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Turning In Parents for Using Drugs: The Great Debate : Adults Have Doubts, but Many Youngsters Say Such Drastic Action May Be Needed

September 12, 1986|GARRY ABRAMS | Times Staff Writer

While adults are expressing concern over two Southern California cases in which children turned their parents in to authorities for alleged drug use, there apparently is widespread support among children and teen-agers themselves for taking drastic action when parents use drugs.

Many children in particular seem to see drug use by parents as a threat to their own safety and parents' health. For at least some, turning in parents is an act of love and concern.

For instance, Isaac Gonzales, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at the Twenty Fourth Street Elementary school in central Los Angeles expressed what seems to be a widely held sentiment. When asked what he thought about Deanna Young, the Orange County girl who turned in her parents to police last month, Gonzales said, "I think it was good. She was doing something good for her parents . . . I think I would report them like the girl did (if he were in similar circumstances). I would do something good for them and something good for me."

Creation of Generation Gap

Moreover, the drug abuse issue seems to be creating a generation gap in which children and teen-agers see themselves pitted against adults whose attitudes, they say, are often hypocritical. And many children and teen-agers are involved in drug use not because they were first exposed to drugs at school or on the street, but because they first experimented with their parents' drugs.

Those are among the impressions that emerged in interviews with children, teen-agers and drug abuse experts as the country gears up for for a major escalation in the war on drugs. Drug availability outside the home, peer pressure and curiosity remain the most influential factors in drug use among young people, experts said. But just as the strong relationship between parent and child alcoholism has been known for many years, now the pattern of family drug abuse is moving on to illegal drugs, most notably cocaine and marijuana, they said.

For that and other reasons, many children and teen-agers apparently see the actions of Deanna and an unidentified 11-year-old who earlier this week reported her parents to Los Angeles police as defensible, at least in principle.

Adults, on the other hand, seem more inclined to be offended by the prospect of children informing on their parents. Local radio talk shows have been flooded with calls this week from adults who, typically, compare such behavior by children to the attitudes that nourished the Hitler Youth movement in the '30s.

A sampling of opinion among children and adolescents, however, brought a predominance of support for turning in parents who use drugs.

"I think it all had to do with her care about her parents," said Kim Bush, a 16-year-old junior at Gahr High School in Cerritos. "They (parents) discipline the kids; the kids don't discipline the parents. So there was really nothing else she could do. Even talking to them may not have had any effect on them. I think that she did the right thing."

'Turn Her In'

A dark-haired, leather-jacketed youth who identified himself only as Lee, said that he hadn't heard of the Young incident until told of it by a reporter. But, he added, "Well, if I was her parents I'd be mad, but I think it's basically the right idea because if my mom was using I'd probably just turn her in instead of talking to her about it (to) get the point across."

At the Twenty Fourth Street Elementary School, James Blyden, an 11-year-old sixth-grader, commented, "I think she (Deanna) did a good thing because if she hadn't turned her parents in they might have kept on doing it and died."

One of the dissenters was Jenny Sears, a 17-year-old senior at Norwalk High School.

"I don't approve of it," Sears said. "I think she should have talked to her parents first. It was like she came home and said, 'Oh wow, I'm going to turn in my parents today.' And I think she could have at least told her parents, asked them why they were doing it or something, told them I'm going to turn you in if you don't knock it off."

However, if those efforts failed, Sears said, "Then, yeah, it would be all right to turn them in, but I think she should have given them some kind of warning."

At the Twenty Fourth Street Elementary School, all of the children interviewed had participated in an anti-drug classes taught by Los Angeles Police Department officers. The Project DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program focuses on fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders. The program includes 17 classes on topics such as "media influences on drug use," "resisting gang pressures," and "managing stress without taking drugs."

The sixth-grader who earlier this week told police that her parents were growing and smoking marijuana is a student at another school and had taken DARE classes there.

However, DARE spokesman Sgt. Mike Schaffer said that students are told not to discuss family and friends during the classes and that officer-teachers are in the schools for education, not enforcement.

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