Palo Alto, Calif.
High school teachers in the 1970s claimed they were "lone rangers" when it came to combating discipline problems in the schools. In a decade that saw both the numbers and the seriousness of problems involving teens in high schools greatly increase, teachers in many sections of the US argued that parents were "dropping out," so to speak.
But there are signs of a reversal to that trend. Drug and alcohol abuse of horrendous proportions has evidently catalyzed new parental involvement at home, at school, and in the community.
Parents here in Palo Alto describe the drug/alcohol problem in their schools as a creeping-plague that everyone knew existed, but one day suddenly appeared in monstrous proportions. "Sure, there is the day-use at school," said one parent. "You know, the selling of drugs on campus, and kids leaving school at lunchtime and returning to classes stoned."
But according to this parent, by far the worst abuses are the weekend parties. These "kegers" (so named because beer is purchased by the keg) are gatherings in homes where large quantities of drugs and alcohol are consumed by teens. In years past, such parties had been forced into darkened corners of city parks, but there is evidence these days that they take place in the homes of obliging (or absent) parents.
A group of parents in Palo Alto has chosen to fight back. They have formed an organization called Parents Who Care (PWC). The group's purpose involves "cooperating with the schools, law enforcement agencies, and young people to create a healthy atmosphere in which the use of drugs and alcohol is no longer considered the norm." These parents are striving to help reverse the trend toward total social acceptability of illegal drug and alcohol use among Palo Alto teens.
Among the specific activities they plan are these:
* Neighborhood meetings of parents of students at Gunn High (one of two high schools in the city). These "coffee gatherings" are organized by the original group of 25-30 parents who founded PWC. At these meetings, parents inform other parents of the nature and magnitude of the problem and specific ways in which they can help.
* In collaboration with the Parent-Teacher-Student Association at Gunn High, PWC called each of the 1,800 Gunn parents, inviting them to a mass meeting at the school. Some 400 attended the meeting, demonstrating that there is solid community interest in tackling the problem.
* Dissemination of information about the "Atlanta Experiment," a similar project by a group of parents in Atlanta, Ga. (Information about their experiment is contained in the pamphlet: "Parents, Peers and Pot," and is available from the Department of Health and Social Services, Washington, D.C. 20202.)
* Working with a group of students in sponsoring drug-and-alcohol-free dances. More than 300 high schoolers attended the first dance. Invitations to this dance went by way of high schoolers who were willing to go before their peers and lay out the "no dope-no booze" ground rule. Joann Lundgren, one of the organizers of PWC, says there is a growing number of teens willing to assume this stance before their peers.
* Organization of a series of seminars designed to teach parents and youth more about communication with each other. Mrs. Lundgren stressed that "the seminars will work with families -- parents and children."
* Formation of a community action subcommittee that will keep tabs on what the local government is doing to restrict illegal drug and alcohol use. Recently, a few parents who are now involved in PWC lobbied the Palo Alto City Council into passage of a law forbidding the sale of drug paraphernalia (equipment designed specially to dispense illegal drugs into the human body) within city bounds.
(Such a law became urgent when a large record store in a shopping area just off the southern boundary of the city refused to remove the extensive stock of drug paraphernalia from its shelves. When confronted by parents on the paraphernalia, a company executive said, "Take that stuff off the shelves? Why, it accounts for 50 percent of the store's profit!")
* Making contact each fall with parents of all incoming students, inviting them to neighborhood meetings in which PWC informs them of the problem and what they can do.
* Placing a large ad in the local newspaper, informing the public of the group's existence. Included in the ad is a list of supporters and the group's objectives.
* Drawing up and distributing a set of guidelines to help parents make decisions regarding teens' social activities. According to Mrs. Lundgren, the guidelines are central to what the group has been able to accomplish in its short (since November 1979) existence.
One parent tells of following a guideline which advises, "Verify with the host family that there will be adults present at the party and that no liquor will be served." When she inquired, this parent found that the hosts indeed had planned to spike the punch with alcohol, but only at their son's insistence. After the host parents had received three calls asking about alcohol, they said "no" to spiking the punch.
Other inclusions in the guidelines for parents are such tips as:
* Know where to reach all family members by phone.
* Be awake when young people come home at night.
* Assure teens that transportation is available if needed.
* Get to know your teens' friends and their parents.
* Support school officials and their regulations.
* Set reasonable hours for teens to be in at night.
* Be alert to signs of drug or alcohol use.
* Be aware of the laws governing drug and alcohol use.
* If you are a host-parent: Plan small parties; don't allow guests to leave and then return; be visible as a host or hostess.
Does all this sound like a return to authoritarian parental roles? Organizers of Parents Who Care say "no!" But, says Joann Lundgren, it does signal parents' desire to have more of a direct hand in guiding their teens' experience. Intelligent discipline and open communication, she says, tells teenagers that their parents care, and they do respond.