So many parents, teachers, and community leaders are eager for some sign of a decline in drug use among teenagers that it's worth citing a recent survey by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
This group's polls show drugs are gradually losing their aura of "coolness" and acceptability. The statistical declines are hardly startling - 40 percent of teens surveyed saying that really cool kids don't use drugs, compared with 35 percent a year ago; experimentation with marijuana is down to 41 percent, from 44 percent in 1997.
A few more kids are trying to talk friends out of using drugs. More are saying they couldn't be talked into it. Considerably more say they're aware of antidrug messages in the media.
Skeptics are prone to sneer at such findings. They point to continued high drug use generally. But changes in attitudes toward drugs shouldn't be discounted. Altered attitudes lead to altered behavior, as shown by dropping cigarette use among youths in states making a consistent effort to discourage smoking.
Perhaps most importantly, anti-addiction drives - whether against drugs, tobacco, or alcohol - have to credit the people they want to sway with intelligence and common sense. Those faculties may need to be awakened. Kids, and adults for that matter, have to be moved to the questions, "Do I really want to do this to myself?" and, "Do I want to set this example for others?"
Helping young people toward the right answers early is at the heart of the country's offensive against drugs. The ads being aired as part of the government's National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign have their part to play. So, critically, do parents and other influential adults. It's encouraging that an increased proportion of teens surveyed (30 percent versus 27 percent last year) said their parents had informed them of the dangers of drugs.
The glimpses of hope seen in this survey and other recent ones demand diligent follow-up. Reducing demand is the most critical front in the drug "war."
Among youths, whether urban, suburban, or rural, that means education, with an emphasis on moral reasoning - making decisions that help oneself and others.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society