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The Magic Formula for Engaging Your Students in Drug Prevention

April 29, 2010

It is no joke that substance abuse affects and impacts a wide range of individuals, especially our young people. With the lack of relevant prevention programs available, it appears as if the average age students begin experimenting with drugs is increasingly getting younger. However, as an educator, there is something you can do to help. A priority must be made to engage our students when approaching this often difficult and sensitive topic. What good is a DVD or lecture if the kids who really need to hear the message sleep through it? What good is a workbook or police officer demonstration if students will just say what they know you want to hear in order to not get in trouble or get a good grade? Our students need real help, and genuine support comes in something I like to call, the Magic Formula for Engaging Your Students in Drug Prevention.

Ingredient #1: If you’re going to tell a young person not to do something; you must show or tell them what they can do instead. Students should never be left to conclude the following choice: either they do drugs, or they have no friends, no fun, no release etc. Instead, suggest this often underestimated choice: either they do drugs, or they can play sports, win debates, make crafts, make money, volunteer, etc. In other words, help them focus on the alternatives where they don’t have to sacrifice their social life, fun, and forms of stress release. What can they apply themselves to that gives them a natural high? What do they want to be? What will benefit their future? Ask them how drugs might negatively affect their passions and make it a natural high verses drug high decision. Research ways they can practice or develop their skills at minimum to no cost, with maximum dedication. Aside from school, most communities have a Parks & Recreation Center or continuing education classes that offer a variety of healthy activities that are also affordable if not free. It may be called something different in your city or state, but visit the local community center or better yet, have your students do the digging!

Ingredient #2: Show these young people individuals who have already made the right choices and have a proven track record of success because of it. Students are constantly bombarded with news of artists, athletes, and celebrities who are trying to balance both their career and addiction habits. Young people need to be hit with just the opposite message; famous people who have never done drugs and don’t have a desire to start. Help them to understand that only a small majority of the population does drugs (8.4%) in the entire country and to think about why the other 91.6% want nothing to do with it. Let them discuss these thoughts amongst their classmates and even take an anonymous poll in the class if possible. Help bring about honest dialogue by turning off the “everybody’s doing it” switch in teens minds. If you can show them everybody’s not doing it, you’ve just broken ground on your prevention building!

Ingredient #3: Spend roughly a quarter of your prevention teaching on consequence messaging. Studies have shown that prevention programs like D.A.R.E., that utilize heavy scare tactics and consequence messaging, have not only proven to be ineffective, but in some cases actually increased students curiosityii. Therefore, you can hit on the negatives, but only touch on those consequences that really matter to your students. In a report conducted by the Sundt Memorial Foundation, students were asked to pick the top three negative consequences associated with drug and alcohol use that would worry and/or scare them the most. Their answers were as follows: 95.7% choose “Death”, 47.8% choose “Being a bad role model to younger siblings, friends, or acquaintances” and 43.5% choose “Ruining my brain capacity”. Unfortunately there are numerous negative consequences associated with drug use, even more so among young people. However, try choosing only 2-4 to briefly hit on and perhaps providing links or books where they can find more information on their own if interested. Finish strong by refocusing on the positive alternatives and encouraging them to seek additional help if they’re struggling.

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