The boy hadn’t been a problem. He was an honor student, played sports and attended church. His parents never thought about looking for signs of trouble. But a telephone call from the high school in late 2009 changed all of that.
“Your son got caught smoking a cigarette …” the school administrator said. “Oh, by the way, he also admitted to trying pot.”
The mother of the Summit County teenager made a beeline for her son’s room. Things looked normal — clothes, sports equipment, books. But when she opened a mini storage locker, she discovered a Marlboro cigarette box with marijuana stashed inside.
“It should be legal. I’m not going to stop,” he told his parents when confronted with the find. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”
While there are lots of opinions about legalizing marijuana for recreational use, it will never be OK for a 15-year-old to use, countered his father.
The teen did not stop. Over the years, his addictive personality led to more dangerous drugs, including an overdose that nearly killed him.
Three rehabilitation programs later, nothing much has changed. At 18, he’s still using, but he’s out on his own and his parents know that it’s ultimately up to their son to quit. They worry that his continued abuse could kill him.
“But … that look on his face when he’s using — I know I’ve already lost him,” his father lamented.
To protect other members of his family, the young man’s father agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity. He’s hopeful that his family’s story might persuade other parents to get into the habit of searching their child’s room — even if they don’t suspect anything.
To help parents learn what to look for, Copley police have teamed up with Bath police to create Hidden in Plain Sight, a traveling, interactive program for adults with a display resembling a teenager’s bedroom.
Throughout the exhibit are items that might indicate a teen is involved in high-risk behavior such as substance abuse, underage drinking, eating disorders, sexual activity and more.
There are some 150 items in the room that are indicative of different risky behaviors. Police officers and Marcie Mason, a social worker with both departments’ Youth Diversion Program, talk about things that kids might be engaged in — including self-mutilation, inhalant abuse, or dangerous “challenges” such as applying salt and then ice to the skin, which can cause burns.
“Some parents feel it [examining a child’s room] is a privacy issue. That their child’s bedroom is a private place. That it’s their treasure. But in actuality, it’s your home and all they are doing is occupying that room,” said Copley Patrolman Duane Scott, who is part of the program. “They say they don’t want to break a child’s trust. But if you are their buddy, what do you do when you find something?”
Study of drug use
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this year that a study of 15,000 teenagers revealed more high school students are using marijuana today than cigarettes.
That’s why it might be more important than ever to snoop. The alternative, Scott said, could be a kid whose parents learn she is smoking dope in middle school, or playing Russian roulette with stolen prescription drugs in high school.
After participating in the presentation, parents often donate things they have found in their child’s room to the program. For instance, one parent found a grinder, used to pulverize marijuana buds.
“Had I found it a week ago [before seeing the program], I wouldn’t have thought anything of it,” she told police.
Drug paraphernalia can be hidden in knickknacks. And sometimes, it’s right in front of you.
“We’ve got a Magic Marker, or so you think until you unscrew the end,” and it’s actually a pipe, Scott said. “They could carry that around in school and the teacher wouldn’t think anything about it.”
Another thing to look for in your child’s room is a new, expensive item — perhaps a GPS or computer. Some kids steal so they can sell the goods to pay for their habit.
Look for prescription medicine that’s not their own, or take note of how quickly they are going through a bottle of pills. Either one could mean they are selling medicine for money or overdosing.
Kids also use “safes” to hide dope. Inspect things like water or soda bottles and even peanut butter jars for false bottoms.
“Again, the key is snooping,” Scott emphasized. “If you feel guilty for snooping in their room, just think how guilty you will feel if you never search and they die of an overdose.”
All kids are suspect
The kids who are involved in drugs may not be the youngsters you suspect.
“A lot … are good kids. It’s crossed the lines. It’s not just the burnouts anymore,” Mason explained. “Now it’s the burnouts, the athletes and everybody in between.”
Scott said parents are often embarrassed to learn that their child is using drugs.
“They may be concerned that someone is going to judge them on their parenting skills, but it’s not like that at all,” he said. “They are not alone.”
The father of the young man mentioned at the beginning of this story is a huge proponent of Al-Anon, a group that helps friends and family of problem drinkers, and Families Anonymous, a fellowship of people whose lives have been affected by the use of drugs or related behavior problems.
“The support we have had from them is priceless,” the father said.
“For my family, it’s been the difference between life and death.”
Kim Hone-McMahan can be reached at 330-996-3742 or firstname.lastname@example.org.