Here is a fact. At some point, all children will be exposed to drugs, or to conversations or messages about drugs. From hard street drugs to prescription drugs, alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco, children will be faced with these substances in person, or they'll at some point become engaged in discussions about these substances with their peers.
That's why educators, opinion leaders, tutors, care providers, and parents need to have conversations about drugs with children before that happens. Kids must get the correct data on drugs before they're exposed to peer pressure or other maliciously-intended influences.
Following are five pieces of advice for educators to consider when discussing drugs with their students.
Children need to understand what drugs are, their function, the attendant risks in using drugs, the legal implications of drug use, and the long-term effects of experimenting with drugs. As a general rule, children should get an idea of all of the above as early as possible.
There is a range of professional opinions on when is a good time to begin discussing the dangers of drug use with children. Most experts agree that the sooner you start the discussion, the better. However, the caveat that usually follows that agreement is that educators should not discuss drugs with children who are so young that they may in some form be adversely affected by such a discussion. In many ways, this forces educators to make an in-the-moment judgment call on when they should discuss drugs with their students.
The National Health Service offers some good information on discussing drugs with students and children, but there is no mention of a good time to have the conversation. The resource, Kids Health, suggests starting the conversation in different ways, depending on the child's age. The Alcohol and Drug Foundation (an Australian health group) suggests discussing drugs with students when they reach eight years of age.
According to the National Health Service, 9% of 11 year-old UK adolescents used drugs in 2018. And as young people get older, the odds of them experimenting with drugs increases. In 2018, 38% of 15 year-olds experimented with drugs. Because UK youths become exposed to drugs at such a young age, it is crucial that parents and educators begin talking to them about drugs at an even younger age (before they use drugs).
Educators should make their best judgment based on the age and maturity of their students. As a general rule, it's good practice to begin discussing drugs with students anytime between ages 6 and 10.
When educating students about the harms and dangers of drug use, always stick to the facts and just the facts alone. Sometimes, parents and educators alike will feel the need to exaggerate or tell fictional stories about drugs. "Scare Tactics" are not good practice.
There's no point in saying things like, "Cannabis will kill you" when is extremely unlikely that cannabis will kill a user, even if the person uses a significant amount of the drug. However, cannabis can cause mental health problems, it dulls the senses and slows reaction time, and it can open the door to further drug use.
It's better to tell children the truth about drugs and to ensure they understand what's at stake. When educators convey a dishonest notion about drugs, they lose the trust of their students.
Truthfully, there are enough harsh realities with drugs that one does not have to embellish or exaggerate. For example, over 4,000 people die in England and Wales each year from drug overdoses alone. Inform students on statistics like these and discuss the harmful physical and mental side effects of using drugs.
When hosting seminars or classroom studies about drugs, spend the hour talking about all of the potential physical side effects of using drugs. Then spend the next seminar talking about the emotional, behavioural, and psychological side effects of using drugs. Then spend another seminar talking about the legal ramifications, risks to one's future, happiness, and even the risks to their life. There are enough shocking yet true data about drugs that you should never feel the need to embellish or exaggerate.
Drugs are such a taboo subject that children will often have questions about drugs but feel they cannot discuss the matter openly. That's why children and teens often ask their peers about drugs when they should be talking to educators and their parents about the subject. They feel safer talking to their peers, though it's less likely that they'll get true and honest information from their peers.
This is why educators need to make drugs a safe subject to discuss. They need to encourage communication, questions, and originations. The best way to do this is to invite discussion in both classroom settings and one-on-one. In the classroom, ask students to name different types of drugs, ask students to talk about what they've heard about drugs, and be sure to give them correct data if they originate embellished, glorified, or inaccurate data about drugs. In a one-on-one setting, invite individual students to talk about what they've heard about drugs, what they think about drugs, and what questions they may have about drugs.
Discussing drugs can be delicate, uncomfortable, and problematic, but it's essential to discuss drugs and to continuously discuss drugs with students as they grow up. Furthermore, it's important to adjust one's teaching strategy as their students mature. For example, here are different approaches on how an educator would discuss drugs with students who were younger than age 7, between ages 8 and 12, and between ages 13 and 17:
Younger than 7. For young children, it's best to find "teachable moments," situations in the classroom where a question comes up about medicine, vitamins, vaccines, or other substances, a situation in which you could use the opportunity to help young children understand the difference between helpful medicines and harmful drugs.
Ages 8 to 12. Now is a good time to start asking kids what they think about drugs. Ask open-ended questions of them, ask them what they've heard about drugs, and ask them to talk about how they feel about drugs. Use those conversations to get kids thinking about the harms and dangers of drug use.
Ages 13 to 17. Now is a good time to discuss drugs as a moral issue, not just a health issue. It's also a great time to talk about the very specific, disturbing harms and physical effects of drug use. It's also a good time to discuss peer pressure and the very risky nature of experimenting with drugs just because a friend pressures one to do so.
Educators and parents should try to be a team in all areas of a student's life. Teachers should help parents find teachable moments with their kids. Teachable moments in a parent's home would be moments where drugs come up in conversation naturally or moments where a parent could bring up drugs in conversation without making it awkward or uncomfortable for their kids.
Educators should work together with parents, answer questions, give them advice and ideas, and listen to them about what they have to say on the subject of students and drug education. Most importantly, educators should encourage parents to have discussions with their children about drugs and to start the conversation as early as possible.
Teachers, professors, tutors, and school and university staff should do everything they can to encourage students and children to stay away from drugs. Once a young person begins using drugs, it can be challenging to get them to stop. Sometimes it will require the help of a residential drug treatment centre. Furthermore, drug use creates legitimate health risks, even the threat of death. It's much more sensible to educate children on the risks and dangers early on than it is to treat them for drug abuse and addiction later.
As an educator, you play an important role in ensuring your students grow up to lead healthy, safe, drug-free lives. Make sure your students know the risks, dangers, and potential consequences of drug use.
Posted on Tuesday 1st June 2021