Drugs, Sex, Race, and White Privilege: Teens Speak with Teen Talking Circles

Hello TTC Friends,

We’ve begun a series of interviews with teens, starting with two volunteers in our predominantly white community who answered questions we posed to them concerning drug use in high school, racism, sexism, white privilege, and their experience as teens in 2017 in a US dominated by a Donald Trump presidency. Stay tuned for diverse teen perspectives over the next few months as we delve into the topics that matter. Please feel free to share our blog on FB or with young people in your life and anyone who works with youth

Our mission has always been to educate and empower young people. This year, Teen Talking Circles is 24 years old. We are honored to begin the process of supporting TTC to be an adult in the world, so to speak, and will be re-visioning  in conjunction with a new youth advisory board, board of directors, group of advisors and leadership. I’m delighted to announce that Jeny Rae Vidal has joined me to administer TTC. Along with our board and advisors, Jeny Rae will play a vital role in ushering in a new generation of facilitators and youth as we craft a renewed vision, mission, and strategy moving forward.

Before we get into the interview, please take note that a TTC Facilitator’s Training is online for registration. If you have wanted to join us we have space for 10 people and scholarship funds to offset the cost — especially for folks working with groups of refugee, immigrant, and/or marginalized youth. Check our training site and get in touch if we can help you come.  ttcsummer2017.eventbrite.com

Our first interview is with a young man named Derek (not his real name), from Kitsap County in the Pacific Northwest.


Derek Interview: 1/31/17

D: My name is Derek. I am 16 and a junior in high school. I like baseball. I like playing guitar. I like spending time with my friends. Typical teenager things. I would say I’ve had a diverse upbringing — moved around a lot and lived in a lot of different places, met a lot of different people, experienced a lot of different communities. I’ve lived in the South of the US, and also in California, and now I live in the Pacific Northwest – one of the liberal parts of the Pacific Northwest.

TTC: What’s your take away from living in so different communities?

D: I think I have a better time transitioning between groups of people than others, just because I’ve done it my entire life.

TTC: So now you’re here in the PNW, going to a pretty liberal school. What’s it like for teenagers here?

D: Pretty good. It depends on who you are as a person. It’s a pretty accepting community of everybody’s differences. I can’t really tell you if it’s better or worse here but I would say that the general consensus is that there is a lot of partying and stuff that goes on here.

TTC: What do you mean?

D: A lot of kids here are into heavier drug use and drinking and stuff like that — even at school. Also, some groups of parents party and stuff, too. This community has a small town vibe but the reality is we’re less than a 20 minute boat ride from Seattle, which means that if you’re trying to get some coke it’s not that far away or hard to get. For kids further up the peninsula like in Port Townsend it’s a lot harder to get that kind of stuff. My experience is that teens can do a lot more at young ages here than most kids from small towns in other parts of America.

TTC: What kind of substances and drugs are kids doing here?

D: Pot and alcohol are as common as they always have been. Beyond that, I would say pills; a lot of pill usage –anything that can give you a good time – Oxy, Adderall, all the Adderall types, Vyvanse, Ritalin, Vicodin, and other pills that teens steal from their parents. Lots of kids use them at finals times. Also, there are recreational drugs like Molly, which is MDMA. I can’t actually say that I’ve ever met anyone whose done heroin though, but definitely coke — but I think coke is kind of outdated at this point. Acid is definitely a big thing, and ‘shrooms – those are two really big things.

TTC: Are the administrators of your school aware of all this?

D: Our vice-principle is in denial about drug at our high school. He sent out a bunch of emails so far this year saying that we don’t have a ton of problems. He thinks only about 1/10th of the student body has experimented with substances. I thought to myself, “You are shitting yourself if you actually think that!”


National Statistics based on 2014 Monitoring the Future Study. The Monitoring the Future Study has been funded under a series of research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a part of the National Institutes of Health. MTF is conducted at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

TTC: The same thing happened in your school with the book I co-authored about teen girls and the issues they deal with. One of the administrators had the book banned from the campus library saying she didn’t know any girls like the ones in our book! 90% of the girls who told their stories in that book were from that school!


Daughters of the Moon, Sisters of the Sun written by K. Wind Hughes and Linda Wolf banned by campus library because the administration “didn’t know any girls like that”.

D: Well, of course, they aren’t going to know. Why would anyone tell them? The way school administration works is that it’s not like there’s a counselor you can go to talk to confidentially. So why would they know of anyone like that? Their approach is bad; they are really militant and authoritarian. Our vice-principle and some of the counselors have been in the military. That’s just not a good approach to have to help form young adults. Since they’re in denial, it makes the cases that do come forward seem more extreme and then they’re more extreme when they have to be disciplinarians.

