It is not unusual as a parent to be concerned about your child being introduced to substances and wondering about their response. While most schools offer substance prevention programs, the curriculum they offer may not be effective. These programs are designed to lower the number of students who use substances such as alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other drugs. This can mean teaching students how to make choices to prevent or reduce use, as well as reduce substance-related crimes and deaths.
To help you understand the effectiveness of the school's program, here are both ineffective and effective strategies used to engage children and adolescents in substance use prevention.
Tell most children and teenagers "no," and they'll be more likely to do whatever it is you didn't want them to do. Saying "no" isn't enough when it comes to talking about substances and the dangers that come with them. There are social pressures and expectations that become a part of adolescents' identities. Sharing knowledge about the risks of substance use or attempting to scare them by using videos or pictures of victims does not often lead to avoidance, but can be a driving factor for use. Prevention education needs to be relatable and should teach children how to counter the social and cultural encouragement coming from the outside.
To counter the rising number of young substance users, prevention education programs should be supportive, encouraging, and provide students with realistic strategies and life skills. Here are five strategies that effective programs utilize.
Prevention education should be a continual process rather than a once-a-year event. The strategies of the program should be implemented throughout the year to reinforce the goals for prevention. This shows schools are committed to the wellbeing of students and keeping them safe.
These programs should involve students and their families, and should provide opportunities for them to learn and develop life skills. While school prevention can be effective on its own, families' involvement can be largely influential. Programs should use a combination of knowledge, implementing strategies that focus on establishing boundaries or school/home rules, and supporting students through counseling and/or mental health care.
Addressing only one type of substance abuse leaves room for children and adolescents to turn to another without knowing there are risks. It is crucial for schools to make students aware of all forms of abuse, such as prescription drugs, illegal drugs and underage drinking.
Each town and state has its own unique risk factors, as well as social and cultural pressures. Some risk factors in an area include lack of economic opportunity, unstable family relationships, laws in favor of substance use, and/or poverty. To make the program more sustainable and effective, schools should implement strategies and information to combat local risks that affect students.
Talking about substance abuse is a sensitive topic and requires open communication between students, adults working in the school, families, and community members. The most effective programs create opportunities to build trust and tackle tough conversations. Students will feel more comfortable opening up to individuals who show they are committed, care about their wellbeing, and are a safe space.