I currently see millions of dollars being spent on rehab, counseling, drug courts, and other resources to try and stem the tide of drug addiction among teenagers. Unfortunately, these are all 'after-the-fact' repair mechanisms and do not deal with the root cause. In my opinion we do not give our young people the knowledge or life-skills that they need to be able to take care of themselves.

We also keep them 'children' for way too long. What do I mean by this? Let me explain. All creatures learn survival skills from their parents and the similar creatures around them. These skills begin at birth and continue until adulthood. Adulthood usually means the time that they can reproduce. This applies to animals as well as humans. In many cultures, viewed by the western world as primitive, children learn all adult skills from when they are very small. They learn the dangers -fire burns and knives cut - by seeing and eventually doing. By the time they reach puberty, they are ready to be accepted into the adult community. They have a place and a responsibility. They are raised, for the most part, to support their community as well as their mate and children - not just their own children but all the children of the community. They know that the survival of their community depends on teaching the children what they need to know. So the cycle continues.

In our society we have come so far from this natural model. We isolate our children, often from birth, into unnatural groups; childcare, babysitters, early childhood learning, kindergarten, grade school……and on and on. If that were not bad enough, we keep them tied to an isolated group of age mates until they are at least 18 years old. This is at least 5 years beyond puberty and the ability to reproduce. We give them no 'place' in our society so they have created a place for themselves - Teenagers! I hear so much about Troubled Teens, The Problems of the Teen years, Teen Hormones etc.

When you think about this, it is pretty ridiculous. We do not talk about Twentyagers as a group nor yet Fortyagers, so why Teenagers? Because they have had to defined themselves, to give them the power that we are denying them. By the time people reach the twenties, they are at last perceived as adults and mix freely with people of all ages. Alongside that we have a huge, and I do mean huge, industry built on this teenage culture. Everything from teen music, to teen clothes to the best drugs for teen problems. Ritalin comes to mind here, which made millions for the pharmaceutical companies. Also we have a self fulfilling prophecy as we expect the 'teens' to have problems. This is far from the expectations of the primitive society who expect a young person to be an asset to the whole community.

So, what are we, this wonderful western society that we have created, teaching our young people about themselves? We teach them that they are an isolated group. They have no actual purpose in our lives. We do not need them in our communities. They serve no useful purpose until they emerge as a twentyager, where hopefully they can find some productive work. They are constantly reminded that the teen years are hard. That teenagers cause problems. That teenagers ARE a problem and we, the wise ones here, are working on a solution to the problem. Is it any wonder that they turn to drugs and alcohol? I do not think so!

What is the answer? I think our whole society needs a swift re-evaluation of the situation that we have created. Teenagers are not a problem to be solved. If they were allowed to be the people they are becoming, the problem would go away - naturally. I homeschooled my daughters and never had a problem with the teen years. Why? Because they were doing adult things in an adult world. Now I know that homeschooling is not possible or practical for many families so how could we accomplish what I am suggesting? First the schools need to be totally restructured.

In my opinion they need to be structured like a college. From the very first years in a school, the subjects that are needed - reading, math, sciences and living skills need to be divided into courses which the children take in order. Once they achieve proficiency in one course, the go on to the next. This does away with the current group by age and puts each child where they should be, grouped by experience and ability. This should continue until a basic level of proficiency is achieved. By age 12 or so, the young person should have mastered all the basic skills and also living skills (more on that in a moment). Then they should be directed to use their given gifts to explore what work they will likely be drawn to in the future. Whether it is art or truck engines, nursing or gardening, these skills should be explored with the way they have been done for centuries, by learning from someone already skilled in the craft.

Not do-able you say? Indeed it would be do-able if our society was ready to accept that youngsters of 12 – 16 were able and ready to work. In WWl young men of 14 and 15 years of age were learning to fly and bombing Germany. All through recent history there have been cases of youngsters lying about their age to get into the military and work alongside their older peers. They will do it if we allow it.

I am going to digress a moment about my own daughters. My younger girl was drawn to the medical profession quite early on and when she was 14 she got the opportunity to help out at our dentist’s office over the summer. She started working at cleaning the rooms and helping in the office, but before long she had learned to sterilize instruments and finally to assist the dentist, first with small things and then with full procedures. During the following two years she worked as much as possible with the dentist, who was willing to teach her everything she wanted to learn. At the age of seventeen she took and passed the DANB exam and obtained her Dental Assistants License. My older daughter meanwhile was at college at 17 getting her diploma in photography.

I talked a moment ago about living-skills. I find so many young people are almost totally deficient in living skills and by this I mean the knowledge and ability to take care of themselves. I mean learning to care for their bodies, their minds, their environment and other people in a healthy way. We are a disposable society because no one knows how to repair anything. We do not care for our own sick or bury our own dead or birth our own babies at home. Most young people have never seen a baby born or a person die. We do not produce or prepare our own food. We never learned to resolve conflicts peacefully. These are basic facts of life. Young people in ‘primitive’ societies see these things all the time. They understand the relationship between health in the body and health in the community.

In the past the schools were set up to teach children to read as many parents were illiterate. Now we have many parents who are deficient in basic living skills. School will have to change to meet the changing needs of the children and provide what the parents cannot.

So what is the relationship between young people, gangs and drugs? (I include alcohol, prescription drugs and tobacco products here). These things are a bonding mechanism! They help to form a bond and a group identity which we are denying them. Gangs have a strong identity of their own. Drug use also has its own identity, language and culture. As these young people cannot find any groups to bond with, they have created their own, albeit unhealthy, groups.

And the answer is – a huge change in consciousness. A willingness to trust, and allow our young people to grow up into an adult world. To put expectations on them to produce, to learn and to be part of our community. To nurture their creativity and share our knowledge. To value them for their qualities of youth and teach them to respect the wisdom of age. To welcome them into our adult world and allow them to learn from us just as soon as they are ready. Above all to stop pushing them into a box labeled ‘one-size-fits-all-teenage-problem-child’.

I have already raised my daughters in this model. Will you join me please?

Author's Bio: 

Vivienne has been an educator for natural childbirth, an adult trainer for outdoor camping skills, a speaker on domestic abuse, the founder of a state home schooling network, an advocate for the dying, the guiding light in local drug education and currently has a business coaching parents and families of drug abusers.