TTC: What would you like to see from adults in positions of power?

D: People you can relay your problems to if you feel the need to, so that you can have a back and forth conversation rather than, “You’re doing this wrong and this wrong.” Even if you went in to talk to the principle, he’d be able to say “I understand, I drank in high school also…” But, it’s not the way the school system is set up. The administration is set up so you can’t relate to them at all and thus they can’t relate to you.

TTC: So having something like Teen Talking Circles is still very, very unusual and needed.

D: Yes, it’s needed. The good thing is that it gives you a place to come and talk and have a back and forth with other people about your problems and you can relate to each other. The bad thing is that it won’t have an impact on the larger system you have to live in — only on the way you’re relating to people. Because you still have to go back to the other “world.”


Teen Talking Circles — Seattle Girls Group 2016

TTC: Yes, that’s true, but by practicing other ways of being heard and hearing yourself that changes you – and you then carry back into your other world a different expectation of how you can relate with adults and peers. When you change, you change everything around you. Why do you think so many teens do so many substances? Just for fun, or other reasons?

D: Different things apply to different people. For a lot of kids here there’s a work hard/play hard kind of mentality where it’s like they have to do really good at school—they’re under so much pressure because their parents are really successful so it’s what’s expected of them –but they also party really hard. They party a ton. Also, you have people that either their parents are wealthy or they have a comfortable lifestyle so they don’t really have repercussions in life, so they just don’t really care. They just do what they do and party and stuff. And they don’t really care about school or anything like that because they will probably be fine in life no matter what. They can get a job at their dads company or something after they graduate. And then there’s a big group of people that don’t do any substances –they just do good in school — but I would say that’s only about a third to a fourth of the school’s population. Most teens do experiment with substance use because that’s just what we do. Then, there are kids who do have legitimate problems. They do drugs and drink because that’s their way of coping with stuff.

TTC: Do you know any other ways in which ways young people are coping? Are there kids you know who are not coping and who may be suicidal?

D: Oh yeah, totally. I don’t know in terms of other ways of coping, but I think that there are people who make it through and the people who don’t. Some just do better in society. I just think that there are a lot of really depressed people, especially in this part of the country. Just the weather makes it depressing—there are definitely are a lot more depressed people here than other places. So yes, depression and suicide is higher here.

TTC: But, do you ever hear any kids talk about committing suicide?

D: No, not in a serious manner, no.

TTC: Have you ever known anybody in school who has committed suicide? Or attempted.

D: (Hesitates) Yes. There was a kid in another school near by who died this summer. He did acid then went home and shot himself. But I don’t know if I would call that suicide, honestly. Yes, he did kill himself but he was tripping on acid – he wasn’t thinking clearly… The kids I know who knew him said he wasn’t somebody who would ever have done that.

TTC: Do you know girls who are harming themselves through cutting, over or under eating, or sexually putting themselves in situations that cause them pain?

D: I don’t know any girls anymore that cut. I think that’s kind of a middle school thing. I don’t think there’s a ton of people who have legitimate eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia but there’s a lot of stuff that people do related to body image that is unhealthy –like extreme dieting. Not like, “I’m going to quit eating corn syrup” but like avoiding eating altogether and stuff like that – not true anorexia but close. I know one chick that does laxatives so that it just passes through.

TTC: So pressure on girls to be thin?

D: I wouldn’t say pressure; it’s more their own personal thing, it’s what they think. Nobody is saying, “You’re fat! Go throw up in the bathroom.” It’s their own image of themselves. No one else is imposing on them.

TTC: Except it’s still the model of beauty for girls and women, to be thin; although there is quite a movement these days against such a narrow, old fashioned, and hurtful idea of beauty. Do you think there still a stereotypic “beautiful person” that makes one person more popular than another?

D: I don’t know what I would define as beautiful. If you’re talking about beauty being skinny people, I don’t know if I would describe that as beautiful. People are very fit here in this community, which means that the ones that are not as fit as the others stand out. It’s kind of weird to see a truly overweight person in this community; whereas in other places in the Midwest or the South, the majority over there are overweight people.

TTC: What about racism? Do you see racist behaviors in your school?

