Dear Straight Talk: I'm a junior at a new high school. When we moved, I thought I would escape the bad crowd that had me doing really dumb things like drinking and popping pills. But I'm falling into the same trap here. I hate going to school and facing my new "friends" who do drugs when I'm trying to stay on the right path. I want to quit this school, take my GED, and start at community college. It's not that I'm trying to grow up too fast, I just know I can't make it through another year like this. How do I persuade my dad to let me start college? And how can I not fall into traps with drugs and alcohol? - Confused
Brie, 18, Ashland, Ore.: I moved right before freshman year and quickly fell in with the wrong crowd. When they started talking behind my back, it gave me an excuse to stop hanging out with them. Over time, I made friendships based on mutual interests instead of drugs and alcohol.
Be strong. Get involved in a school-sponsored activity. That's what I did. Running won't help - more people are into drinking and drugs at community college than at high school.
Ashley, 22, Auburn, Calif.: I ran from my problems over and over, too. You eventually realize they keep following you until you learn to say no. The thing that helped me after years of drowning them in alcohol was really good friends, parents, and family. When I finally realized I was safe exactly where I was, I could deal with the root causes buried inside. Now I have no desire to drink whatsoever. Be really picky about the friends you choose.
Julian, 18, Auburn, Calif.: To think switching to junior college will wipe out the tendency to fall in with another bad group is naive. What is crucial is finding the strength to end your current dynamic.
Bird, 19, San Francisco: I dropped out of high school and got my GED at 16. I swore to my parents that I would go straight to community college. However, I decided to work and support myself, and car insurance, rent, food, etc., leaves little money. Now, at 19, I only have a couple of credits. The temptation toward drugs and alcohol will be there your whole life. It's up to you to take control and resist, surround yourself with good people.
Leif, 21, Berkeley, Calif.: The answer is self-exploration. Instead of focusing on avoiding "bad" things, look honestly at what has made you happy (without side-effects or guilt), and pursue that without hesitation. I speak from personal experience. Freshman year I was floundering at college. I took time off and thought about what I really wanted. When I returned to school, I quit all the clubs and focused on music and contemplation. It's what makes me happy and maintains me. I hope you have the strength to carve your own path.
Jessie, 17, Ashland, Ore.: I used to hang with the crowd that did anything and everything. I would smoke and drink with them until I realized I didn't want that to be my life. So I quit and found new friends. Regarding the GED, talk to a high school counselor. Or finish high school through independent study.
Dear Confused: I hope you study every word the panel says. There's huge wisdom here. You clearly have a "relationship to intoxication" that keeps drawing you to a druggie crowd. Until you address the underlying issues that make you want to get high, escaping to college simply rearranges the deck chairs on the Titanic - and you end up with no high school diploma. I recommend independent study to finish high school, while seeing a counselor for resolving the drug and alcohol trap.
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