Readers weigh in on how to talk to your kids about drugs even if you still do them. Plus: Hooray for Dan Savage!

Published July 20, 2004 8:42PM (EDT)

[Read "Do you puff, Daddy?" by Larry Smith.]

After finishing this piece, I was surprised that Larry Smith made no mention of the infamous DARE program, the drug war's method of turning kids into informants against their parents.

Since the '80s, police departments have been using DARE -- a program structured around visits by police officers to elementary and middle school classrooms to promote drug awareness -- as a means of getting Junior to rat Dad out to the Man. The cops show kids drugs and drug paraphernalia -- often arranged in colorful, kid-friendly display cases -- and then start asking, 'Have you ever seen anything like this before? Where? Does your mommy or daddy have a pipe like this?' and so on. DARE is one of the most ruthless and insidious means police have of invading privacy and has resulted in the arrest and incarceration of countless otherwise lawful, nonviolent drug users. Ironically, some statistics suggest that DARE has contributed to an increase in drugs use among minors by planting seeds of curiosity about drugs in the minds of kids who would otherwise still be playing with Legos and dolls.

Even those who are of a mind that no responsible parent would continue to use any form of illegal drugs should feel serious concern about the psychological consequences of using children to persecute their own parents.

-- Ed Tarkington

While I sympathize with all the parents and prospective parents who want to lie to their children about drug use, I find it slightly chilling to read the old "Do as I say, not as I do" adage being repackaged as a politically correct move. Why not be honest? When is lying to your children a good idea? My own personal philosophy is tell the truth -- you don't have to offer details. I don't give them graphic descriptions of my sex life, so why give graphic details about the trips I took or the coke I snorted? But I do try to give straight answers to specific questions -- even the uncomfortable ones. I may speak in generalities, instead of specifics, if it hits too close to the line. But if pressed, I give them the straight-up about my personal experiences with drugs.

My kids are 24, 19 and 16. All have experimented with drugs to some extent -- one has had a problem, which he sought counseling for -- and all of them are living productive lives  as am I, a pot smoker for the past 30 years.

-- Lisa Post

I have (had) seven brothers and sisters; two of my sisters got involved with illegal drugs as teenagers. Both displayed poor judgment when it came to making life choices (no education, teenage parenthood, drugged-out abusive men), and the following are the results:

Jeannette (divorced after second hospital stay due to beatings, ex-husband dead from heroin overdose, 18-year relationship with active alcoholic, subsidized her disability income with drug sales to minors), is now dead from pneumonia at 39, and her youngest daughter (19) is a heroin addict.

Melanie, divorced, remarried to a pothead who tried to kill her during a cocaine/mixed-medication mess before attempting suicide unsuccessfully, and eldest two stepdaughters actively fighting addiction.

Between the hospital visits, the funerals, the financial problems resulting from their idiot decisions, and the misery of their children, I guess I keep missing out on all the "fun" of the illegal drug use.

-- Ida Briggs

With regard to the government's message that drugs do irreparable damage to the brain of a person below the age of 17 ... wasn't that when most of us were doing most of our drugs? Many of the same people who are now doctors and lawyers and electricians were smoking grass in the school bathroom between periods in seventh grade.

No, this is not the reason to be a hypocrite. The reason to be a hypocrite is to give your child something reasonable to rebel against -- to set the bar sufficiently low so that a simple act of rebellion doesn't consist of running heroin from Afghanistan or joining the Republican Party. When they are 25, you and the kids can compare war stories. Until then, you can keep mum -- as it is best not to give the kids the lurid details too early, lest they make the wrong sense of it.

-- Marya DeBlasi

My son has been raised in an academic household, surrounded by doctors and physicists, musicians, and athletes since infancy. We all use drugs. Some of us more than others, but nonetheless, we grow them, prescribe them, compound them, invent them, and frequently enjoy them in all their illicit glory.

He's seen firsthand what brains on drugs are like and, as a result, is nearly 20 years old, hip, funny, and still untouched by their awesome allure.

