Teaching substance misuse can sometimes be a very daunting experience especially when as a Teacher you may have never encountered drugs or alcohol. Don’t worry! Alex’s Adventure is here to help! In no time you too will become an expert in substance misuse. Substance use may be a topic that some youth have never been previously educated about. This may mean they have lots of questions and concerns.
By allowing youth the express themselves and ask questions, teachers can support healthy youth development. If a question is asked that you are unfamiliar with, be honest and admit that you do not have the answer but that you will make every effort to find the answer and get back to the individual who posed the question.
This will validate the youth’s participation in the discussion and will build rapport between teacher and student.
In order to maintain credibility on the topic of youth substance use it is essential to take the time to try to understand youth as it pertains to substance use. Youth turn to drugs for many of the same reasons that adults do;
• Temporarily relieve stress
• Escape or distract from emotional pain
Youth experience many other pressures associated with adolescent psychosocial development and this can strongly influence their choices about drugs;
• The need to take risks
• Constant questioning of self-worth
• Establishing independence or autonomy
• Demonstrating attitudes and ideals that are different from their parents or from society
• Acceptance into a peer group
• Satisfying curiosity
• Unchallenged perception of how prevalent drug use is (media, social groups and the assumption that everyone is doing it
• Using substances to maintain an identity or an image
1. Recognize what drugs look like, how they are consumed, and how they are stored. For example, marijuana is generally smoked. This is done by rolling marijuana in paper. It can also be cooked in foods. Crack cocaine is smoked in glass pipes or snorted, typically using a straw, rolled dollar bill, or a small spoon. Heroin is injected typically into the arms or legs. Drugs such as marijuana are stored in small plastic bags, foil packets, or film canisters.
2. Create an environment where students feel comfortable approaching you, expressing their feelings, and asking questions. Children need to feel they have a safe place where they will be able to talk openly and honestly.
3. Be aware of non-verbal communication. Teachers and parents should look for nonverbal cues such as avoiding eye contact, which may indicate guilt, or squirming/fidgeting, which may indicate fear. Teachers and parents should also be cognizant of their own non-verbal cues such as frowning to indicate disappointment or disapproval
4. Listen. Actively listen to the words being spoken without interrupting and without giving advice. Make it apparent to the child that their feelings on this topic are important and future conversations are welcomed.
5. Do not use scare tactics. Teachers and parents should provide their students/children with clear and accurate information in order to enable them to make appropriate and responsible decisions. A “scared straight” approach has not been shown to be effective. A more effective approach focuses on factual information and resisting peer pressure.
6. Provide age appropriate information. Be aware of the most effective messages for your student developmental stage. Children in grade school typically look at issues as right or wrong. Therefore, legality and morality are meaningful for this age group. Adolescents typically act before thinking but tend to understand that issues are complex. Adolescents tend to respond to messages about their ability to choose and make their own decisions. Messages for teenagers in high school should be based on accurate facts from which they are capable of drawing their own conclusions. They should be encouraged to make their own decisions and take responsibilities for their actions.
7. Know where to get help if they do suspect that a child is abusing drugs or alcohol. Teachers should know and follow the rules and regulations of their school. Parents should talk to their child in a calm but direct way. Make sure to avoid accusations before talking to them, learn about groups and organizations that provide services and support for substance abuse related issues.
8. Teachers and parents should communicate with each other. It is important to keep each another up to date about the child so that an overall and full picture is developed. This could include phone calls, emails, or conferences.
Teachers can help students find effective strategies to managing Peer Influence situations in relation to substance use. Refusal Skills must be adapted to the demographics of each particular discussion / classroom
1. Make a joke / Humour
2. Give a reason why it’s a bad idea.
3. Make an excuse why you can’t.
4. Just say no, plainly and firmly.
5. Suggest an alternative activity
6. Ignore the suggestion
7. Repeat yourself if necessary
8. Leave the situation Educators must acknowledge that there is vast amount of marketing and advertising that youth experience.
Movies, music, video games and other media don’t always accurately portray the risks of drug usage. Teachers must be able to dispel misinformation and help youth understand and determine how and where to get credible information.
• Reputable websites
Teachers can become a source of information for youth.
An effective way to handle potentially sensitive topics is to use techniques to depersonalize the discussion. Using the third person, role playing or using fictitious characters to convey a message are all effective methods in this regard. A technique that I’ve used in the classroom is to have the class come up with two names, for example, John & James.
I would then have a student write these names on the Whiteboard, Flip Chart etc...
From this point the group would know that every story, experience, situation or question that they discuss or describe should be about either John or James. If a student would start conversation with a personal or first-person exposition, a simple point to the names on the whiteboard would quickly switch them to depersonalizing the narrative.