I dutifully took my 10-year-old through a haunted house last weekend.
It did nothing for me. They never do. That's the price of being an adult. You lose the ability to fear things that can't possibly be real. Vibrating guy strapped to fake electric chair? Yawn. Chainsaw-wielding maniac? Clich alert! Crazed nuns? Please. Been there, seen that. Next?
That's not to say I wasn't scared witless last weekend. I was. I was reading my favorite newspaper's website and came across this hair-raising headline: "Teens finding new uses for parents' prescription pills with 'pharm parties.'"
The story beneath it was even scarier: "Teens often plan pharm parties well ahead of time, stockpiling prescription drugs raided from the family medicine cabinet. When they get to the party, all the drugs are thrown in a bowl, called 'trail mix.' The pills sometimes are consumed by the handful and often washed down with alcohol. The goal is to gobble up as many different types of prescription medicines as possible. Typically, teens don't even know what they're taking."
Yes, yes, I know. Teens experiment. It's what they do. But is it me or do the risks get dumber and more dangerous with each generation?
I mean, really, trail mix? Bowls of drugs? Don't even know what they're taking? That's not rebelling, that's just stupid. My inner middle age dad is screaming, "What the heck is wrong with young people today? Haven't you ever heard of drug interactions? You know that's what killed Heath Ledger, right? Do you somehow think it can't happen to you?"
The answer is yes, of course. Teens never think it can happen to them, which is why I will never understand the teenage mind. So smart, yet so dumb.
Honestly, I didn't even understand it when I was one. I remember wondering why so many of my classmates thought partying 'til they puked was fun. It certainly didn't look fun. In fact the end result usually looked painful and messy.
The party kids themselves probably thought so, too, but they were so hung up on seeming cool that they probably figured the risk was worth the attention they got.
Give them five years, however, and I betcha every one of those "cool" kids realized how stupidly they acted. And the ones who didn't come to that realization probably ended up dead, damaged or in rehab.
Teens don't yet have that wisdom, of course. So it's our job as grownups to be the supplier of it, to warn them from the shoals, like a lighthouse in the night.
They need to hear: "This stuff will, in fact, kill you. You don't have to bend to peer pressure and do the newest, dumbest, most destructive thing. It's all right to say no. It's all right to tell your friend who is planning or going to one of these parties, 'Please don't.'"
Talk to your kid. They'll hear even if they pretend to not be listening.
I know some parents think it's scary to talk to kids about this stuff, but you have to do it anyway.
Think of it this way: It could be a lot scarier if you don't. ---
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.