Also, I've told him in horrifying detail of my experiences with substances legal and otherwise ... not to scare him, but to give him material. I've explained that coke is like a whole lot of Red Bull, only more expensive and snot-ridden. That pot is for glaucoma and theoretical physicists and plays havoc with one's self-discipline (i.e., homework schedule while you're in college). That heroin is similar to the oxycodone Mummy takes for her back, which makes her antisocial and irritable when approached from behind ... not the best for dating.

I've told him that he was conceived on X ... without the daddy's knowledge or permission ... so watch it.

About my rather checkered history with drugs and other vices, I've made no excuses and sought no quarter, and as a result my kid and I are pretty honest with each other. Last night on the patio, we shared a clean, buttery Chardonnay with grilled wild Chinook salmon and celebrated a breakthrough in my research. As the mountains burnished, I reached to pour him a second glass. "No thanks, Mom," he told me. "It's been a good day. You be the designated drunk."

Sometimes we lead best by bad example.

-- A. Hansen

Back in 1967-70, pot was a very different substance than it was the last time I smoked it, circa 1985.

In the '60s two joints would get me very high. By the mid-'80s, two tokes were enough to get me much, much higher, with major-league paranoia thrown in.

You couldn't pay me enough money to put a "good" drug in my system anymore, and I plan to tell my kid the truth, that recreational illicit drugs today are far stronger than when I used them, and she should avoid them completely.

-- Richard Einhorn

Another conversation that may be tough is explaining to a child, or anyone else, how you can do drugs and happily and docilely live in a country where people (mostly minority group members) are so often arrested and have their lives ruined for the same behavior. Is there any other class of crimes where "nice" people perpetrate them, feel fine about it, and casually watch thousands of other like offenders go to jail? Maybe we only want the evil "dealers" or even only "kingpins" to go away, but ask yourself this: Where would your good times come from if it weren't for dealers and even kingpins? Don't you rely on these entrepreneurial and industrious people when you buy drugs for your own use?

So much of drug enforcement seems to be justified by the need to "protect the children." This article merely raises a more arch example of the oblivious hypocrisy that the existence of children requires from all of us. Parents should simply say the fact that drug use can lead to going to jail is reason enough to stay clear of drugs, even if they are otherwise harmless fun. But then you may have to explain why people are treated so harshly for doing something so innocuous.

-- Neil P. McDevitt

My wife is pregnant with our first child, due this November, and I already know this: After providing food, shelter and affection, my primary duty as a parent is to remain an interesting person. To this end, I agree with Larry Smith that parents who drop all of their personal interests as soon as their children arrive do a disservice to their kids. But I also know that personal time shrinks to a minimum when kids are in the picture. Drugs have never been regular entertainment for anyone without serious time to kill: the incarcerated, the unemployed, and chronically boring people. As an aspiring father, I have no intention of being any of these things. So when the time comes, I'll spend that precious free time making root beer, playing the marimba, learning French. I have no moral qualms with Mr. Smith's drug use, but I can't help but think he'd make an incredibly dull parent.

-- Patrick North

As a 27-year-old adolescent, I was fascinated by Larry Smith's article on drugs and parenthood. Aside from a couple of dull experiences with pot, I've done no drugs harder than an occasional gin and tonic. But if I have kids, I don't intend to tell them to stay drug free -- I hope to teach them to think for themselves, which includes drugs. Drugs didn't interest me, but they did interest friends and family -- who are all fine.

While not giving your kids your personal life story down to the grainy Polaroids makes sense, I hope that all the parents who are preparing to do a 180 on drugs will ask themselves why. None of their "zero tolerance for you" arguments made sense to me, and I don't even want to do drugs.

-- Mary Westervelt

I have a daughter (3) and a son (18 months). I plan on being very honest with them about my experiences with drug use, just as I will with alcohol use. My own parental policy is this: You are an adult after you get out of high school. Before that point, you don't drink or smoke or do drugs. Period. After graduation, we can sit together and pass the bong if they so desire. I won't kid them: Drugs are great -- as long as you are ready for them.

