Adolescence is not easy. Even though they have their full lives ahead of them, children, tweens' and teens' daily decisions can impact their adult lives. This is especially true with substance use, and children who use substances are at increased risk for substance use disorders and substance-related injuries and illnesses.
Prevention education works to stave off these future challenges by helping young people build tools they can use to navigate a variety of conflicts and difficult situations, now and at any point in their lives.
Here are some things you may not have known about prevention education.
To understand what's being prevented, it's important to know how substance use is evolving. For example, whether considering the decades-long opioid overdose epidemic or the recent increase in vaping for younger students, attention to statistics keeps prevention education relevant. But it's only part of what makes it effective.
Prevention education is heavily tied to current psychology and sociology to build wellness in areas like relationships, self-concept, and stress management. These are the areas with needs that, if left unmet, can open a space for substance use. Educators use informed practices, practical for today's constantly connected world, to improve students' overall wellbeing.
The research doesn't stop with planning. Educators also measure outcomes of their programs, making modifications when needed to best serve students' ever-changing lives.
All education is achieved through communication, and prevention education is no different. It's important to have strong communication skills, especially when it comes to speaking.
Prevention education involves discussing topics that are difficult to approach or uncomfortable to acknowledge, which unfortunately, can be tuned out by students if not communicated with the right skill and sensitivity. To be effective, a prevention educator needs to be practiced in active listening, higher-order questioning, and getting a point across with just the right amount of explanation. Comfort with speaking to others in this engaging way opens safe spaces for real conversation and learning.
In prevention education programs, educators aren't only talking about drugs. In fact, in some programs, specific names of substances aren't even mentioned. Instead, conversations and learning focus on interpersonal relationships and introspection — which can dig up some difficult emotions, conflicts, or questions for students.
Students in prevention education programs may look to their educators for more than help with an activity or assignment. They may seek real-world support, sharing information about their families, friends, or experiences. It's important for educators to hear students and honor their needs, serving them with respect and responsibility.
The issues addressed through prevention education are real-life issues, and they aren't always exclusive to substance use. Programs can focus on things like interpersonal violence, the stresses caused by family or social media, and negative self-concept. Prevention educators guide students through strategies for managing or reframing these challenges, but the work involved in making progress requires vulnerability, for both the educator and the students. This can be emotionally taxing.
To be available for their students, prevention educators need to be mindful of the emotions they experience both within and outside the programs they instruct, and they should practice what they teach. The best educators are learners themselves, understanding their own wellness journey, so they can use their understanding to help students on theirs.
Prevention education aims to develop students into people who take an active role in all aspects of their health. Since substance use can lead to a variety of negative outcomes, including disease and death, the work of prevention education has the ability to shape students' lives for the better. While no person can prevent every discomfort, equipping students with a mindset and strategies will help them overcome difficult times will give them the opportunity for growth, persistence, and a fulfilling life.
Are you interested in bringing research-based prevention education programs to your school community? Wellspring Center for Prevention's school-based programs can give your students the skills they need to develop positive approaches to addressing issues like peer pressure, family conflicts, and self-efficacy.