I would also take this opportunity to point out that another sciblogger has weighed in on this. Dr Free-Ride, at Adventures in Ethics and Science, makes some very similar points to my own.
First, Abel actually was referring to legal wrangling, when he talked about going over the line. And this is a very important factor in discussion of issues such as sex and drugs with our children.
This is a very real concern, for a lot of parents. The only real answer for it, is to be active and try to affect change in our communities. In many places it is possible to have one's children taken away or be otherwise oppressed for making very reasonable and sound parenting choices. And it's a catch twenty two. On the one hand, the only way to effect change is to talk about why these are perfectly reasonable choices. On the other hand, if one talks about it, it could be cause for serious legal problems. This is a tough enough issue that even living someplace as reasonable about these things as Portland is, it still makes me a bit nervous, talking about it.
I do know that this is a pretty big problem, one that is all the more difficult, having been raised to believe that the freedom of expression is akin to being a sacred ideal. Especially true when it comes to raising one's children and doing what we believe is right, to raise as functional, ethical and safe children as we can. There are no easy answers. Many contributors to the problem are rather obvious, but actually changing them, is as complex a problem as trying to break the deathgrip the republicrats have on American electoral politics. One advantage, is that this is very much a localized issue and we can all get very directly involved with local politics. It is still an uphill fight, but I think it is one worth fighting.
Drugmonkey also weighed in, with a very important point about risk assessment. This being that even a seemingly small chance, such as one percent, is not as small as it seems. To illustrate, take a group of five hundred kids, not far off the mark for a lot of graduating classes at high schools all over the country. If anything, it's probably a little small. But it works for illustrating the numbers easily.
Something that affects one percent of a teen population, is going to affect five kids in that group. But that leaves four hundred, ninety five kids who it doesn't affect, right? Of course it does, but I want you to consider exactly what this means. I want you to consider the odds of one of those five kids being someone you and your child knows. At the least, it is exceedingly likely that at least one of the five will be known to someone you/your child knows. Less likely, but still plausible, one of those five will be your child. So lets look at some numbers, kindly provided by Drugmonkey;
In this we are supported by the data in the sense that 50% of 12th graders have tried an illicit drug, 73% have tried alcohol and 56% report having "been drunk".
So lets look at how this translates into our group of five hundred kids. We have a full two hundred, fifty kids who will try an illicit drug. Two hundred, eighty of them will get drunk. And three hundred, sixty five will try alcohol. To be clear, it is virtually impossible that you/your child will not know several kids who will fall into one or more of those categories.
I would also like to take a look at the numbers for inhalant use among teens, from this context. Mainly, because this is the one that frightens me the most. According to a 2006 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (Warning, PDF link), 11.1% of twelfth graders have used inhalants, holding steady since 2002. Finding statistics on the percentage of kids who use inhalants, who die of it is proving rather difficult, but according to this same report, of those who die, 22% are first time users. So of our group of five hundred kids, fifty-five or fifty-six of them will use inhalants. Here is a listing of likely side effects of inhalant abuse, from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Note the stats are a little different for the frequency of use. Keep in mind that until this page, we have been looking at statistics for use before high school graduation. NIDA's figures are for lifetime use, not just use among youth.
So while it is easy to point at figures like one percent, and assume that this means something is safe, the reality is that one percent isn't that far away from us, at any given point.
Finally, I wanted to clarify what I am trying to encourage parents to do. I am not suggesting that parents tell their children that if they really need to use drugs, do such and such, because it's safer than other options. While for some kids, that might well become a reasonable method of harm reduction, most kids really don't need that. What I am advocating, is nothing more than providing our kids with enough information, to make an informed decision, should they choose not to abstain. Make sure that you aren't going to find them cold and dead in their bedroom, with an aerosol can in their mouth. Make sure they aren't going to drive intoxicated, or ride with an intoxicated driver.