Monday, April 20, 2015

4:20 - A Time for Parents to Wake Up

One of the biggest issues I deal with as an administrator is the issue of drugs. Today is National Smoke-It-Up Day. The Munchie Holiday. Weed Day. And it’s not coming to a neighborhood near you. It’s already there.

It started in 1971. A group of athletes in San Rafael, California, calling themselves “the Waldos” coined the term (4:20, 4/20, 4-20) when they learned of a plan to search for an abandoned cannabis crop. The Waldos, named for their now famous hang-out spot—behind a wall outside the school—designated the Louis Pasteur statue, located on the grounds of San Rafael High School, as their meeting place. Their designated meeting time was 4:20 p.m. The Waldos’ code phrase was “4:20 Louis." Eventually, the code got shortened to “4:20” as the meeting places changed, causing the term to evolve into a not-so-hard-to-break code word teens use to simply mean marijuana-smoking in general.

Today, marijuana is so prevalent, all a student has to do is put out feelers, and within minutes, he or she will have multiple connections to drug dealers in the area. As a matter of fact, if you see someone in a school or neighborhood with a white towel or t-shirt over his shoulder, that means he could be a dealer (or it could be an innocent soul who is clueless about such things). Other signs, like a certain colored bandanna sticking out of a back pocket, can also be a sign of drug dealing activity (it also is a sign sometimes of gang affiliation). Sadly, in many instances however, an older sibling or "good friend" will act as the go-between and buy the dope for the younger sibling or friend. They will even take the younger sibling or friend on a “field trip” to go and meet the dealer so that the dealer can "deal" directly with the customer in the future. The point is, it's not hard to find it if you're looking.

In our culture, with the hearty push to legalize marijuana across the nation, using medical marijuana as the gateway, what I have witnessed, first as a teacher and now as an administrator, is that each year, the students being affected are getting younger and younger.

Back in the day, it was unheard of to learn of a middle school student using drugs. That was a college thing. High schools were getting infected, too, but they were still more interested in smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Everybody knew who the "stoners" were. They had their isolated little areas (kind of like The Waldos), they all hung together, usually dressed differently from everybody else but looked alike, etc. But now, elementary students are getting arrested for possession. And seemingly any person from any walk of life can be found "in possession." It's not as "isolated" as it used to be.

In some more extreme cases, elementary students are getting arrested not just for possession, but for distribution as well. You see, the drug dealers have gotten smart over the years. They know that if a ten-year-old (or even a middle schooler) gets “popped” for possession, not much will happen. They’re minors. The system will do its level best to save them before tossing them in juvenile detention and throwing away the key, and the dealers know this. If the number of grams falls below the felony limits, then the student will probably get suspended from school and have to attend some class on the danger of drugs. But once those requirements are satisfied, he or she is back in action at Little Dealer Elementary.

Another sad trend is the use of Exceptional Education Students (ESE) by drug dealers. Dealers know many of these students struggle with school. Holding down a job will be difficult for a few. So, “how about you deal for me,” is the general plea sent out by the dealer. “Instead of working at McDonald’s for minimum wage, you can make $100 a night working just a couple of hours for me.” What hard-pressed student who already hates school wouldn’t give that offer some serious consideration?

The other big time “selling point” for students today is this mantra: “It helps me relax.” With the stress of standardized testing, higher accountability, a depressed economy with fewer good-paying jobs, and a world that seems to be hell-bent on destroying itself, this phrase works like a charm. When they relax, they are able to “get away from it all,” including school, Mom and/or Dad.

What younger students do not realize is that marijuana is not called a “gateway drug” for nothing. Very few people stop with using just marijuana. The “high” produced eventually becomes common place. Weak. Ineffective. So, they go looking for other things to help them find that “high” again. That’s when the other drugs enter the scene: Cocaine, Heroin, Smack, Crack, etc. 

Scarier still are the self-manufactured "highs" students concoct. "Pharm parties," wherein students show up with a bottle of pills from their home's medicine cabinet, are another way students get "high." The pills are dumped into a large bowl and mixed with everybody else's "donation." Students then take a pill or two or three (sometimes more and often mixed with alcohol) to get "their buzz on."

And of course, there is that whole slice of the pie as well. Selling prescription drugs on the street to pay for their drug habit. Mom, Dad, if you have anything in your medicine chest that is worth $$$$ on the street, you need to keep a close eye on those bottles. Oxycontin, Ritalin, and other strong pain and ADHD medications are the "faves" in this category.