-- Paul Prunty

There's a good reason not to use drugs as a parent. And it's a simple one: They are illegal. You can debate the rights and wrongs of that all you like, but ask your writer friend in Brooklyn: What happens if he gets busted buying pot? What happens then to his children?

Perhaps -- since he's presumably affluent, white and a recreational user -- not all that much.

However, is it worth the risk to your family?

-- Heather Murray

I grew up in a household in which alcohol was abundant and the hints about my mother's pot use were literally all over the house. When I went through my teenage years I experimented just like everyone else. I also got a good taste of how much was too much by the images of my mother not really being aware due to her "occasional" use of drugs. Now, after I have left home, graduated and am becoming successful, I have left my nostalgia and drug experimentation in the past -- while I watch my mother fall apart from her drug dependency in the present. One of the key ideas that need to be conveyed to children at any age is that their experimentation must be controlled and not everyone is as successful as their mommy and daddy turned out to be.

-- Hilary Fussell

As the mother of two and an avid pot fan, I can empathize with the themes of this article. However, I think you overlooked a very important issue.

In my city, there are drug task forces (operated by the local police departments) that lecture at the elementary schools and preach the "just say no" mantra -- to the point of encouraging children to turn in their drug-using family members and friends.

As smokers, we can and must confine any activity to strictly non-child times and areas, for fear of being "ratted out" by our 7- or 8-year-old at school.

How, then, will we as parents ever "compete" with the "just and moral" advice offered by the police at school? My children have been told nothing but evil about any and all drugs by local law enforcement here since kindergarten. If I choose to talk about this later in life, they may choose to turn me in!

-- Kristen

[Read "What Does Marriage Mean?" by Dan Savage.]

Thank you, Dan Savage, for saying something that needed to be said. I find myself often in the strange position of being in favor of gay marriage because I am so appalled at the reasoning of its opponents and because, in the long run, it will advance the cause of gay rights for the rest of the world to see gays and lesbians involved in this "conservative institution." But frankly, were it legal in my state, I am not so sure I would want to participate. It would be a matter of weighing the legal and financial advantages (and disadvantages). Like most other gay men, we are not raising children, so there is no overriding need. It certainly would not change this relationship after 25 years. Even if my parents were alive, it would not make them finally accept my partner as a member of our family.

What I do worry about is that it will make us "normal." Even at age 50, the idea of being a "sexual outlaw" is appealing, and I don't know how much legitimacy I want. But I worry about gays and lesbians of the future -- will they seek the house with the white picket fence and two kids playing in the backyard? Will gays cease to cast a jaundiced eye on social conformity and instead idealize a life of banality in middle America? The question is not, Are we ready for marriage? but, Is marriage ready for us?

-- Larry Firrantello

Thank you for Dan Savage's thoughtful article on marriage and monogamy. While I concur that monogamy is not natural for most people, jealousy for a partner's non-monogamy is natural for many -- if not all. I think that is also true for many who say that they want an open relationship. For those rare couples that thrive in non-exclusive relationships, that's their personal choice and it's not anyone's place to judge. But moral choices are not necessarily natural ones. Monogamy is a kind of bargain where we forgo what we might want for ourselves in exchange for our natural desire for the same from our partner.

-- Henry Edwards

Hallelujah, Dan Savage! We were starting to think that we were the only totally committed, sex-positive, not-quite-monogamous, nine-years-and-counting lesbian couple who feel very resistant to the idea of gay marriage as certification that our relationship will exclude all sexual encounters with other people till death do us part. And maybe we are. But at least we know that others in the gay community are experiencing the same sense of dislocation as our once-proudly deviant community scrambles to demonstrate its total conformity to a dysfunctional straight mainstream. A relationship that accommodates non-monogamy while honoring the feelings and needs of both partners takes a lot of work, but the rewards are rich, and our particular union is thriving as a result. It is sad indeed that the need for external approval is pushing the gay and lesbian community away from applying its collective imagination to the challenges posed by long-term relationships.

-- Maia Ettinger

By Salon Staff

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