From one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers. Excerpt:

There’s one other factor in rural drug use. There’s nothing to do in small towns. Growing up in New Mexico, we were bored. When you’re a teenager, you can only watch so much TV. My best friend and I would get high on meth and drive around all night just talking, but we felt great because we were high. All of my friends and a huge chunk of my high school did a lot of drugs and had a lot of sex. When I moved to Seattle and talked about my past drug experience, my new friends looked at me like I was Tony Montana.

That resonates with my experience growing up in a small town, and is a big reason why I’m unwilling to talk about small-town life as a refuge for kids. When I was a teenager there (late Seventies, early Eighties), there was a lot of binge drinking, for precisely this reason: nothing to do. Kids would drive down to the Mississippi River, sit there and get plastered. (In those days, there was a rough division between the working-class kids and the middle-class to preppy kids; the former’s drug of choice was pot, while the latter stuck to booze; I’m sure pot is far more common now). If you weren’t into that, you were socially ostracized, and boy did you feel it. I remember how some of the parents got together to fix up an empty commercial space so the town’s teenagers could have a place to gather, but under adult supervision — this to keep them from drinking, especially drinking and driving. That flopped, predictably, because kids didn’t want to be looked after by their parents, especially when there was liquor down by the river.
I have no idea how things may have changed for the better since those days — that was over 20 years ago, after all. But like Sully’s correspondent, I remember going off to a public boarding school where I became friends with high school juniors from Louisiana cities, and being startled that they had had little to no peer pressure to drink or do drugs. Why? Because their schools were big enough to sustain a number of social groups, and there was lots for kids who didn’t want to drink to do. Really, this shocked me, because I was under the illusion that as bad as it was in our town, it was far, far worse in big-city schools. But that wasn’t true at all.

If memory serves, my father expressed frustration with teenage culture in our town, back when I was part of it, saying that he’d grown up there, and while there had been drinking, kids were far less bored. Those country kids hunted, fished, rodeo’d, that sort of thing. It seemed so foreign to me at the time to hear him talk that way — this, even though we hunted and fished. I watched a lot of MTV during its first year, because it was escapist. It taught me that life — real life, exciting life, the life I deserved — was elsewhere. I wonder if television and the universalizing of American pop culture had the effect of convincing small town and rural kids that the places in which they lived were deficient and boring. Of course, there have always been smart, restless kids itching to get out of the provinces and move to the big city. But I’m wondering if contemporary pop culture and electronic media played a role in creating a more general dissatisfaction with small-town life … and if teenagers there deal with boredom and anxiety not creatively, but by medicating it.
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