Participating in a program called "Saturday Night in the Suburbs," 10 Westfield High students recently gave parents some straight talk about drugs, parties and communicating with their kids.
On the panel were seniors Sparkle Williams, Frank Hagan-Brown, Eric Poppe, Daniel Jeong, Lorenza Coffin, Doug Wetzel, Megan Woodworth, Kristen Strunk, MaryLynne Schaefer and Sarah Berry.
SERVING AS moderator, Doug asked if drugs are "easily accessible" at Westfield, and Kristen said they are, both after school and at parties. "It's also about different crowds," she said. "There are kids known for doing drugs, and kids know who or where to go to, to get drugs."
Marijuana, ecstasy and, more and more, cocaine, are the drugs of choice, said Megan. "And chewing tobacco is really big at Westfield," she said. "And pain killers with drinking."
"If you see a circular object in your kids' backpack, check it, because it's chewing tobacco," Doug told the parents. "And they do it during class, too." Often, said MaryLynne, "Kids who play sports or take AP classes will take drugs to relieve stress and be relaxed."
"It's shocking because you don't want to believe your kids are using drugs," said Frank. "But it's a very affluent area, and kids are smoking marijuana behind trailers. And if you don't install [making] good choices in them, they can get drugs."
Sarah warned parents to get to know their children's friends: "See if their other friends are going to a party, so it won't be a huge drug-fest." And take things one step farther, recommended Megan. "Randomly drug-test your kids," she said. "If you tell them [in advance] you're gonna do it, they can take stuff to get the drugs out of their system."
Daniel noted that "schools put a huge emphasis on not doing drugs, but parents should also talk to their kids about it and have them get involved in activities." Kristen said marijuana is as prevalent as alcohol use at Westfield: "There are kids who smoke pot every day." And, said Doug, "There's a big correlation between alcohol and weed."
Eric told parents to go to their children's activities with them. And, he added, "My parents ask me to call them when I get to a party and when I'm leaving. Still trust your kids, but give them boundaries."
Megan credited Westfield administrators with doing "an awesome job cracking down on drug use here. Last year, the administrators got most of the heavy dealers out of the school."
Sparkle said parents should check children's grades because, if they're using drugs, "you'll notice an effect there." Calling high school a "big social experiment," Frank said the "biggest influence on kids are you guys — the parents."
A mom in the audience asked how prevalent is the date-rape drug, and Megan said it's not, in high school. "But kids go to college parties," said Sparkle. "The main thing is to make sure your daughter knows when to stop drinking."
LORENZA ALSO advised parents to have their children read newspaper articles about accidents resulting from drinking and driving. "It happens all the time," he said. "Put it in your kids' heads that it really can happen to them."
Another mom asked if there are certain types of kids who use drugs, and Megan replied, "The kid who dresses preppy could be a pothead, and the skater is not." Added Frank: "Sometimes the kids you'd never expect to do these things, do." And even if parents think they know their children, said Sparkle, "kids change."
"Because we've gotten older, we realize you don't need to drink to have fun," said Kristen. "But the freshmen, sophomores and juniors [don't know that, yet], so many of them drink." Teens at some area high schools, she said, even proudly post photos on the Internet of themselves drinking.
"It really is a learning process," said Megan. "Kids just have to grow up and learn to make good choices." Lorenza said teens should set goals and parents should help them focus on achieving them.
Regarding parties and clubbing, Sarah said parents shouldn't "hold the leash too tight — you have to trust your kids." Nevertheless, she said, "Call a parent to see if they're where they said they would be." But, warned Kristen, "If they really want to lie to you, they will. Or they'll leave after you've called."
Doug asked what happens at a party if police are called, and Megan said, "Some cops will make everyone call their parents, some will ask who's been drinking and some kids will run. But there are parties every weekend, and the amount of kids getting arrested isn't that much."
Doug noted a street in Georgetown called "Tequila Beach" by teens because it contains a row of clubs. "If we go clubbing, we choose if we want to drink there," said Kristen. "Most of the time, underage guys won't be drinking."
"But an older guy will buy an underage girl a drink if he's interested in her," said Doug. "Or guys will buy guys a drink," said Sparkle. "Do kids pressure others to drink?" asked a mom. "No, they'll respect your decision," answered Lorenza. Or, said Kristen, "It's sad, but some will say, 'OK, more beer for me!'"
Sometimes, said Doug, kids attend frat parties at college campuses like GMU. "Lots of us have older siblings at Tech and JMU," said Eric. "Kids will say they're going there to look at the campus, and they could be exposed to drinking there."
But Megan said college students "really don't like high-school kids being there." Said Kristen: "They'll say, 'You have to leave,' because they could get into trouble and they don't want to put themselves in that position."
A MOM asked what parents can do about sleep-outs, where kids get around their curfews by sleeping at homes where parents are gone. "Make your kids call you from the house phone, not a cell phone," replied Megan. "Then they're less likely to get into trouble because you know they were there."
"Are there parents still condoning coed sleep-overs?" asked another mom. "Yes, especially around prom time," said Doug. "If you're concerned your kid's gonna sneak out, don't let her have sleep-overs," added Sparkle.
As for communication, Doug asked if it's common for kids to lie directly to their parents' faces. "Yes," said Kristen. "And the more they do it, the better they get at it." Sparkle said parents should show children it really hurts their relationship with them.
Megan's mom, Karen Woodworth, said parents should let kids know "you're not always gonna cover their butts and that they have to take responsibility for what they do. It's their life and there are consequences." Said Megan: "I'm glad my parents care enough about me that I do have rules and they're involved in my life. It's helped me make the right decisions."
Lorenza said parents coming to school makes a big difference "because you know somebody's watching you." And "even if your child gets a C+ in a class," said Sparkle, cut him some slack. "Realize how many times kids say no [to things they shouldn't do]. Realize that you do have an effect." Appreciative of all his parents do for him, Frank said, "We are listening — even if you don't think we are."