Rabbis Without Borders
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Last week, I attended my first meeting at our public high school about current trends in drug and alcohol usage in our community. The turnout was horrible, and yet, the facts presented were alarming. As a parent of an eighth grader, I went to the meeting both wanting to learn from the experts so I can prepare my son for what is ahead, as well as hoping to glean information as a community leader.
The factual information presented was disheartening, scary and unnerving. The drugs of choice might vary from community to community, with the opioid epidemic leading the way, but the message is the same: Drug use and abuse is running rampant and increasing among our youth, and if we don’t figure out how to care about it, our children could become some of the many statistics out there. There is no question that the clock is ticking, and the time is now.
For the vast majority of parents who don’t attend their high school information sessions, here are the most important ‘take-aways’ I heard at our school’s meeting, adding my own perspective on the expert’s facts.
Never say ‘not me.’
As parents, we always want to think that the bad influences out there will not impact our kids. Drugs and alcohol are everywhere, and they are impacting all kinds of children, in all kinds of community. You do not need to be popular, smart or rich — or the opposite — to have drugs make their way into your family.
Learn the language.
I don’t know about you, but vaping, juuling, naloxone, e-cigarettes, ENDS and so much more are all new to me. If I want to be a good parent, I need to get schooled, and I need to do it quickly.
Create a safe space.
It is crucial for parents to give permission to their children to have safe, confidential conversations that will not result in punishment but rather in support and love. This must include when your own child, a child’s friend or another child in the community comes to you, looking for guidance and support. Be sure your child has one adult they feel comfortable in confiding in, even if that is not you, their parent.
Have direct conversations.
Don’t rely on others to have these conversations with your children. Share your love without judgment, get informed and learn together. All children need to hear this from the adults in their lives.
We cannot remain silent on this issue, even if being vocal is not our norm. We must speak up when we see or hear something that feels wrong, or dangerous, or damaging.
Teach our children Good Samaritan 911.
Many of us know this law in the context of health professionals. In recent years, over 20 states have adopted Good Samaritan 911, a policy that provides limited immunity from arrest or prosecution for minor drug law violations for people who call for help at the scene of an overdose.
Know the Social Host Law.
Over the last several years, our courts have started to hold parents accountable for what happens in our homes. Plausible deniability is no longer a viable excuse. We must know what is happening in our own homes, and always be aware of the consequences of our actions (or our inactions).
Be a good example.
There is no guidebook about how to be a good parent, especially in today’s world. We must parent by example. We must know that our children see and sense everything, and if we are telling them not to use drugs, not to drive drunk, then we must follow our own rules. Period.
Why do I care about this issue? Our Talmud teaches us that pikuach nefesh, saving a life, is so important that it takes priority over almost all other commandments. It is incumbent upon each and every one of us to do what we can to save lives, and there is no time to waste. Educating about drug use and abuse, overdose and death is one of the most important ways we can save a life. We must decide to own this issue today before we realize that tomorrow has come, and we didn’t do enough.