When I was in eighth grade, pretty much all of my knowledge of drug culture came from watching Dragnet on television. I was standing outside of the school one afternoon, lurking around a girl I thought was pretty (and maybe a little fast), when one of the ninth grade biker boys rode up on his Yamaha 250. After a few minutes of chatting, he pulled out a homemade cigarette (professionally rolled with the Laredo cigarette machine) and started sharing it with the girl. About thirty minutes later, and halfway home, I realized what had been going on.* I was appalled, and certain that those people would be drowning babies in bathtubs shortly before going insane. Obviously, they were all going to hell.
Less than a year later I was at a Bread** concert with LC, my girlfriend at the time. In those days it was common for someone at a concert to light a doobie, take what they wanted and pass it down the row. When it got to LC, she took it, did what you do, and then passed it to me. I took it without hesitation, passed it a few seconds later, and then tried with all my might not to cough up a lung.
While my attitudes had softened some over the preceding year, I think it's safe to say that my beliefs about this particular herb changed a lot in a few seconds, and primarily because of my feelings about a very small redhead. It's hard to even imagine how many "Just say no" commercials it would have taken for me to make another choice in that moment. Peer pressure is an unstoppable force at that age, especially when amplified by hormones.
That moment marked the beginning of a very different direction for my life. I'm not saying that LC or Bread are responsible -- it was almost certainly the path I would end up on anyway, given my personality and the emerging culture of the day. But every journey has a beginning, and that was the first step of that particular aspect of my life. Over the next ten years or so I would gravitate to different people and activities, make different decisions, and face different challenges than what my eighth grade self expected.
I don't regret that choice, or any most of the ones that followed. but I know my life would likely have been simpler if I had gone another way. I would have been more likely to get a degree from the first college I attended. I probably would have missed some adventures. I definitely would have gotten more sleep, and would have been way less cool.
I think the only thing that can help kids (and adults, really) make informed decisions is giving them real information and real tools. The pressures on them are intense and immediate, and expecting them to think, or remember their values when they are awash in the smell of Love's fresh lemon and the taste of strawberry lip gloss*** is just asking for disappointment. They literally can't help themselves, so someone else has to help them.
As an outside observer, I can't even imagine how overwhelming these choices are when it's your own children. In many cases, a parent's own investment makes them incapable of adopting the strategy that is most likely to succeed. It's got to be even harder when you wish for your children to make different decisions than you did.
There is a lot one gives up when one chooses not to be a parent. But to quote the guy in Office Space, in this particular case, I wouldn't say I've been missing it.
* I was always a bright boy, but not super-quick on the uptake. Not much has changed.
** Still a guilty pleasure, though I never replaced the 8-track. I dare you to listen to "Baby, I'm a Want You" and not sing it all day long.
*** Those are still popular with kids, right?