Parents learn about youth subcultures, substance abuse


By Claire Harlin

Youth subcultures change just as rapidly as new risks develop — from Internet crimes, to drugs, to bullying — and sometimes it’s hard for parents to keep up with their kids during those impressionable teenage years.

That’s why more than 150 local parents packed a Torrey Pines High School auditorium on Nov. 8 for a special presentation in which two Orange County sheriff officials specializing in juvenile delinquency explained the latest trends in youth subcultures and drugs. The event was held so parents can better understand the challenges kids face in their social networks and know the signs of substance use. Hosted by the San Dieguito Union High School District’s Recovery Education Alcohol/Drug Instruction (READI) program, the graphic program revealed real life cases, some tragic and eye-opening, that law enforcement officers have handled in Southern California. Also on display were hundreds of items confiscated from youth, from weapons to paraphernalia to abused drugs — many of which are legal.

“These things happen to our kids and these things are common and normal for our children,” said Lance Christensen, a deputy sheriff who has been cracking down on drugs at Orange County schools for more than six years. “We’ve been having a lot of drug arrests and we recently hit [school campuses] aggressively searching cars and lockers … But what’s important is showing parents the search techniques and giving them the proper resources to know what their kids are doing.”

OC Sheriff Sergeant Nancy Wilkey, who accompanied Christensen in giving the two-hour presentation, said most youth deaths — from suicide to drug overdoses — happen to kids between the ages of 18 and 25, soon after kids become adults and parents no longer have control. She referenced several recent cases, such as the September death of an 18-year-old boy who overdosed in a Huntington Beach hotel room, and said she wants to give parents the knowledge necessary to help prevent problems from escalating to that point.

“I’ve started realizing that the parents often don’t recognize the signs and symptoms,” she said. “They have absolutely no idea, no control.”

The officers said there are a number of new drugs that are easily attainable and very deadly, such as “bath salts,” synthetic cannabis such as “Spice” and “K2,” and legal prescription drugs that are abused. Bath salts are not really used in the tub, that’s a street name for a legal synthetic drugs that are sold in head shops and convenient shops and causes intense and often destructive hallucinations. The drug has also come up recently in the media due to severe cases in which users self-mutilated or mutilated others.

Christensen and Wilkey also said performance-enhancing products are often being used by high school boys, and they have nasty side effects, such as the development of breast tissue due to failure to use an estrogen blocker in conjunction with the drugs. This often causes boys to lactate and even need corrective surgery. They said boys who work out often or play sports might be at risk of using these types of products.

“You have to also remember that children see, children do,” said Wilkey, adding that 147 bottles of animal steroids were recently confiscated from an Orange County teen who bought them in Mexico. “A parent with a body image disorder may influence their child. Everything parents do, their child is going to pick up on it.”

Christensen also showed a plastic bag that was confiscated from a teen girl who had been using diet pills and laxatives, as well as binging and purging. The bag contained laxatives and a hand sanitizer which the officer said is often consumed to self-induce vomiting.

They said of the biggest problems on high school campuses, however, is medical marijuana, mainly due to its availability. It has become increasingly difficult to monitor pot use because kids make pipes out of unconventional items such as plastic soda bottles, and the drug is even being sold in less obvious, odor-free forms like sodas, candies and other edible items. In particular, “Hubby Bars” are an extremely potent new edible cannabis product that has resulted in many overdoses in schools because it takes up to an hour to kick in, and kids often consume too much before it takes effect on their bodies.

“Most of the time kids laugh when you ask where they get their pot,” said Christensen. “They say, ‘You can get it anywhere.’”

The officers encouraged parents to search their kids’ cars and trash cans and look for wrappers, mutilated soda bottles and other evidence of pot use. They said searching the bushes where kids go for walks might reveal discarded marijuana containers. They also said certain subcultures — such as the “indie,” “bohemian,” or “jock” — often indicate drug use or other risks, such as bullying, and they described the subcultures in detail so parents can pinpoint where their kids fit in socially.

“If they are into indie or bohemian or hippie things, it’s likely they might be into pot,” said Christensen, adding that this subculture is characterized by loving nature and shopping at thrift stores for clothes, among other specific trends. “These are the trends we’ve been seeing.”

Other subcultures the officers touched on are the “hipsters,” “mean girls,” and the “fresh” kids, which they described as “modern preps.” The officers were able to pinpoint these subcultures and risks by anonymously surveying local kids. The officers had the descriptions kids gave of themselves and their peers on display at the presentation, and they also touched on a number of Internet crimes that have caused problems.

Not only did they attribute some destructive behavior to social media and television shows, but they warned that our youth should be particularly aware of the digital footprint they leave behind on the Internet. For example, sites like and keep a stockpile of information about people/visitors to the site, including the places they’ve lived and the Internet sites they’ve viewed. They told parents to consider installing Internet monitoring devices, such as keystroke loggers to make sure kids are safe.

“There is no more anonymity,” said Christensen. “Everything is discoverable and that’s something we are trying to teach our kids in our schools.”

For more information about this presentation or the READI Program, contact school psychologist Joseph Olesky at (760) 436-6136, ext. 6183 or email;