What teens know — that parents don’t

By Stephanie Dunnewind Seattle Times staff reporter

Parents really aren’t as dumb as many teens think, but it’s true adults may not realize how the adolescent years have changed since they were young.

So we checked books, Web sites and experts for things that most teens know — but many parents don’t.

April 20 is a pot-smokers’ holiday

“It’s the day that everyone smokes pot,” explained Sue Cutler, a chemical-dependency counselor with Bellevue-based Youth Eastside Services. “It is highly celebrated! Parents and adults don’t have a clue. Some kids even have it tattooed on their person. It’s a big day to watch your child.”

According to a 2002 article in the pro-marijuana magazine High Times, the editor believes 4/20 traces back to 1971, when a group of students in San Rafael, Calif., would meet after school at 4:20 p.m. The students started using 420 as a code for marijuana so they could talk about it without alerting parents and school staff. Since San Rafael was home to the Grateful Dead, 420 spread among the Deadhead community before being popularized by High Times.

Others link 420 to a police code for pot arrests or to Hitler’s birthday.

No one cards you on the Internet

Internet sites promoting alcohol warn potential users they must be 21 and require a birth date for access. But any teens able to do math can make up whatever birth dates they want. Even if they initially put their real age in, sites immediately allow users to re-enter an older date. For example, type in a birth date of 1990 and Mike’s Hard Lemonade site moans, “Oh, no, hit the pavement” — but still shows the date option. On the very same screen, change it to 1970: “Great, come on in,” it greets.

Why would teens want to, anyway? For kid-friendly features such as playing virtual air hockey (Mike’s Hard Lemonade); listening to free music (“mix, rate and send your favorite songs to a friend!” on Budweiser.com); answering sports trivia (“It’s Game Time so grab a cold, fresh Budweiser”); and creating custom videos out of audio and video clips of scantily clad dancers holding bottles of Smirnoff Ice.

Minors visited alcohol Web sites nearly 700,000 times in the last six months of 2003, according to comScore Media Metrix. On two sites — www.bacardi.com and www.skyy.com — underage visitors accounted for more than half of in-depth visits (viewing more than two screen pages), noted comScore, which provided its analysis to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University.

Budweiser was the most popular, with some 90,000 visits each to www.budlight.com and www.budweiser.com.

“The alcohol industry’s Web presence remains largely a potential playground for underage youth with little if any adult supervision,” concluded the center’s 2004 report.

Judy Blume’s “Forever” is tame these days



Now books like the popular “Gossip Girl” series don’t bother with a moral at the end — or any morals, period. The back of one recent book quotes Teen People as saying the series is ” ‘Sex and the City’ for the younger set.”

It’s really more of an East Coast version of “The O.C.,” with wealthy high-schoolers — some as young as 14 — trading partners, cheating on friends, drinking liquor (both casually and to excess) and smoking cigarettes and pot. As one senior tells her boyfriend, “Just bring your toothbrush. I’ve got everything else covered. … Meaning the three Cs: champagne, caviar and condoms.”

The eighth book in the best-selling series by Cecily von Ziegesar, “Nothing Can Keep Us Together,” came out in October, followed by a spinoff, “The It Girl,” in November.

Most medicine cabinets are unlocked

In 2003, nearly one in 10 teens — a total of 2.3 million kids between ages 12 and 17 — said they had abused a prescription drug at least once in the previous year, according to a July 2005 report by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. That’s a 212 percent increase since 1992.

“The problem of abuse of controlled prescription drugs in America has grown under the counter and under the radar to the point where this abuse now eclipses abuse of all illicit drugs except marijuana,” the report noted.

Popular drugs include Vicodin, OxyContin, Ritalin and Adderall.

The percentage of teens who knew a friend or classmate who abused prescription drugs shot up 86 percent from 2004 to 2005, according to a CASA report released last summer.

Parents’ “easily accessible medicine cabinets containing these very drugs are an open invitation to children — fueling ‘pharming’ parties where teens bring drugs from home and trade or share for purposes of getting high,” wrote CASA Chairman Joseph A. Califano.

“Parental ignorance about the dangers of these drugs and failure to safeguard them (e.g., by locking their medicine cabinets) can yield inadvertent but devastating harm to their own children.”

Even “good” kids lie

Teens lie for three main reasons, explains Natalie Fuller, in “Promise You Won’t Freak Out: A Teenager Tells Her Mother the Truth about Boys, Booze, Body Piercing and Other Touchy Topics.” They want to do something they suspect parents would forbid; they’ve done something they’d get punished for; or “because we feel you are being so unreasonable that you don’t deserve the truth.”

The most common lies revolve around a teen’s plans: where, who and what they’re doing, Fuller writes. Another common deception is sneaking out of the house.

“Most of us aren’t evil, just practical: You have a rule that we want to break, and we don’t want you to know we’re breaking it,” she notes. “That’s why, if you care about your rules, it’s important to catch us.”

Parents matter

In survey after survey, parents rate peers as having the most sway on teens. But in survey after survey, teens themselves rank parents as their No. 1 influence.

In a 2004 National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy study, for example, less than a third of teens cited friends as having the most impact on their decisions about sex, compared to half of parents who thought that. Instead, nearly half of teens picked parents as most influential.

This crops up in other ways as well, as studies show teens strongly connected to their parents are less likely to abuse drugs and do better in school.

While parents often feel that teens dismiss anything they say, teens’ behavior indicates that they are often listening.

Teens who say their parents would only be “a little” or not upset at their use of marijuana are six times more likely to have tried pot than teens who believe their parents would be extremely upset, the 2005 CASA report found.

Teens who feel they can confide in their mother or both parents have the lowest risk for substance abuse, compared with teens who turn to other adults for serious problems.


Source:Stephanie Dunnewind: sdunnewind@seattletimes.com Jan.2006

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