The federal drug czar and his deputies have a message for parents this fall. Go out for a pizza with your kid.
In a barrage of new public service announcements, videos, brochures, and even suggested filler for annual financial reports, the Office of National Drug Control Policy will tell parents and other adults that it's not enough just to talk to kids about drugs. Parents also need to discuss Kosovo, listen to their kids' favorite CDs, ride bikes together--in other words, stay involved.
Gone are the days when anti-drug campaigners told kids to "just say no," putting the burden for solving the drug problem on the shoulders of those younger than 18. Today, the campaigners have joined other social reformers in touting parent responsibility. Phrases such as "parenting skills" and "personal efficacy" roll off their tongues as easily as THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
"Kids don't have problems, adults have problems," said drug czar Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired Army general. "If we do the right things, chances are they'll be all right. They don't want to self-destruct."
The campaign's message arrives at a time when many parents apparently question their influence, even if their kids do not. In a recent survey of parents and teens by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, almost half of the parents said they believed their children would try illegal drugs in the future. At the same time, a similar proportion of teens who had never used marijuana credited their parents for that decision.
The conclusion? Parents have more power than they think.
About half of the federal campaign's $185 million budget this year focuses on kids, and that effort claims the lion's share of media attention. A campaign-financed, bright blue bus with eight teenagers, for example, toured shopping malls and drug rehab centers along the East Coast last month, attracting TV crews eager to show the young reporters interviewing other teens about drug abuse. The "Straight Scoop Road Tour" will be aired later this year on MediaOne cable.
Pushing the 'Anti-Drug'
But the rest of the budget is devoted to parents and other adults, falling under a new theme: "Love [or Truth, or Honesty or Communication]. The Anti-Drug." One page out of a three-ring binder that staffers carry around like coffee explains: "The goal of this advertising is to reinforce to parents that they are the number one deterrent to drug abuse. They can make a huge difference and we will equip them with the skills they need to succeed."
The campaign already posts tips for parents on its America Online Web site (keyword Drug Help), garnered from a panel of experts with whom it consults. A videotape for parents is in the works, as are brochures for parents as well as teachers, coaches and chief financial officers. "We're saying to CEOs, 'Here's information for your newsletter or your annual report,' " said Alan Levitt, McCaffrey's senior adviser.
The campaign also solicits McCaffrey, a straight-talking father of three, to speak to groups of parents. McCaffrey says his most difficult task on such occasions is to convince his audience "that their children are listening to them. Kids are waiting for Mom and Dad to say, 'In this family, we don't drive drunk, smoke dope or have premarital sex.'
"I don't think you have to talk about drugs a lot," he continues. "The best anti-drug message is kicking a soccer ball with your daughter, or sitting down and eating dinner together."
McCaffrey turned to the "Straight Scoop" kids this week to ask what they had heard about parents from the dozens of teens they had interviewed. "Do you think some parents give up on kids?" he asked.
"Oh, yeah," several said in unison.
But don't confine your concern to parents, the kids told McCaffrey.
"We talked to a number of kids who felt betrayed by adults, including coaches who gave kids drugs after basketball games," Dela Grantham from Richmond said. Later, she elaborated: "Kids see a lot of two-faced adults, partying and drinking and not paying attention to them."
CAPTION: Barry McCaffrey, U.S. drug czar, talks with teens who interviewed their peers about drug use on the "Straight Scoop Road Tour." A new prevention campaign focuses on parents.