Teens present drug realities to parents

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Fri., Apr. 1, 2011
At the 'Empowering Families' program, Phil Muisener's workshop asked parents and their teens to take part in a mirroring exercise to demonstrate the concept of how one party controls a situation. Photos by Steve Smith.
At the 'Empowering Families' program, Phil Muisener's workshop asked parents and their teens to take part in a mirroring exercise to demonstrate the concept of how one party controls a situation. Photos by Steve Smith.

In an Empowering Families program on March 31 at Smith Middle School, some parents were surprised to learn that high school students in Glastonbury are using drugs like Snus and Adderall.

Empowering Families has been a joint effort of the Glastonbury Youth and Family Services, Glastonbury Public Schools and the Glastonbury Police Department Youth Unit for the past three years.

The group’s events are aimed at middle school-aged children and their families, in an effort to improve the communication between parents and children before the rigors of high school make that bridge more difficult to establish.

The evening consisted of three workshops, of which participants were able to attend two.

The Youth Advisory Council presented “Youth Theatre: Strategies on effective communication between parents and their teens.”

YAC President Rob Carroll explained that the group of eighth- through 12th-graders prepared four skits on “average high school activities.”

The first scene had students at lunch, talking about their weekend plans.

“What are you guys doing this weekend?” asked one teen.

“This week was so stressful,” replied another. “I’m just going to go get wasted.”

One of them also said he was going to try Snus – a powdered tobacco product in a small pouch that is placed in the mouth, but is less detectable than chewing tobacco, as one does not need to repeatedly spit.

“Occasionally it’s passed around like gum,” Carroll said. “It comes in a tin similar to Altoids, and it’s really concealable.”

The YAC members explained that Snus is addictive and causes cancer, like tobacco products typically do, and that they are trying to spread the word among their peers.

Another scene depicted a student taking Adderral – a psychostimulant – before attempting to take an SAT exam. The student quickly felt ill and short of breath, and had to leave the test session.

Adderall, Carroll said, is most frequently used by students before big tests or when a term paper is due, in order to focus.

The YAC members, who have taken a pledge to be substance-free, said they try to spread the word about drug and alcohol abuse to their peers, but it isn’t always easy.

“It’s a social behavior to some extent,” said YAC member Leonard Slutsky. “When someone does take the opportunity to say that it's not cool, or not good, it means a lot. It can have a really big impact.”

Glastonbury social worker Phil Muisener presented an interactive workshop called “The Flight Through Adolescence: Who’s the Pilot?”

“There's so much that's wonderful about the teenage years,” Muisener said, “but also sometimes you're going to hit bumps in the road.”

Muisener identified a hierarchy of three main parent/teen concerns – safety, “keeping in the loop,” and “making responsible choices.” He also offered tips on how to more effectively communicate, including positive reinforcement, enjoyment with respect for one another, listening with an open mind, and reasonable goal-setting.

One specific suggestion was to reward a teen who comes home on time by suggesting that a later curfew could be discussed in the future.

Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator Emily Dickinson said she tries to keep the topics fresh at the annual event, but also stick with what works.

“The youth advisory program was so popular last year,” she said. “That's why we decided to do a similar skit thing this year. A real focus on parent/teen communication is something we all know is a big thing.”

She said that the idea of “teachable moments” is catching on. One of the YAC members had touched on the idea of how parents sitting their teens down to have a serious talk about alcohol doesn't work as well as waiting for it to be brought up, perhaps on a television show, and then more casually discussed.

Dickinson said the impact on parents learning about Snus and Adderral was noticeable, and credited the YAC members with that idea.

“To bring attention to the families of the new things going on in the high school is very important,” she said. “I don't think the community knows a lot of things that are going on.”

The YAC will present a Town Hall Forum on teen drug and alcohol use (as well as Snus) on May 25, which is open to the public. For more information, visit the Youth and Family Services page on the website www.glasct.org.

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