They Looked Just Like My Kids!

By John A. Smith

I recently had the opportunity to attend a special seminar for ministers and teachers at Possibilities Unlimited (a unique drug and alcohol treatment center for young people in Lexington, KY). I was not prepared for what I was going to experience. Few things that I have seen in my life have affected my thinking as dramatically as did the noontime presentation by the “Possibilities Unlimited Players.”

The curtain slowly opened to reveal seven “druggies” who were going to tell the story of their sordid past by reenacting recent counseling sessions. They spoke of their addiction to and experimentation with cocaine, marijuana, alcohol and a variety of other harmful substances. Their involvement with drugs had caused them to become withdrawn from parents and disinterested in school work. None of this surprised me as I had witnessed the same things several years ago when I taught junior high school. These seven young people, who ranged in age from 15 to 23, bravely stood before a room full of strangers to impress upon the adults present the severity and complexity of the drug abuse epidemic in central Kentucky. As they spoke I was suddenly struck with a terrifying realization. These young people looked just like my kids and the other young people where I preach! They were all clean-cut, well-dressed and very mannerly.

I comforted my fears with the rationalization that they had been “transformed” by the P.U. staff. Surely just weeks before they had been wearing grubby jeans and t-shirts which advertised the latest in hot drug culture music. In my mind I pictured the boys as having long greasy hair pulled back in pony tails with 17 earrings on one ear. The girls, I assumed, most likely didn’t look much better. And so with this rationalization to comfort me for awhile the presentation was a little less frightening.

After the young people had finished their presentation, they stood before an audience of about 150 adults and agreed to answer any questions that we might have. I found many of their answers more troubling than their appearance.

One lady wanted to know if they had been exposed to any type of spiritual training. I thought of my own children and the number of sermons and classes they had attended. Surely this, I reasoned, was a certain vaccine against drug involvement. But this was shattered when five of the seven responded that they had been active in some type of church youth group on a regular basis, even while heavily involved in drugs. I found out later that most of these had been members of conservative evangelical churches which respected and promoted a biblical standard of morality. Obviously just “going to church” was not going to be enough. Again I was shaken.

Later during the question and answer session, they were asked if any of them had come from broken homes. I pictured each of these courageous young people trying to put their lives back together without the ‘support of a loving and happy home. Surely the divorce and domestic turmoil to which they had been exposed had contributed greatly to their drug involvement. So, my kids are safe. After all they have their mother and father living happily together in the same home. However, my stomach began to quiver as I kept tally of their answers. Only one out of the seven had come from a broken home. Most of them described their families as caring and loving. I was suddenly beginning to feel overwhelmed.

The final question was asked through teary eyes by a woman who had sat quietly near the side of the cafeteria. With a distinctive quiver in her voice she asked what their parents could have done or not done that would have kept them from becoming so heavily involved in drugs. (I found out later that this woman was the mother of one of the young ladies on the stage.) They each responded with two suggestions which were extremely insightful. Their suggestions were that their parents trust them less, not making excuses for them, and be harder on them.

By being naively trusting and making excuses to teachers and neighbors, the parents had become “enablers.” They were actually making it easier for their children to become increasingly more involved with drugs. The young people said they often attempted to cover up drug induced behavior by weaving some wild and fanciful tale which the parents appeared to buy without question or, at least, chose not to confront. Thus the parents made it easier for their children to continue their downward spiral into the abyss of drug abuse. These young people were crying out for discipline. They did not possess the self-discipline needed to resist the various temptations to which they had been subjected. They needed and wanted parents to impose rules which were fairly and firmly executed.

As I was leaving the cafeteria, I begin to once again picture Molly and Tom. Diane and I had always tried to be realistic with them. We were strict with them. We set guidelines for their behavior and swiftly carried out the appropriate discipline if the rules were violated. So maybe we didn’t have anything to worry about. And after all, in spite of everything else, neither of them look like a “druggie.”

