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Challenging Poor Social Choices

The holiday season is upon us. We re racing around in four million directions trying to get ready for Christmas and/or Hanukkah. Our college kids are coming home for their winter break. From now through ...

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The holiday season is upon us. We re racing around in four million directions trying to get ready for Christmas and/or Hanukkah. Our college kids are coming home for their winter break. From now through New Year s, our local pubs and clubs will be bursting with young life and enthusiasm.

Some college students will come home unbeknown to their parents with other issues that erupted while away at school. Some will be in trouble academically, some will be in trouble socially and some will be in trouble emotionally. Unfortunately, few will be willing to confide in their parents their particular struggle. Too many students will try to work it out on their own privately.

If you have the college freshman who has gone away to school for the first time, you should be concerned about his or her academic standing. If you call the school, they will give you no information unless your son and daughter have given written permission for that information to be released. You should know if your son or daughter is on academic probation, especially if you re paying tuition. Tuition aside, many first semester freshmen need support, guidance and time management skills. Very few colleges provide the discipline and structure that most college freshman need that first-term away.

The emotional and social issues transcend one s year in school. Freshmen through seniors can be afflicted with social and emotional difficulties. Although the legal drinking age is 21 across the country, very few college campuses are effective in enforcing the national drinking age. The colleges that have a dry campus policy still have problems with underage drinking.

The drinking that goes on away at school is out of control. More students than we realize get into legal trouble within the small towns where their schools are located. Oftentimes, thanks to friends, fraternities and supports other than family, they can take care of the legal problems very quietly, without getting their parents involved.

A growing number of college campuses are putting pressure on the local municipalities to not make it easy for students to take care of business without involving their parents. It s not a guarantee that the drinking issue will be addressed, but at least it s not a secret any longer.

What is alarming is that the drinking on college campuses is becoming a smokescreen for other poor social choices. Smoking marijuana is epidemic among college students. The new craze is prescription drugs, especially narcotic drugs. When the narcotic drugs become unavailable, too many students are becoming vulnerable to trying heroin. It s cheap and very available. You don t need to shoot it; you can snort it, or smoke it.

The dependency on narcotic medication and other prescription drugs is spreading like wildfire among college-age young people. Most young people think they re invincible. Unfortunately, they are not. Parents need to be more vigilant in regards to their children s social behavior and social choices.

Do not delude yourself into thinking because your son or daughter is a good kid, a good student and has a nice circle of friends that he or she is not making poor choices around the use of illegal drugs and alcohol. Facebook, My Space and Twitter will give you an education beyond your wildest imaginations.

A growing number of wonderful college-age young people see nothing wrong with underage drinking and the recreational use of certain illegal drugs. That casual attitude unfortunately is infectious and is putting too many young people at risk.

As parents, we need to begin the conversation, if we have not already, around responsible decision-making and social choices. We cannot tiptoe around these complicated issues. Our college students want to be treated like adults. We should treat them as adults and speak to them directly without mincing words or sugar coating concerns.

Don t be afraid to ask your kids what they are doing during this winter break. Express your concern about social excesses. Be specific around the issues of drinking and illegal drug use. Raise your concerns around the increased use of heroin among young people within our community.

S.J. was 28 years old. Since the age of 15, he was in trouble, not with the law, but with school and with his dysfunctional family. By 17, he was living among friends, going to school erratically, playing sports, but most importantly, endearing himself to anyone who came to know him.

He got through high school by the skin of his teeth. S.J. was very bright and weaseled his way into a local liberal arts college because of his soccer ability. That was short lived. He then moved to Vermont, taught himself to be a snowboarder and eventually became a snowboard instructor. Unfortunately, that lifestyle led him to try prescription pills. That became his downfall.

In his late 20 s, he moved back to the North Shore. His life was out of control. He reached out to me for help. I encouraged him to go into residential treatment. He agreed. He entered a 28 day program, right before Christmas. He successfully completed treatment, but felt that his addiction was pills and that he could still drink.

Two weeks before Christmas, he went to a Christmas party with a new friend. While in the bathroom, a group of college coeds were snorting heroin. He d been drinking and was vulnerable. They offered him some he said yes. The two college coeds walked out of the bathroom. He did not. They found him unconscious on the floor. He died that night from a heroin overdose.

My card was in his pocket. As he had no next of kin, I claimed his body. He had no funds but since he was Catholic, a simple wake was held before his Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated. The church was packed with all of his friends. They prayed in shock that their life of the party had died right before Christmas because of a reckless choice that went unchallenged.

If we continue to pretend that everything is okay, we are going to continue to put young people at risk. Every week there has been a story on the TV news and in our major newspapers about young people dying from heroin. What is equally as tragic are the countless stories from friends, who after the fact confess that they knew the person who died was out of control, and they did nothing to intervene. That passive response must be erased from our human experience!