D: I don’t know if I would say that there’s any true racism. There are people making stupid, ignorant comments but its kind of tongue in cheek — it’s not done in a hurtful and mean manner. I think we have a very inclusive community for all races and sexual identities. We are used to a certain amount of political correctness here. Like, if somebody hears a Jew joke, they’d just be kind of like shocked. I mean come on, it’s not a good thing but it’s not something to raise all hell about, you know what I mean?

TTC: You said that if somebody said a Jew joke it would be no big deal?

D: No it would be a big deal because people are so shocked by something like that here because every thing is so politically correct!

TTC: In this community and at your high school there isn’t much diversity? The statistics I got from your school came out to be 80% Caucasian. The Suquamish reservation is right near you but there are only 0.6% Native Americans and about only 3% blacks in your high school.

D: I don’t think that it shows our community is discriminatory or anything; that just shows that not a ton of black people live here and not a ton of Native American people live here. Whether that’s because of where they’re at financially, which is a huge part of it, or whether or not they would like to live here, who knows? I would not say that there’s a ton of white people here because there’s a ton of discrimination. I would say that it’s just because there’s white people that already live here they’re gonna have kids, and the kids are going to stay here or move back here after college. It’s just kind of the community. I think that also this type of community is more attractive to hippie-esque white people because it is such a liberal community.

TTC: I’m surprised you don’t know more about the history and legacy of racism and how it plays out in the culture? Racism and white privilege permeates all aspects of our lives and communities. Have you ever heard of institutionalized racism? Have you ever considered how white privilege fits into the reality of ongoing institutionalized racism?

Seattle Times put together a great project called “Under Our Skin” which has incredible videos intended to get the conversation started… Check it out!

D: Well, I think you have poor white people, poor black people, poor Native Americans, poor Asians – in every race you have poor people. I don’t think whether or not they move up in life you can attribute that to racism. Maybe in a different era, like the 1820s, where there were plantations where black people were slaves and stuff, yes, that is racism. In modern society whether or not somebody moves up in society and can afford to live here or something like that is kind of dependent on how they do in life, not the color of their skin or what their background is or religious views or anything.

TTC: Actually, all that has everything to do with racism, sexism, and religious intolerance over the history of this country. Do you have any friends of color? Do you have a diverse group of friends?

D: Yeah, I mean I wouldn’t say so diverse. I have a few friends that are black. I have a few friends that are Asian. I have a few friends that are Native American.

TTC: Have you ever asked them how it feels to be in their skin?

D: No. I mean I have never asked my friends out right. Personally, I think if we focus on racism or focus on sexism we can protest that, yeah, for sure. But, like, when you watch a commercial and you see that the commercial has made it a point to have a black dude, an Asian, and a bunch of every nationality just to come off as politically correct, I think they’re making too big a deal of it. Whereas, if we didn’t focus on it, it wouldn’t really be such a big problem. Diversity is good and we should show where it fits. But, there’s no need for every single kid to be diverse in a commercial — that’s not necessary for us to be a perfect liberal society.

TTC: Are you politically aware of what’s going on in the past couple of weeks with the recent immigration ban? If so, how is that hitting you?

D: It’s depressing, as far as “Chumps” ban on people flying in from the Middle East. There are people with legitimate reasons and rights to be here and people who are refugees and immigrant families. I mean, they have a total right to be here. Telling people they can’t come because they have a citizenship in a certain country, I think that’s wrong. It’s sad, but as a 16-year-old I try not to focus on it too much because I have a lot of other stuff going on in my own life that impacts me. If I worried about political stuff all the time, I’d just be stressed out of my mind.

TTC: Would you consider yourself an activist? Do you believe in standing up, speaking out; in protesting, marching, that kind of thing?

D: No. I’ll stand by my beliefs but I feel no need to go out and display them. I see the necessity for it in certain time periods, like women’s suffrage and the MLK rallies, but no, there hasn’t been something that has me out protesting.

TTC: Do you have any idea what might draw you out?

D: Human rights stuff that goes on near me because I can’t go to New York and occupy Wall Street because I have no means of getting there. If there is a clear, blatant, “this-is-just-wrong”, civil rights or human rights issue, I’d protest.

TTC: Will you participate in the Black Lives Matter March in Seattle this April?

