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Three Cheers for Prince Charles the Parent


As we have learned, Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, recently faced a problem many parents face: What do you do when you learn that your teenage child has tried drugs.

What Prince Charles did, after young Prince Harry admitted to smoking marijuana and drinking illegally, was to send his son to visit Featherstone Lodge, a drug-abuse treatment program of Phoenix House in Britain, where he spoke to recovering addicts there.

We say, "Good for you, Charles," because the prince acknowledged the problem and acted quickly, firmly and reasonably.

At Phoenix House here in Los Angeles, we counsel dozens of worried parents each month. While we don't suggest that their children spend time at a rehab center (unless it turns out that treatment is called for), we do offer the following advice:

Don't panic. Many kids are likely to experiment with marijuana, and just about every teenager will sneak a drink or two at some point. If it is no more than experimentation--a once or twice adventure--that goes no further, chances are you will never know about it.

But, if signs of drug or alcohol use are clear enough for you to see, then don't turn a blind eye. Don't respond to adolescent drug use by denying it.

Be sensibly suspicious. Thoughtful and caring parents are generally quick to notice changes.

Do your teenage children suddenly have different friends or new attitudes? Are their grades dropping? Is their personal hygiene not what it was? Are they spending more time away from home?

If the answers to these questions are "yes," then it's likely that something is amiss, and you had best find out what that something is.

Sometimes parents have misguided reactions based on the drug involved. If your son or daughter is found out using Ecstasy or snorting cocaine, you would be certain to take action. But what if it's "just" marijuana? The advice is the same.

Don't shrug it off.

Smoking pot not only may open a gateway to more dangerous drug use, but it's pretty potent stuff itself. Today's high-potency variants have heavy-duty impact, and the effects of marijuana use, which impair short-term memory, deplete energy and retard maturation, are particularly harmful for teens.

Among youngsters in residential treatment for substance abuse, many used nothing stronger than pot.

Keep cool. You have to confront your child, but do it calmly. Listen to what he or she has to say. If you know your child, you'll recognize the lies and get to the truth. Be patient and understanding but, above all, you must remain firm.

Draw a clear line. Your child has to know that drinking and drug use are forbidden, and you don't care what other children do or other parents condone.

Your job is to be the parent, not the friend. So, you can't worry that taking the hard line will cost you the affection of your offspring.

A warm and gratifying relationship with your child is a reward of parenthood, not its purpose.

You may find that taking the hard line will help your child deal with a situation many find uncomfortable. Now, they can pass up pot with no loss of face, when they explain, "My parents would kill me!"

You don't have to send your child to Phoenix House to meet some recovering drug abusers. That's appropriate for Prince Charles, who is the patron of Phoenix House in Great Britain.

But, like him, you must recognize that dealing with drug abuse effectively means dealing with it candidly, thoughtfully, and firmly.


Elizabeth Stanley Salazar is regional director of Phoenix Houses of California, which operate substance abuse treatment, education, and prevention programs for adolescents in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.

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