Later in the day I had the opportunity to talk privately with Dr. George Ross the director of Possibilities Unlimited. I complimented him on the fine program and the appearance of the young people. I was impressed all day with how well dressed and groomed the clients were. I told him how glad I was to see institutions which imposed dress and grooming standards. I was not prepared for his response. Appearance was after all among my last fortresses of convenient parental comfort. His words hit me like a thunder bolt. “The way you see them now is the way they looked when they came to us.” I couldn’t believe my ears. They had not been wearing grubby jeans, gigantic ear rings, or drug music t-shirts. They were by all appearances clean cut, “All-American,” rosy cheeked young people. They looked just like my kids!

I pondered this for days as I looked into the eyes of Molly and Tom with fear and uncertainty. My heart ached as I pictured having to take them to a similar treatment center. So many of my defenses had been stripped away. For days I felt vulnerable and so inadequate to help them face the various pressures coming their way. I talked with them about what I had seen, the advice of the young people and their friends. We prayed about it as a family and discussed it again.

I am convinced now that there are no easy answers or easy preventions to the problem of drug abuse and young people. As parents we need to set a good example for our children. As we bring them up on the pure milk of the Word, we need to show them how it applies in practical ways in their lives. Knowledge of God’s Word is not enough. They need to begin developing the wisdom to see how it can have a positive and practical effect in their lives. They need to see and be impressed with the benefits of a pure and holy lifestyle. Their lives and ours must revolve around Jesus Christ and service to him and others. We need to pray with them and for them – trusting in God and not in our abilities to raise them.

I wish that every parent could have seen these brave young people struggling so hard to overcome the cruel slavery to drugs. We all need to be stopped and troubled by them as we ponder the rearing of our own children. We must learn to look beyond the outward appearance to determine what is really going on inside their minds and bodies. Parents need to take the time to talk with their children and be involved in their lives.

Dr. Ross presented the following signs as important indicators of the possibility of drug activity:

How can you tell If your ‘normal’ kid is on drugs?

Are you looking but not seeing?

School – Has the adolescent brought home lower grades and developed a negative attitude toward school? Does the adolescent skip classes? Has the adolescent been suspended or expelled? Heavy drug users often drop out of school.

Dishonesty – Has the adolescent concealed drug usage and either denied or minimized it when discovered? Has the adolescent been caught stealing from parents or shoplifting? The adolescent may resort to cheating at school or forging school excuses.

Personality Changes – Has the adolescent changed friends, started using foul language, or begun lying about his activities? Seclusiveness and avoidance of adults, and irritability and fits of anger or rage with little or no provocation are common. There is a loss of motivation, lowering of ambition, loss of drive toward goals, and no quest for excellence.

Sexual Behavior – Promiscuity is common, with consequences of venereal disease or pregnancy. Girls may be on birth control pills.

Law Breaking – Traffic violations, vandalism, shoplifting, breaking and entering may occur.

Physical Condition – Personal grooming and hygiene may deteriorate. Speech and actions may be detectably slowed. Gait and posture may change. Clothing and hairstyle may change. Younger teenagers may have decreased physical development of sexual characteristics. In girls, menstruation may become infrequent and decreased.

The adolescent may exhibit a lack of vitality, with need for excessive sleep at unusual times. Eating habits may be altered and weight loss may occur. Bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, volubility, excessive or inappropriate laughter, along with slowed speech and decreased coordination may indicate marijuana use. The adolescent may attempt to conceal bloodshot eyes with eye drops, and mask marijuana or alcohol odor with perfume or shaving lotion.

Medical Condition – Infections of the skin and respiratory tract are common. A chronic cough without apparent infection may occur. Extreme fatigue and lassitude are common. The adolescent may complain of frequent colds or chest pains.

Family Relations – Immaturity and withdrawal from family relationships are common. The adolescent may avoid being seen with parents or siblings and avoid family outings. Household responsibilities and chores may be neglected. The adolescent may accuse parents of “hassling” or not trusting him. The adolescent may become manipulative, striving to create conflict between parents.

Although many of these indicators often appear in any teenager as part of normal puberty, if an adolescent demonstrates a large number of these characteristics, then there is a high probability that he is harmfully involved in drugs.

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 18, pp. 558-559
September 21, 1989