As a parent, what can you do? You’re biggest challenge is your student’s friends. Like most things, such as a good book or a favorite restaurant, we learn of these things via word of mouth. Someone tells someone. Trumps up the story and makes that “thing” sound like the best one ever. Shows us a video. Tells us where to go on the web to "look it up." Your children are no different. The shoes they wear. The clothes they beg you to purchase. The electronic gadgets they must have if they are ever to survive. Where did they find out about all this stuff? Advertisements? Maybe. But Aeropostale and Hollister didn’t spread like wildfire because of ads alone. Someone had to buy one of their $40 shirts or a pair of their $80 pants. Then, they had to wear it. And then they told all their friends where they got it. And how cool the store was. And the rest is history.
However, there is a difference between their clothes from Pac-Sun and the marijuana they hide in their sneakers. One is legal. One isn’t. Students know the difference. That’s why you’ll never hear them ask you, “Hey Mom, where is the best place to buy some pot?” Those questions are reserved for their friends. And you'll be amazed at how resourceful they can get when they want answers to that question.

I’m shocked sometimes at who I see hang together at school. “That student hangs with him? What is she doing with those girls?” But as an administrator, I can’t just call the parent up and say, “Hey, you might want to start paying attention to who your child is hangin’ with. This has bad news written all over it.” Now, of course, if they get in trouble, then when I call the parent, I can bring it up, and I do. Why? Because, as is usually the case, their grades are dropping, attendance is getting worse, skipping is occurring, a sudden and growing negative attitude is appearing, and all these packaged together are key indicators for drug use. I see it all the time. The grades start to dip. The attitude starts to get snarky, defiant. Student starts to skip class. Sometimes, the student never makes it to school and instead hangs out with some friends at another student’s house so they can pretend it's 4:20 all day long. Authority figures are sudden enemies. Mom. Dad. The teacher. Me. The police. That’s the drugs talking.

But it’s also the friends. The changes in grades, attitude, outlook on authoritative figures like parents, teachers, administrators, and police, are being swayed by the drug culture. “It’s us against them.” The next thing you know, your child is touting the benefits of marijuana use and chanting that it should be legal. It’s a package deal, unfortunately. Just listen, really listen, to the ads for the legalization of marijuana, and you'll hear these "anti-establishment" undertones loud and clear. 

So, as a parent, what can you do? You need to get to know your child’s friends. If you want to kill the snake, chop its head off. Get to know the friend’s parents, too. Get to know the siblings of the friends as well. You also may want to just pop in at your child’s school, unannounced, sign in through the Main Office, and head on down to the lunchroom, with McDonald’s in hand, and check out who he or she is sitting with at lunch. And definitely, you want to be inside your child’s cell phone. Who are they contacting? What are they saying when they do talk to their friends? I’ll be willing to wager there are programs and apps on your child’s cell phone right this very minute, that you, the parent, have never even heard of. Yet, your child uses those to communicate with his or her friends regularly. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are but a drop in the proverbial bucket. They know you probably use those, too, so they use other programs and apps you don’t…to do all sorts of things without ever being detected. How do I know this? Because I deal with the cyber bullying aspect of those programs on a regular basis. You’d be surprised what students say about each other when they think no adults are ever going to see it.

And don't let them become a little "jailhouse lawyer" and try to tell you about Invasion of Privacy laws. If they have nothing to hide, they shouldn't mind at all if you, the parent, want to see how your child is using the phone you are paying for. If they get upset, deny your request to see it, tell you, the parent, you have no right to look at it, then you may have a serious situation on your hands. And unless you raised your child that way, that's the friends talking. It may also be the drugs.

Next month, I’ll delve further into the world of your child’s cell phone playground. You may want to wait on purchasing that two-year contract until then. J

Oh, and by the way, 4/20 is also Hitler’s birthday. Another factoid students think is “cool.” So, what does that tell you about this day?

*Photos courtesy of
Short Bio

C. KEVIN THOMPSON is an ordained minister with a B.A. In Bible (Houghton College, Houghton, NY), an M.A. in Christian Studies (Wesley Biblical Seminary, Jackson, MS), and an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership (National-Louis University, Wheeling, IL). He presently works as an assistant principal in a middle school. He also has several years experience as an administrator at the high school level.

A former Language Arts teacher, Kevin decided to put his money where his mouth was and write, fiction mostly. Now, years later, he is a member of the Christian Authors Network (CAN), American Christian Fictions Writers (ACFW), and Word Weavers International. He is the Chapter President of Word Weavers-Lake County (FL), and his published works include two award-winning novels, The Serpent’s Grasp (Winner of the 2013 Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference Selah Award for First Fiction) and 30 Days Hath Revenge - A Blake Meyer Thriller: Book 1, as well as articles in The Wesleyan Advocate, The Preacher, Vista, The Des Moines Register and The Ocala Star-Banner.

Kevin is a huge fan of the TV series 24 , The Blacklist, Blue Bloods, and Criminal Minds, loves anything to do with Star Trek, and is a Sherlock Holmes fanatic, too.

Facebook:          C. Kevin Thompson – Author Page
Twitter:            @CKevinThompson
Goodreads:        C. Kevin Thompson

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