There is nothing funny about a needle in your eyeball…..or is there?
If you are like me, you probably remember the high school assemblies where a “guest speaker” would show up and tell you about the evils of drugs.
In my senior year it was David Toma, the former New Jersey policeman who the TV show Baretta was based on. From the moment Toma took the stage it was a bombast of every bad pop culture drug reference I had ever heard; from Reefer Madness to Dragnet to The Mod Squad.
“I want to talk to you about a little thing called grass…….reefer……Mary Jane……joint…..stick…..point…..weed….. number…..whatever you want to call it.”
We just sat there in the bleachers looking at each other, trying to figure out if this guy was for real.
Point..? Stick..? Really…?
“I knew a kid, a kid just like all of you. He was the captain of the football team. He was dating the head cheerleader. He was in the honors club every year. Then one day on his way home a pusher asked him if he wanted to get ‘blazed’ and handed him a joint. He only took one toke, but that joint was laced with dust. He took his clothes off and ran into traffic. I spoke at his funeral.”
One of my friends near the front of the audience leaned over and whispered to the girl next to him. Well let me tell you something; that is the exact thing NOT to do to David….”Baretta”…..Toma!
“Hey you? Yeah you….!” Toma said as he walked over to him. ”Listen you punk, you think I’m all wet huh? You think that cause I’m ex-fuzz that I’m running a game down on you don’t you? If you don’t want to hear what I got to say, then get the HELL outta here. I ain’t got time to deal with punks like you.”
As my buddy scurried out of the gym, with the assistant principal right behind him, and the rest of us tried to figure out what “fuzz” meant, Toma continued his bad after school special…..
“Guys like that think this is all a big joke. They think drugs are cool. Bennies, uppers, downers, ludes, H, Horse, smack…to them it’s all a game. Yeah, let’s go out and smoke a “J” or huff gas.”
I remember thinking even at the time that Toma might want to tailor his message to each audience a little bit better. This was Orange County California, not exactly Beverly Hills, but there wasn’t a whole lot of lot of “gas huffing” going on at the weekend parties I went to. I actually wasn’t even sure what that was, let alone where it might be considered a cool thing to do.
But Toma wasn’t done yet. And before he left us, he was going to take this unintentional comedy to its zenith.
“Let me tell you about my nephew. My nephew got into junk. He used to shoot up so much that he ran out of veins to put the needle in. So he started shooting heroin into his eyeball. INTO…….HIS……EYEBALL…..!!!”
As he said this, he tilted his head to the sky and using his index finger as a proxy for the needle, mimed the jabbing of a hypo into his own eye. Then he ran along the front row pretending to “inject” each kid’s eye.
The only thing that kept most in the crowd from bursting out in laughter was the fear of eliciting Toma’s attention, and being told to “take a hike punk.”
Bad drugs, bad hair, and bad video quality. Hey, it was the 80′s.
Nobody will argue that drugs are bad. Nobody will argue that kids are at risk from drugs. Nobody will argue that David Toma committed his life to keeping kids off drugs. But so much of life is not just about sending the correct message, but tailoring it and delivering it in the most effective way. The best intentioned and well-meaning advice will fall on deaf ears, especially with kids, if it’s not delivered in a relatable way.
I can’t speak for other schools, but at mine I think Toma’s appearance probably did more harm than good. The regularly heard slogan at parties for months afterwards was, “this one’s for you Uncle Toma,” accompanied by index fingers pointed at eyes and the downing of shots or the disappearance of lines of coke.
Fortunately Toma’s dramatics as well as its underwhelming counterpart, Nancy Reagan’s “Just say No” campaign, largely went away with the end of the 80′s as society figured out more effective ways to try to reach kids about the dangers of drugs.
Last week, in an oddly similar gymnasium at my daughters school, I attended a parent meeting entitled “keeping kids safe online.” I began to get the uneasy feeling that I was about to experience a Toma-esque presentation was when the speaker was introduced as the “Internet Safety Cop.”
I kept my mind open, hoping he would give the parents in attendance some common sense and relevant information on how to keep their kids safe while using social media, but his Tommy Bahama bowling shirt and the eight year old South Park clip he used to introduce his presentation were not a good start.
And when the first slide was about Myspace, I knew I was in trouble
The speaker seemed like a good guy who obviously cared about kids, and to his credit took the tact of trying to be funny instead of angry, but his message was as out of touch as Toma’s was.
He spent the majority of an hour and a half talking about the history of social media, instead of how to keep your kids safe when using it. And when I say “history” I really mean history. The words “CompuServe” and ”Geocities” came up, as did “Friendster”.
He explained that “things that go on the internet stay there forever,” about the mystical workings of identity gremlins called “cookies”, and how if you jump in water, you will get wet. He said that even adults don’t know which sites are safe to go to and which aren’t.
I was going to ask him if AsianFriendFinder.com was a safe site to visit, but my wife’s elbow probably wouldn’t have liked that.
But it was his Toma-like use of bad lingo that really frustrated me.
Three times he used “Tweeter” instead of Twitter, and told the audience that kids often “subscribed” to many different people on that service.
We know cyber bullying is a problem. We know identity fraud is a risk. And how many times do you need to see an episode of “To Catch A Predator” to know that pedophiles stalk the chat rooms?
The question kept coming into my mind, “is my generation making the same mistakes in trying to keep their kids safe with social media that our parents did in trying to steer us clear from drugs?”
Technology moves so fast I would dare say that parents today are more out of touch about social media then they ever were about drugs, and the fact that it is constantly evolving gives them even less of a chance to catch up.
I have never touched a drug in my life (beer doesn’t count), but I am pretty much addicted to social media and hope to always know as much, if not more about it than my kids do.
I never want to be that “out of touch dad” who doesn’t understand the way my kids are communicating in this fast paced world of ours, and has to resort to Toma style scare stories about “the class president who went on Facebook, and is now turning tricks on Santa Monica Blvd.”
Now excuse my while I get a hit of “T” and cannonball it with some “F-book.”
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