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GROUP HELPS TROUBLED TEENS KICK THE HABIT.

Byline: Gloria Gonzales Daily News Staff Writer

It sounds like 48 teen-agers in the temporary classroom at Apollo Continuation High School - the ``Hey, man'' and ``No way'' talk rising from groups of gossiping adolescents.

But it's difficult to imagine what could corral such a tie-dyed and torn-jeans crew into any classroom at 7 on a Thursday night. And certain key words like ``treatment center,'' ``hospital'' and ``sober'' hint that this isn't a meeting of the prom committee.

``It's my first time here. I came here because my sober friends come here and they always try to drag me along,'' said Erica McDonald, a 17-year-old with straight, waist-length brown hair and purple fingernails. ``I don't think I have an addiction. I'm just here to check it out.''

The teens, ranging in age from 14 to 19, mill around gossiping for a few more minutes before a counselor, Cary Quashen, calls them to order. With help from Heather Ryan, a trained teen facilitator who has been in the group for two years, the program gets going.

``OK, who can tell us the rules of the group?'' Ryan yells. Shouts come from every corner of the room, outlining well-known guidelines: no pagers or cellular phones, respectful listening and complete confidentiality.

``What's said in here stays in here,'' Quashen chimes in during a group chant of the final rule. ``Unless it's suicide, homicide or abuse, we don't talk to anyone about it.''

Not even the teens' parents, who are meeting just a few doors down in a second portable classroom.

The Action Group, founded by Quashen, a state-certified addiction counselor, meets once a week and acts as a support group for parents and teens struggling with alcohol and drug abuse.

``I started the groups after working in a treatment center for teens with drug problems,'' Quashen said. ``We would get millions of calls from families and schools wanting help . . . and they didn't have insurance or they didn't have the $200 an hour for therapy. So we started by creating groups in schools.''

Joe Studer, principal of Apollo Continuation High School, asked Quashen to start a program after he learned through a student survey that 85 percent of the students had used alcohol and drugs.

The teens in the Thursday meeting now come from schools all over eastern Ventura County.

``We decided we had to do something to get these students ready to learn,'' said Studer, who helps run the parents group on Thursday nights. ``And we welcomed a group that got parents involved. We knew that without the parents' help, we couldn't meet the needs of these kids.''

Quashen's nonprofit organization, Action, now hosts 14 groups throughout Southern California. The groups are free, and counselors refer teens and parents for additional help if necessary.

The groups work, proponents say, because they create positive peer pressure and teach troubled teen-agers to work through problems by communicating directly with their parents, rather than by getting their attention through bad behavior.

And unlike support groups that focus entirely on one group or the other - parents or children - Action Groups are designed to consider each group's needs separately and then bring the two together for discussion.

``We deal with all sorts of problems, from suicidal teens to ones that run away,'' Quashen said. ``We try to work with parents and teens in a collaborative way, focusing on communication and changing behaviors.

``Our basic tenet is that there are no bad kids, there are just behaviors that cause problems and are not effective.''

And Quashen is convinced that in most cases one of those ineffective behaviors is taking drugs.

``Parents will show up at an Action Group with their kid, saying: `My kid would never do drugs. I've talked to them about it and they would never do them. It's just an attitude problem,' '' he said. ``But then we'll get to talking, and eventually the kid will come around and admit to using.''

Most of the teens use marijuana, alcohol, speed and sometimes LSD, mushrooms and other drugs, Quashen said. The group incorporates the teachings of Alcoholics Anonymous' 12-step program, and at the end of each evening teens are awarded a chip with a number stamped on it designating the number of days they've been sober.

At the beginning of Thursday's meeting, the teens briefly introduced themselves and announced how long they had been sober. One has been sober for one day, while another has been sober for two years.

The large group then broke into three smaller ones, and in this setting, the teens slowly opened up.

``My week went OK,'' said Norma Carbajal, a 14-year-old just back from a forced sobering-up visit to an aunt and uncle in Safford, Ariz. ``But (my parents) don't trust me. They watch me all the time, and if anything goes wrong they'll send me off with a one-way ticket to Arizona.''

Quashen reminds Norma why her parents act the way they do. ``You were climbing out the window every night and doing drugs and selling drugs. . . . What do you expect?''

Norma listens and during a break talks about how much the group has helped her and her family.

``I realized how much I hurt my parents,'' she said. ``And I know I have to keep coming here. We don't argue as much, and I think we're starting to trust each other again.''

Norma's parents agree. They meet with the parents group, where they talk about the week's crisis, their fears and the feelings of loss that come with learning that their child is troubled.

``I never imagined this, that I'd be sitting at a support group because my son was using drugs,'' said one Moorpark father. ``I thought I'd be spending evenings watching him play ball, not going to support groups and therapy.''

But the parents, some of whom spend two evenings a week at Action Groups in Simi Valley and Agoura Hills, also talk about the benefits.

``It's working,'' one woman said. ``My daughter is a different person than she was six months ago. The group has helped us keep our sanity through this time.

``It's forced us to resolve some of our conflicts and look at our whole family. And it's made me a better parent, too. I'm much more mellow and flexible.''

The meeting ends, and the parents and teens gather in one large room. Quashen asks if any new members would like to come forward for a ``welcome chip,'' a small plastic disc that symbolizes a teen's entry into the group.

Erica McDonald clears her throat.

``My name is Erica McDonald, and I've been sober one day,'' she says. ``I'm not sure what's going to happen, or if I'll come back again. But I'm here today to check it out.''

CAPTION(S):

3 Photos

Photo: (1--color in SIMI edition only) Counselor Cary Quashen talks to teen-agers in an Action Group at Apollo Continuation High School.

(2--color in SIMI edition only) Ted and Norma Fautz, left, take part in the Action Group meeting for parents at Apollo High. (3--ran in CONEJO edition only) Principal Joe Studer, above, who is also a counselor, talks to the adult group.

Tina Gerson/Daily News
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 24, 1997
Words:1193
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