Sixth-graders are ordering prescription medications over the Internet -- illegally. And their parents haven't a clue.
That's one of the shocking facts in "You've Got Drugs!" an annual report on Internet access to controlled substances from Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. The report, released late last year, also points out that while 18 U.S. states either have or are considering laws that restrict the sale of prescription drugs over the Internet, researchers were able to locate 365 Web sites offering the medications. Of these sites, 85% do not even require a prescription. Some even sell online-only consultations with physicians willing to write prescriptions that consumers can fill at their local pharmacies.
To be sure, many online pharmacies are legitimate. But this type of illegal activity places their reputations in jeopardy. That's because federal laws and regulations lack both the teeth and the funding to stop these illegal sales.
It is no startling revelation that kids these days are Internet-savvy. One 16-year-old who started ordering illegally off the Internet at age 11 put it this way to the Columbia researchers: "I doubt laws will work because if there is a will, there is still most definitely a way. You find ways and means to get whatever you want."
This reminds me of a television commercial that ran several years ago, asking: "It's 10 p.m., do you know where your kids are?" Now the question is, it's the Internet - do you know what your kids are doing there?
It's hard enough raising responsible kids without having to worry about what they're doing behind our backs. Without a doubt, the Internet is a prolific 21st century marvel when it comes to accessing information and the advancement of learning for children. These benefits come at a price, however. The Net is also the largest playground ever for kids to encounter all sorts of temptation.
If your kids have purchased drugs illegally via the Internet, or if you suspect they are trolling Web sites tempting them to do so, here are some options for action:
- Option 1: Talk to your kids. Explain what's wrong with buying medications illegally, in terms they can understand. Tell them in no uncertain terms that you strictly forbid them to buy drugs on the Internet. Be specific about the consequences (your choice here), and make it clear that disciplinary actions will be enforced on the very first violation.
- Option 2: If you suspect or find out that option 1 isn't working, move the computer out of the kids' bedrooms and into common spaces (living room, kitchen, etc.). Tell them that the computer will remain in a common area for a set period of time, so that you can monitor their Web use.
- Option 3: If options 1 and 2 aren't working, check the computer's browser history. Yes, this is spying. But if you believe your child is really involved in an illegal activity, you have an obligation to investigate.
- If options 1, 2, and 3 fail, install parental blocking software or Internet filters. These programs let you create a list of Web addresses and keywords the computer will be unable to open; some also generate reports on Internet use and block certain types of interactions. Popular brands include Net Nanny, Safe Eyes and CyberSitter, and they typically sell for $30 to $60. This is your last resort, short of banishing the computer from your home.
In spite of these actions, as the above mentioned 16-year-old pointed out, "If there's a will, there is still most definitely a way." Still, you need to do the right thing. Perhaps your kids will thank you later. Either way, raising children and teens to act responsibly and enforcing appropriate behavior, are the toughest tasks you will ever take on.