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Did Anti-Drug Propaganda Help Bring About a Psychedelic Renaissance?

As the anti-drug program spread into 3/4 of all school districts by the '90s, America's youth enjoyed a psychedelic renaissance.

The following is an excerpt from Ryan Grim's new book, "This Is Your Country on Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America(Wiley, 2009) This is the 2nd excerpt in a series from the book. Read the first excerpt here).

The D.A.R.E. program is now in three-quarters of all school districts, reaching more than twenty-five million American kids. It also has branches in more than fifty nations worldwide. Ironically, it was born just as more than a decade of rising drug use was ebbing among all age groups, including baby boomers, who now had the sorts of responsibilities that can preclude taking recreational drugs: careers, mortgages, and, most important, children.

Apprehensive new moms and dads in the eighties and early nineties helped make D.A.R.E. a global phenomenon, but they were surrounded by countless other sources of parenting help. Best sellers such as Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More and Charles Whitfield’s Healing the Child Within: Discovery and Recovery for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families , both published in 1987, helped to build a massive market in recovery and wellness literature during the period. Self-esteem, self-actualization, and self-help, pop-psychological leftovers from the individualistic sixties and narcissistic seventies, became buzzwords to live by as millions of Americans were introduced to their “inner child” and the potentially catastrophic consequences of neglecting it. “With our parents’ unknowing help and society’s assistance, most of us deny our Inner Child,” Whitfield writes of this hidden, wounded aspect of the psyche. “When this Child Within is not nurtured or allowed freedom of expression, a false or co-dependent self emerges.”

Motivational speaker John Bradshaw further popularized the notion with his 1990 best seller, Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child . He went on to host a ten-part TV special by the same title and to author four more self-help best sellers. Together, his books would sell more than ten million copies. He and Whitfield both identified a national psychological crisis that had been caused by neglectful, unloving, and “spiritually abusive” parents.

They urged boomers not to make the same mistakes while rearing their own children—whether the one within or the ones without. “Give your child permission to break destructive family roles and rules,” advises Bradshaw. “Adopt new rules allowing pleasure and honest self-expression.” He also assures readers that “mistakes are our teachers—they help us to learn.” Kids will make more mistakes than adults, he suggests, because “they have lots of courage. They venture out into a world that is immense and dangerous. Children are natural Zen masters; their world is brand new in each and every moment.” Children, therefore, shouldn’t be held back by rigid rules but allowed the freedom to explore. They shouldn’t be scolded but reasoned with. Parents should be friends and confidants, not authority figures. In a 1990 New York Times article, Wendy Kaminer summed up the codependency movement’s attitude toward parenting: “Shaming children, calling them bad, is a primary form of abuse.”

The movement was strong enough—and ostensibly permissive enough—to disturb some of the more conservative elements of American society. A columnist in Georgia’s Fayette Citizen was perplexed as late as 1998 by the proliferation of “parenting classes,” many taught by folks just out of college. He called one of the programs and spoke to its director. She told him that “the most prevalent problem is improper parental discipline,” which probably reassured spare-the-rod types. But that wasn’t all. “You wouldn’t believe how many parents still don’t realize that under no circumstances should spanking or hitting be used to discipline children,” she added. And “the second most frequent problem,” she said, “is not parents endangering children, but rather parents who try to ‘control’ their children, which stifles self-expression.”

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