D: Black Lives Matter is a very tumultuous group. I think the message is good but it’s how I was saying with the commercials. I’m not one of those people who say “all lives matter” even though I believe all lives do matter and black lives matter, as well. I think it’s another thing where the differentiation is harmful to society because when you put a label like that on something, it detracts from the true message of it, which is what they’re saying –that there’s a disparity of treatment between white people and black people in certain parts of society. I think that many of the people who are in the Black Lives Matter movement are racist themselves as well. You can be black and be racist. I think there are many who are racist towards white people and other ethnicities. I think a lot of people in Black Lives Matter are #1. Bandwagoning and #2, for a white kid to go to a Black Lives Matter rally is iffy because, depending on what part of the country you’re from it can be a very unsafe place any white person to be. Quite honestly, it’s not like the peaceful protest of MLK’s day. It’s more radical.

Seattle Times has put together an excellent compilation of videos meant to probe the deeper issues and complexities of language when we speak on issues of race and racism. We encourage you to click this link to learn more about everything from Political Correctness to Microaggression, All Lives Matter to Institutional Racism. #UnderOurSkin is a conversation starter. “For those who freeze up at the prospect of talking about race, we hope this project will help break the ice. For those who tend to take sides right away when the issue of race comes up, we hope Under Our Skin will challenge assumptions and build common ground.”

TTC: In MLK’s day, protests were not so peaceful. The recent Women’s March in Seattle, now that was peaceful! Even the police were out in the streets holding our signs with us. So what are your biggest concerns as a 16 year-old guy?

D: My biggest concern is how if I have a problem with someone, how it’s going to divide my group of friends. That’s one thing I worry about because I don’t like to see that. I want to continue to spend time with people who I want to spend time with.

TTC: So you’re biggest concerns are relational concerns? Are you a peace builder?

D: I don’t think I’m a piece builder or an antagonist but I think I have my moments when I’m really pissed off at people and then moments when I’m really nice to people. I think it varies by how I’m feeling.

TTC: How do you work out your feelings? Are you emotional?

D: I would say that I’m an angry person depending on who I’m interacting with. I probably take my anger out on my family and my closest friends the most — in my family, I take it out on my mother and my little brother.

It’s not like I’m going to like throw a chair at the wall. It’s more like I’m just angry and pissy and stuff. And it’s not just me choosing to be angry, it’s usually prompted by something. Like when my mom is being irrational about something… Like if she agreed to something earlier and she was totally fine with it and we talked about it and stuff and then she gets in a mood and changes her mind. That’s when I get really angry. Also, I think it’s just my family’s way. We can be very fast and we can be smart asses and fire back very quickly. That’s just how we do our thing. We escalate and it escalates until we have to be apart for a few hours.

TTC: How do you work things through?

D: Normally, we just kind of separate and a few hours later we come back. Depending on what it is, we both just come back and accept each other’s views or come to a conclusion. I can be very harsh. Especially with people who are not part of my family who talk shit to me, I can be harsh but 20 minutes later I’m like shit that was kind of mean. I can be negative at certain times.

TTC: Are you clear about your own sexuality?

D: I would say I’m attracted to whoever I’m attracted to. 99% of the time I am straight. I mean I’ll make out with a dude, I don’t give a fuck about that, but that’s about it

TTC: Have you been in love yet?

D: No, I have not.

TTC: Have you made love yet?

D: Oh, yeah.

TTC: But not with someone you are in love with?

D: No I actually haven’t dated anyone in my high school. Teens just do things. Like if you’re at a party, you’re like, “What’s up”? I don’t think sex is that big of a deal. It’s not like we schedule it; it’s just spontaneous. Yeah, it happens a lot in the community and has various times for me

TTC: Is it satisfying? Or are you missing something?

D: It kind of depends on the situation but I think sex is definitely different when you have some type of feelings for the other person other than just pure attraction.

TTC: Do you have any kind of sense about how you want your life to go? Do you imagine your future?

D: I hope I make it in something artistic because I really don’t want to just do a monotonous job. I’m saying this as a 16-year-old right now, but I feel like I would be more satisfied with working just a shitty job until I sell a painting for a quarter of a million dollars or something like that. I feel like I would be more satisfied working the drive-through at McDonald’s than accepting that I should probably go through a career in accounting or something like that. So yes, kind of, but not really. I don’t really have any vision for my life.


“When you understand money as YOUR life energy, the hours of your life you invest to put dollars in your wallet, you translate it into something knowable… and limited: the hours of your life.” Vicki Robin, Co-Author of Your Money or Your Life


TTC: Do you do well in school?

D: I do okay.

TTC: Okay enough to want to go on to study something?

D: Yeah, I don’t know what yet. I plan to figure it out when I get there. I know that that often backfires, but it’s all I got.

TTC wishes to thank Derek for being so honest and forthcoming about his experiences of high school and his teen years and for his willingness to share his views and opinions.


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