Parents, step up in fight vs. drugs

We should not be surprised – and we, as a community, probably aren’t – that drugs are an issue here. Our young people are affected by the same triggers as young people in major American cities.

They are, in other words, influenced by popular culture, which in many ways glamorizes the use of drugs. We see it in movies and on many television series, and often the characters drugging out are – for lack of a better word – “cool.”

Well, of course they’re cool. Movies and TV want them to look cool, because otherwise we wouldn’t relate to them.

Recently, Milford Police Sgt. Matthew Fiffield discussed drug issues in a forum sponsored by the Wadleigh Memorial Library and pointed out that the average age of a person who has used heroin sometime in their lives is between 12 and 17.

What accounts for these statistics?

Well, one mom at the forum blamed it on the availability of painkillers, because they, too, are addictive and dangerous. But how does that explain heroin? It could be that painkillers are gateway drugs to heroin.

But we still think that at least part of the answer lies in a culture that glamorizes the outlaw image. Just take the cable television shows “Sons of Anarchy,” about a drug-
running biker gang, and “Breaking Bad,” about a high school teacher who turns to manufacturing methamphetamine to pay his medical bills.

The lead characters in those shows are what was once known as antiheroes, first popularized by Paul Newman in “Hombre” and “Hud” and ratched up by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in “Bonnie and Clyde.”

Somehow, though, those characters didn’t seem to have the same effect upon young people that current popular culture does – at least when it comes to drugs. It’s one thing to make it look cool to rob Depression-era banks, as did Dunaway and Beatty. Few kids were going to emulate that, if for no other reason than the relative difficulty in doing so, but also because we still had a culture that frowned upon sticking up financial institutions.

Glamorizing the use or selling of drugs is different, because it isn’t all that hard to do – and it is, in the current culture, more acceptable than robbing banks.

And movies and TV make sure their anti-heroes are attractive. Jax Teller, the protagonist of “Sons of Anarchy,” is played by Charlie Hunnam, and that’s a pretty package. Plus, his character is tough and fearless and all the things that so many of us would aspire to be. Why not, then, aspire to be Jax Teller if you’re 14 years old?

Certainly, we can’t blame all the ills of society upon movies and television. Parents have some culpability, and too many of them refuse to take responsibility. How many stories do we hear of parents who provide their kids with booze for graduation parties?

But the question is always this: What are we to do? The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech – except when it comes to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, or its equivalent. As a newspaper, we would never advocate any restrictions upon speech except when it falls into that “Fire!” category.

No, this is where parents must step up. We have to take control of the images and information assaulting our kids. True, we don’t spend every waking moment with them. But during the ones we share, we can try to instill in them a sense of responsibility and a sense of pride.

Parents, step up.