The seriousness of the drug problem in Washington-area schools -- in fact, throughout the country -- is a given. Elementary and secondary schools in city and suburbs alike are alive with seekers of the high -- by needle, by pill, by joint, by sniff, by drink. Whoever wants can get.
Drug abuse experts, psychologists, family sociologists, doctors, educators, police, clergy, all wrestle with the problem -- and it continues to grow. Community meetings draw few parents. Lectures, educational materials beyond measure, techniques, law -- none has stemmed the tide.
In a worthy effort to reach out to families, WRC and Drug Fair have collaborated to present "Your Children, My Children: A Parent's Guide to Drugs" at 10 tonight (Channel 4). The fact of the program itself is laudable. And there are a lot of good things about this local special.
Some of the country's -- and the area's -- top experts in drug and alcohol abuse and the family problems that can lead to it, served on the advisory committee that guided the WRC production team. When it discusses communicating with children, its mini-docudrama vignettes are useful, insightful, even moving. The cutaways to real parents and real children are often persuasive.
But at the same time that it is sending out its messages of family closeness and the need for communication and for parent credibility when dealing with a child, it is subtly suborning its own credibility.
It suffers from one overriding flaw: its almost total preoccupation with marijuana.
Of course, marijuana is a problem. Of course, no one wants to see an 8-year-old smoking dope.
But then, who wants to see an 8-year-old smoking, period?
Those connected with the production speak of "agonizing" meetings over the focus and direction of the program and of what they feared would be a "confusing deluge" of substances with potential abuse. However their selection of marijuana (with a small tip of the hat to alcohol) as the prototypical abused drug, is misleading on its very face.
"Sesame Street's" Bob McGrath, host of this special, suggests early on that parents watch with their youngsters.This is not a good idea. The kids will laugh this program right out of town.
Here's the worst example -- perhaps no more than an editing error, but one which could instantly discredit the entire program in the eyes of a skeptical adolescent:
There is a scene in which a young girl -- 11 or 12, perhaps -- is lured into taking her first marijuana hit. Afterward there are some statistics -- and some actual recollections -- about the ages at which marijuana was first experienced and the impact of peer pressure.
This cuts to a woman who speaks movingly of her three children who were involved with drugs and her daughter who "died of an overdose."
An overdose of what?
Not likely, but no other drug is mentioned either immediately before or after this segment.
It is followed, ironically, by an injunction to parents to "get some facts" before they yell at their kids for getting high.
Questions from a rather gimmicky self-test are sprinkled through the program, and rather more time than is necessary is spent on teaching viewers when a roach is not a bug. However, it does make the point that adolescents who keep themselves high are preventing themselves from engaging in the natural process of self-doubt and self-questioning which will permit them to mature. It does suggest that a child's drug problem is a signal of a family that needs help and it does indicate that help is available -- even if only in the knowledge that others have the same problem.
Too bad that if its competition ("Dallas," Orioles game) doesn't bury it, its savvy young viewers likely will.