"Kids don't wake up saying, 'Today I'm going to be a meth addict,' " said Frank Warren, a prevention specialist with San Luis Obispo County Drug and Alcohol Services.
"They wake up and say, 'My life sucks.' "
So to keep youngsters off meth, parents and others need to understand why a youth turns to drugs, prevention specialists say.
Many teens perceive drug use as a social outlet and a way to bond with their peers, said Jerry Shennum, a 20-year drug and alcohol counselor who works at Arroyo Grande High School.
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"The perception of a good time conveyed by a peer who a teen loves and respects is a quick selling point for many youth," he said. "It is how they bond, laugh, escape. ...
"They are not bad kids. They are just misdirected."
Schools offer prevention programs to keep children from trying meth and other drugs. But it is impossible to estimate how many youths are actually deterred.
The programs -- Friday Night Live, D.A.R.E. and a new alternative called Lifeskills -- offer a mixture of positive peer activities such as cheerleading, health fairs, youth and leadership conferences, and education taught by law enforcement officers. The programs also teach coping mechanisms, such as lessons on personal and dating safety.
Yet these school programs fall short without increased community awareness --especially among parents -- of the dangers of drug use, Warren said.
TIPS FOR PARENTS
Here are some tips to help prevent children from using meth:
*Familiarize yourself with youth culture -- not just the drugs that teens might use. Flip on MTV and explore MySpace, a social networking Web site.
*Make sure your children have social outlets. Preventing meth use isn't necessarily about teaching youths the harm drugs may cause, but about offering them other social activities.
*Keep in mind that teen girls are especially vulnerable to meth because it is associated with weight loss. Peer pressure is also a contributing factor.
*Urge youth leaders, such as dance group coordinators or youth pastors, to become trained in drug and alcohol awareness. Employers who typically hire high school students should also be trained.
*To learn more, check out Web sites such as the Partnership for a Drug Free America at www.drugfree.org and www.freevibe.com.Both offer information about drugs and ways for parents to talk about them with children.
*Locally, call the prevention team at county Drug and Alcohol Services, which will do informational training for groups of parents upon request. For more details, call Warren at 781- 4275.