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Friday
Oct282016

The Pact: Teen Brains & Drug Prevention

This is a sponsored post in partnership with WeAre Teachers. All opinions are my own.

What's the best way to talk to your children about drug prevention and education? I can draw from my own experiences and from parenting my children, but I also have the added benefit of having worked in schools for over 2 decades. Will every single thing work? No, it won't. Is it still important to have the conversations? Absolutely

One of the things that I know doesn't work is what I was exposed to in school as a student. We had local police and law enforcement in our buildings for the program called D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) which, as we know now, was disastrous. It was a failed policy that was federally funded and schools were mandated to use it even while our government knew it provided the opposite intended effect. I recall learning more about drugs and how to do them from our D.A.R.E. program.

Like abstinence programs, the idea of just saying 'no' didn't work with school children.

 

I was asked to take a look at The Pact and I promise you that I'm not here to push it on parents or schools and this isn't an endorsement: you're smart enough to make your own decisions about how best to talk to your child about drugs. This isn't even really a review. I'm just offering my opinion and free resources that are available online after being introduced to The Pact.

The Pact's framework is simple: Connect, Pledge, Confirm, Reward. 

First, what I like about The Pact is that they are research-based which was a major downfall of D.A.R.E. because when researchers were informed that it didn't work we continued using them to our detriment. The Pact offers innovative resources for schools to tackle drug use by students through drug prevention and education.

They do something that was sorely missing from earlier drug prevention programs: they encourage schools to partner with parents for involvement and support. 

If I've learned anything in all my years as an educator it's that we're stronger as a system when we involve parents in any experience we provide in schools.

 

One of the things The Pact’s research revealed was that schools AND parents needed to address the subject of drug use. It's best when that prevention happens early, often, and continually. I know bringing up something this delicate can be daunting and there's no perfect age to start because, developmentally, children vary in terms of what they're ready for at different ages. My oldest daughter was mature and ahead of her peers in discussing these things. My youngest son, though, was behind and wouldn't have been ready at the same age she was for some things.

When my son was about 10 we were running errands and saw a man behaving erratically and Morgan, being the bleeding heart he is, wanted to ask him if he was okay. From my perspective, he was high on something and potentially dangerous. He was carrying a large bag with him and we didn't have any idea what was inside. My son argued with me throughout our shopping trip about how mean and uncaring I was but I urged him to listen to my experience because I figured the man was on drugs. 

"What are drugs?" he asked. 

I was kind of floored that he and I hadn't discussed that yet because his siblings knew by that age. 

My point is that once he was ready and he could grasp mature, adult topics I knew it was time to keep talking about it and looking for teachable moments.

 

That leads me back to The Pact. The second thing I like about it was how open they were to discussing healthy risk taking for teenagers. Telling my kids to refuse drugs wasn't realistic especially knowing what I do about the teenage brain. 

TEENAGE BRAINS ARE NOT FULLY DEVELOPED. 

My own kids, as teens, would do the dumbest things and sometimes couldn't tell me why. We all did. Every teen brain works like this. They're wired for risky behavior and there's nothing wrong with it so long as they have proper guidance, boundaries, and consequences. Between the ages of 13-18 teen brains prompt kids to try new things and take risks they previously would have seen as dangerous. The healthiest approach to raising teens (so you don't take on some animalistic behavior and want to eat your young) is allowing them the space to make minor mistakes from risks that won't have long term effects. I'm the kind of mom who let them screw up but there are healthy ways to allow that.

I'm also the kind of mom who talked openly about all things risqué like sex and drugs. 

"I know you'll want to try some things, but here are the consequences," I'd tell them. Repeatedly. Because TEENS. 

It's not surprise, then, that I appreciated The Pact’s video The Teen Brain which provides scientific insight to this need their brains have for wanting to be a little bit dangerous. Schools could use this when discussing risk-taking they engage in and not to do it from a scare tactic perspective. It's just realistic. Like, hey, this could potentially happen. I was honest with my teenagers about what drugs I tried at their age and what it was like to find my boundaries. Personally, I don't enjoy being out of control and would consider myself a teetotaler when it comes to drinking even as an adult. It shocked them that I was honest about it, but I can't recommend enough being transparent with your teenagers. They know we were kids once.

A fan of infographics, I did appreciate the resources they provided (except for the crossword because I don't see a point in using that). 

My best piece of advice both as a parent and educator is echoed in The Pact: start the conversation. Talk to kids, listen to kids, and provide support when they decide to try risky gateway drugs (and behaviors) so they know what it could lead to if unchecked.

 

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