoked in the 60’s contained less than one percent of THC. It has gotten much stronger, and now some marijuana contains up to 18 percent. Compared to what teens are smoking today, that stuff was oregano.”

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol is the psychoactive substance present in marijuana. Bogan said he has heard of parents finding their teen’s marijuana stash under the bed, sampled it, and were, well, blown away, alarmed by its potency.

“We hear teens say that smoking marijuana enhances their guitar playing, but really the music only sounds better to them,” Bogan said. “Their friends may think it sounds terrible. They say it enhances their soccer playing on the field, but they get short-winded and lose interest over time.”

According to Sharp, 2008 statistics collected anonymously by West Seattle High School students , 31 percent of 10th-graders have had a drink in the past month, and 46 percent of 12th-graders. Students who reported consuming five or more drinks in a row at least once in the past two weeks was 17 percent of 10th-graders, 29 percent of 12th-graders.

By 12th grade, 41 percent of West Seattle High School students reported smoking marijuana or hashish in the past 30 days, almost double the state average, and higher than Chief Sealth and Rainier Beach High Schools, so to speak. Sharp said there are theories on this including the fact that West Seattle High School is “open” which allows students to exit the building freely, unlike some gated high schools. Also some believe parents in this area are more permissive about marijuana use.

“Everything’s changed,” said Zick. “Things are not the same as when we were kids. The drugs have gotten a lot stronger. Kids have more access. And we have new things facing us today such as Internet pornography addiction. We need new tools. We need a ‘social development strategy.’ The end goal is healthy behaviors with boundaries I call ‘guardrails’ we need to put up for our kids, modeled around healthy belief and clear standards. If you tell them, ‘I am going to kill you if you drink,’ your kids don’t believe you and there’s nothing solid for them to go against to not drink, so we need to get very clear and specific.

“When they get older, guardrails go out. But there is something solid for those kids to land against and if they don’t hit against your rules they’re going to keep on going and end up with the law or death, and so it’s too much to risk.

The teen brain this is so critical, the cerebral cortex is the part that helps us reason and assess risk. It’s under construction (…) It starts to hardwire all the information you need (…)If every time you’re sad you get high, that’s getting hardwired. Middle School and High School is when addiction begins, and so it’s very critical that we understand that this is a really important time to be talking to kids about what the risks are because it’s not just emotional, it’s biological.

The more bonded we are the more influence we (parents) have. Create a family policy with family meetings. Commit time to have a conversation. It’s not about being comfortable. It’s about being consistent over the course of their growing up. Keep having these conversations because then when your kids want to have a conversation with you they know they can come to you even if it makes you uncomfortable.”

Zick recommends two books, “Yes Your Teen is Crazy!” and “Yes, Your Parents are Crazy!” by Michael J. Bradley.

Gaines also directs people to the website: which promotes such town hall meetings and intergenerational family communication.

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