Telluride has, for the nearly two decades I’ve been here, always worried about its children. Why, why do they too often get into trouble with drugs and alcohol?
Statistics are meaningless when it’s your child with the drug-and-alcohol problem.
So many of us moved here for the ostensible benefit of our children. As idealistic young parents, we all imagine we will raise our offspring perfectly, and where better to do so than in Telluride, so far removed, it would seem, from the world’s problems.
And then we discover that drugs and alcohol are absolutely woven into the fabric of this place. How do we separate this reality from the idealism that brought us here in the first place?
Our community’s worry about its children’s drug-and-alcohol abuse rises and falls like the tide, as each new wave of children reaches the age of high risk.
And then we at The Watch experience pressure to do something about it.
We are sweeping the problem under the rug, some people say. We are glorifying the town’s party culture, others charge. We report only the bad news. We should editorialize against this year’s end-of-ski-season KOTO Street Dance, where beer is served – in public! We should emphasize the dangers of drugs and alcohol. We should make sure kids know exactly what ignominy – and worse – they face, should they be caught using.
But when we report about specific drug-and-alcohol incidents, we are told we are insensitive. When we point out that we always protect under-age children’s names, we’re told it doesn’t matter – that “everyone knows who they are” anyway.
This past week, the Positive Alternatives Team met with representatives of local media to discuss this quandary.
The tide is up, it would seem.
And perhaps because I’ve seen too many of these periodic bouts of attention to “the drug-and-alcohol crisis,” I felt a bit like the skunk at the garden party.
Drug-and-alcohol abuse by minors is not the fault of the local media, I found myself saying, a bit heatedly. We neither create the problem, nor can we solve it. All we can do is try our best to reflect the community as it is on the subject: conflicted.
Why do our children get into trouble with drugs and alcohol?
May I be so bold as to suggest that our children are indeed an expression of our culture, and that parents are whistling past the graveyard if they think they can address the problem simply by lecturing their kids?
First, even though Telluride is remote, we are part of a national culture in which drugs and alcohol are prevalent. The notion that we could raise our children in any kind of utopia was naïve to begin with.
Second, while I mean no disrespect to our adult culture, we are not a community of teetotalers. We drink, and more than a few of our local adults, yes, even parents, are not exactly hardliners on drugs. Many of us have used drugs ourselves in our past; some of us still do. Many of us, in our heart of hearts, are libertarians on the subject – as is our county sheriff, for which I applaud him (as do voters who handily reelect him, term after term).
Third, we are a resort. Visitors come here on vacation. While here, they drink – and, sometimes, as anyone working with the Telluride region’s law-enforcement and social service agencies will tell you, they seek and find drugs.
Given these realities, is it any surprise that some of our children get into trouble?
What, then, can we as a community do to lower the risk that our children will succumb?
Education works, and our schools should continue to provide the very best drug-and-alcohol curriculum they can find. Alternative modes of entertainment for minors should continue to be provided. These ideas are not new, and the Positive Alternatives Team is to be commended for its good work.
But, in the end, and here’s where I feel like my observation is unwelcome, protecting our children from drugs and alcohol ultimately comes down to individual parents teaching their children about personal responsibility.
And children, in my limited experience, have perfect-pitch bullshit detectors when it comes to whether or not we’re being honest with them.
Bottom-line, as parents, we should find the strength to talk honestly with our children about a beloved relative’s early death due to long-term cocaine abuse; about one’s own health problems related to lifelong pot-smoking; or about a friend’s or a sibling’s death due to DUI. But do we?
No, it’s not easy, especially because most of us understand how incredibly nuanced this can be. If, in all honesty, I have been known to drink on occasion, and maybe even irresponsibly once or twice, how do I teach my child to drink responsibly? If I indeed inhaled, just how candid can I afford to be?
How incredibly personal this turns out to be – and, in many cases, deeply painful, as well.
Our children are us, and for better or for worse, their relationship to drugs and alcohol is no exception.