Pubdate: Sun, 14 Oct 2007
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 2007 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Karen Robinson
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Parents who help their children buy soft drugs are sending the wrong signals

So we're sitting on a shaded cafe terrace enjoying a leisurely
aperitif as the sun sets over the Mediterranean. A mobile chirrups -
text incoming - and one of the company of middle-class, middle-aged
Brits scans her message. It' s from the teenage daughters who have
been left at home in Bristol for the weekend.

"They're after our dealer's number - they're planning a chilled night
in and want something to smoke," explains the mother, who runs her own
interior design agency, and texts back. Later, a fresh message
confirms that the enterprising merchant has turned up on his bike and
sold them some cannabis. Sorted.

 From the distinguished lexicographer who told me how he and his
14-year-old son regularly "skin up" together (a rather masculine,
clubby activity, apparently) to the chaotic family life of permanently
twatted council estate patriarch Frank Gallagher in television's
Shameless, intergenerational dope smoking seems to be more common than
sit-down family meals these days. The kids of the 1960s and 1970s are
handing on the toking habit they haven't quite managed to shake.

Last week Nicola Cooper, a 43-year-old Suffolk primary school support
assistant, was sentenced to 200 hours' community work for giving
cannabis to her teenage son and daughter. Cooper, who said she had
been an occasional cannabis smoker since the age of 18, became her
children's supplier because she and her husband Ian Leppard, a
51-year-old company director, didn't want them to get involved with
dealers who might tempt them onto harder drugs.

Enlightened liberal parenting - or a dangerous dereliction of duty?
Cannabis is increasingly believed to be a trigger for mental illness,
especially in the young. And it is illegal - a conviction could
seriously scupper career and travel prospects. The maximum penalty for
possession is two years in prison and a fine. The penalty for
supplying can be up to 14 years - and theoretically this could cover
simply passing someone a joint.

Cooper escaped the full might of the law in Bury St Edmunds last week
because district judge David Cooper said "she has an excellent
character" though he added that he thought she was "utterly misguided".

Dr Pat Spungin, psychologist and founder of the advice website, thinks Cooper was undermining her children with
mixed messages. "She was saying, 'Get it from me because I won't tempt
you to anything stronger', but she was also saying, 'I trust you so
far but no further. There are people in the world I wouldn't want you
to associate with, but the drug is okay'.

"Are her children sufficiently inculcated with the values to know when
and where to stop? She obviously doesn't think so.

"Parents stand for the adult world, society and the law beyond and
behind you. Freud was right, the parent is always the super-ego,
embodying the conscience, values and morality of society."

But what about reflecting a society where respectable mums like Cooper
smoke dope as "a relaxing thing"?

The default teenage setting of bemused contempt for their parents'
chosen lifestyle does not always result in an AbFab Saffy-style
reaction to a laid-back relationship with narcotics. The holiday
acquaintance who kindly passed the dealer's number on to her girls
recounted how, as the liberal dope-smoking parents, their house
becomes the weekend destination of "a herd of gazelle-like teenagers
who come down from my girls' bedrooms to drift blank-eyed around the
house, leaving a trail of total devastation in the kitchen or giggling
inanely at Sponge-Bob SquarePants on the TV. They get in the way, they
make an appalling mess and we're fed up with them".

But as the only parents at their daughters' exclusive girls' school
who tolerate such behaviour, they're stuck with it, and accept it as
the price of a family policy of openness and honesty. Not total
frankness, though - in the interests of keeping on the right side of
the kids, she does bite her tongue about wishing they'd all just push
off. But she's more honest, she reckons, than parents who have either
never inhaled, or conveniently forgotten their youthful excesses, and
are unwilling to accept that drugs will come along to tempt their
children, however careful their upbringing or expensive their schooling.

Yet she might also be dangerously out of date. Sarah Graham, a
recovering addict, addiction therapist and spokesman for Frank, the
government-sponsored drugs information service, warns: "I would
encourage parents, even those with a history of smoking themselves, to
get up-to-date information.

"They might have an established route of supply but out there cannabis
has changed. Skunk - the stronger herbal strains of cannabis - is now
a brand in itself. That's what young people are interested in.

"And we do know that cannabis use, as alcohol use, can have a
long-lasting impact on teenage brains. As a therapist and person in
recovery I've treated young people with cannabis psychosis - a really
distressing condition." Which might make even the most laid-back
parent start to question the wisdom of tolerating, let alone
condoning, their child's introduction to such a substance.

However, Frank does not go so far as to recommend a good old-fashioned
parental ban.

"If I was a parent, I wouldn't encourage my young person to smoke
cannabis but to get the facts before they start smoking," is as
prescriptive as Graham will get.

But the Cooper case has got her thinking. "My dad took the liberal
route and allowed me to spliff up in my bedroom. At the time I loved
it - how cool! I took magic mushrooms with him. In his defence, I was
a nightmare teen after my mum left - but even so, I wish that the
boundaries had been a little firmer."

A friend who manages a small record company with a young staff has no
illusions about the ubiquity of drugs in today's society. She wearily
describes the way last year's office Christmas drinks descended into a
drawn-out cocaine splurge when all she wanted to do was get to
Waitrose before the organic turkeys sold out. She doesn't enjoy drugs
herself, but started talking to her children, now 16 and 14, about
them when they were still in primary school. "I didn't say don't do
it. I just told them what might happen and how to deal with it if you
get worried or scared," she says.

"What I've always said is one day if it happens be with people you
know and trust and don't be frightened to ask for help - come home and
say I've done this thing and I don't know what to do. The worst thing
would be for a child to be too scared to ask for help from their mum
and dad."

Spungin agrees: "Children need a responsible adult to talk to when
they need to. I've known parents who have been very hippyish and
tolerant - till one day their child's tutor said to them, 'She's very
dopey in class sometimes - at which point they realised with a shock
that their laissez-faire attitude was actually damaging her education."

Cooper has learnt her lesson about cannabis. "I don't want to touch it
again," she said last week. Perhaps it's time the rest of the nation's
dopey parents grew up. 
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