No parent could fail to feel a visceral jolt of pain on reading accounts of how the 15-year-old son of singer Nick Cave fell to his death after taking LSD in July this year.
Arthur Cave, a pupil at the independent Bede’s School in Eastbourne, had taken the hallucinatory drug with a friend, in a field on the outskirts of Brighton.
They had planned it in advance, another friend told this inquest. They checked Google, and knew to choose somewhere “safe and open” for their trip.
But as the friend pointed out: “The advice was misleading. It didn’t say anything about the darker side and the negative effects of the drug.”
Events soon took a turn for the nightmarish. The pair became disoriented, paranoid, separated. Arthur was spotted zig-zagging in the road. Then he climbed over a fence and plunged down a 60ft cliff.
A short life ended, a family destroyed, a community reeling in horror. The ripple effects across the nation are palpable.
I am ashamed to admit that, when it comes to my own children, I was naively, stupidly, possibly unforgivably hoping to rely on the pious 1980s “Just Say No” approach to drugs
I know of at least one hipster dad who smokes spliff, or hash, or weed... with his Year 11 son and his mates to keep them out of trouble.
Fast forward three decades and society has radically changed. Drugs are widely available – soft drugs, hard drugs, fake drugs, drugs with names adults can’t pronouce – and the Grange Hill mantra seems laughably outdated.
But how to respond in an age where we pride ourselves on our terribly modern, marvellously communicative relationship with our offspring? Drugs are the last taboo, not least because it’s a discussion that involves the imposition of boundaries, which is not our forte.
Sex is easy. If you really must do it (must you…?), do it with someone you like. Do it somewhere vaguely salubrious. Don’t for a second imagine that it’s anything like internet porn. Use condoms. Be nice.
Drugs are far, far more problematic, because they know we would prefer it they didn’t so much as take a cheeky puff on a cigarette until they were at university. But we must deal with the world as it is, not as we would wish it to be.
I’d rather my children learned the dark facts from us rather than an internet search engine
I know of at least one hipster dad who smokes spliff, or hash, or weed, or whatever it’s called these days, with his Year 11 son and his mates to keep them out of trouble.
I can’t say I approve, but then what’s the realistic alternative? My instinct – bury my head in the sand, trust my children and hope that nothing goes horribly wrong – is a lamentable cop-out.
Some years ago, I interviewed a tremendously courageous woman, Elizabeth Burton-Phillips, author of Mum, Can You Lend Me Twenty Quid, written in a harrowing attempt to “exorcise the stench of heroin from our lives”.
Aged 13, her handsome, privileged, privately educated twin sons, Simon and Nick, smoked some cannabis in the park. She believed them when they claimed it was a one-off.
But by 16, they were on ecstasy and speed and, two years later, they were holding down jobs while smoking cannabis daily, and devoting their weekends to cocaine and acid.
Their 21st birthday was spent smoking heroin – then they began shooting up. Their mother gave them thousands of pounds to pay off dealers who threatened to break her sons’ legs. With horrible inevitability, Nick killed himself, aged 27.
An appalling, extreme tragedy. But it happened. Some individuals react very badly to drugs. Others enjoy them to the point of oblivion. Some can take or leave them. No parent can predict which it will be.
Does that mean I should let my 13-year-old’s father regail her with tales of youthful experimentation? Do I amuse her with my own, brief and comically unpleasant drug-taking misadventures?
You know what? I think that’s exactly what I have to do. Why? Because I’d rather my children learned the dark facts from us rather than an internet search engine.
Let me stress that I’m not casting aspersions for a moment on the Cave family, who are going through such inconsolable grief. But I know that my own daughter regards Wikipedia as the Oracle at Delphi.
Maybe hearing how her mother once smoked skunk by accident and still gets flashbacks of the projectile vomiting will prove a more accurate source of information.