Joseph Califano was scheduled to talk about his book — How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid: Straight Dope for Parents — long before Staples’ Homecoming jolted Westport into a community-wide conversation about teenage drinking. (Alcohol is a key component of Drug-Free Kid.)
So tomorrow’s 7:30 p.m. event at Bedford Middle School — co-sponsored by the Westport Public Library and Positive Youth Development — is both fortuitous and important.
An added attraction: Califano — founder and chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, and a former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare — is a Westport resident.
The national expert on adolescent drug and alcohol use will be speaking to a hometown audience, about a national — and yet very local — issue.
He hopes his neighbors will listen.
“Most parents don’t realize the enormous influence they have on kids — for better or worse,” Califano says. “Research shows that kids who see their parents drunk are much more likely to drink, or do drugs.”
Many parents, Califano adds, “are unlikely to use their positive power” to help their teenagers avoid illegal substances. One major reason: “They’re too concerned about what their kids might say, or what other parents are doing. There’s pressure on parents, as well as on kids.”
Tomorrow, Califano will help parents identify the times when youngsters are at higher risk for using alcohol and drugs: the beginning of middle school. The beginning of high school. Events like Homecoming.
“Schools can help deal with this,” Califano says. “But parents are key.”
The drug and alcohol problem will be solved, he believes, “not in courtrooms, but in living rooms and dining rooms” across the country.
Califano speaks throughout the US. From what he’s seen, his home town is “not much different from any affluent community where kids have the resources to get and use” drugs and alcohol.
Tomorrow he travels only a mile or two to talk. The national expert looks forward to seeing his neighbors — parents, teachers and teenagers — in his own back yard.
(A 2nd event — “Community Conversation: Underage Drinking — Whose Responsibility Is It?” — is set for this Wednesday, October 28, 7:30 p.m. at the Westport Library. Co-sponsored by the Staples PTA and Smilow Family, the free-flowing open forum will include high school principal John Dodig.)