Calvin White: We must live up to responsibility for caring for youth at risk

Rather than boldly developing meaningful responsive programs, adults fall into a denial in order to stay in their own psychological comfort zones and not face our inadequacy and failure.

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Bill-22, which would have kept youth who overdose in hospital for seven days, has been scrapped.

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When first brought up almost two years ago, it was slammed by the BC Greens, the BC Civil Liberties Association, First Nations groups, and others. Aside from the Indigenous concerns, which did have merit due to the reprehensible record that authorities have with First Nations, the other objections and the subsequent rescinding of the initiative once again demonstrate adults’ betrayal of children.

As Greta Thunberg has eloquently pointed out in reference to the adult world’s response to climate change, it’s more bullshitting, pontificating, lip-service, and blah, blah, blah.

We have a perpetual, generational delinquency in protecting, caring for and responding to the lived needs of our youth. In this specific addictions realm, the adults in charge argue to serve their own political or psychological purposes and do nothing.

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We fully know that the stress in our kids’ lives has never been greater, with emotional and social health drastically impacted by the pandemic and its restrictions, the aforementioned existential threat from climate change that transpires in real time, Ukraine’s war and possibility of nuclear warfare , and the amplified trauma within families due to all of these factors.

This is not to discount the usual dysfunctions that plague most homes.

So naturally, substance use and exploitation are prone to increase as logical consequences.

Rather than boldly developing meaningful responsive programs, adults fall into a denial in order to stay in their own psychological comfort zones and not face our inadequacy and failure. Denial situated in lip-service, hand-wringing and then, the next week, business as usual as though the need for the alarm never existed.

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One way of doing this is by adopting terms and holding lenses up that will support that denial. With Bill-22, the terminology was that it would “hold kids against their will.”

On the surface, this seems accurate, but all of us know it is borderline sophistry. It is fully expected and commonplace that children have boundaries emplaced for their protection and well-being as a matter of course.

Cigarettes and alcohol are prohibited until 19. Contracts are not legal before a certain age. Labor laws restrict youth from certain high-risk jobs. These are all technically acts “against their will.” They cannot vote, cannot join the military, cannot get a credit card until 18 years of age. More infringement on their rights.

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Developmentally, youth are not fully formed. They have too few years on the planet to attain an experience level needed for sound decision-making. We know this.

They are prone to and easier to prey for both exploitation and mistaken thinking, and they have insufficient resources to get out of mistakes. Like all the pitfalls in their path, the drug and alcohol trade are adult-driven. The adult powers set them up for overdoses, one way or the other, and then when it happens we naloxone them or bring them back to life and then wave good-bye. How nutty and despicable is that?

Why is it not more accurate, that by keeping them for the seven days or even longer, we should end it keeping them against their will, against the resumption of a trauma-induced or addiction cycle-induced relapse, which then prolongs or intensifies their illness and their disadvantage — all of which has been foisted on them from the adult world?

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A relapse that might lead to death, to more exploitation, to more entrenched hopelessness or self-blame.

We could live up to our adult intelligence, maturity, responsibility, and capability and provide truly state-of-the-art care and a holding time so holistically attractive that other addicted youth want in before an overdose, instead of sterile, unwarm, uninviting , unpersonal, medically oriented holding places.

Instead of insisting that research shows it doesn’t work, we could admit that research results are based on the way we have tried restricting kids and not taking into account how they have been held, in what setting with what ingredients, who was working with them, and how it was explained and how it was followed up.

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Of course, that would take true recognition that our kids deserve our help, that in fact we could design it, and that it’s worth the money to pay for it.

Calvin White holds a master’s of education in counseling psychology, was a school counselor for 30 years, and the author of The Secret Life of Teenagers

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