Blog · Jan 30, 2019
In the mid-1970s, in response to the growing and debilitating drug epidemic facing our country's youth, the Mendez Foundation began to focus on educating students about the social and health consequences of substance abuse. Since then, our signature Too Good for Drugs program has used research and evidence-based methods to help children develop the social and emotional skills to build positive friendships, communicate effectively, resist peer pressure and influence, and make healthy choices. Today, we’d like to discuss the importance of drug prevention education at every age, and how the challenges children face evolve as they progress.
Ideally, parents should start talking to their children about making healthy choices before they reach school age. Young children are highly impressionable, curious, and eager to learn, so the sooner young children begin to adopt healthy norms about how to care for their bodies and make choices that are good for them, the better. Although young children may not be able to grasp the complexities of drug abuse, they can understand concepts like, “smoking is bad for you.”
As children enter elementary school, they become more aware of the world beyond their homes and families. Children at this age can and should understand the difference between food, medicine, and illegal drugs. As they progress through the primary levels, they can begin to learn and understand both the immediate and long-term effects on the body of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs misuse. They can also understand that while it is appropriate for adults to drink alcohol in moderation, it is not healthy or appropriate for children to have alcohol, even in small amounts. Because young people who engage in substance use often seek to solve a problem, either to cope with stress, to fit in, or to escape, providing them with healthy strategies to find safe, healthy ways to address those problems is effective. Developing the skills to set and reach goals and to manage the obstacles and stresses related to academics and social dynamics also builds protection to provide alternatives to risky behavior as a method to solve problems.
The first year of middle school is when childhood drug use typically appears, so education before and during the teen years can delay or prevent experimentation and onset of use. At the middle-school level, children are eager to fit in, often overriding instincts to avoid the use of nicotine, alcohol, or other drugs, particularly if they witness older kids using substances. At this stage, education should discuss complex social and dating relationships, and how peer and dating relationships can affect substance use. Educators must continue to provide comprehensive prevention education on the risks and consequences of drugs and alcohol. We also encourage parents to know their kids’ friends and friends’ parents, so they know who their child is associating with and what they are doing.
Students who were not exposed to drugs in middle school may encounter them as they enter high school and may also see older students or other young adults using alcohol. Prevention education at this level works to support and build on the healthy attitudes and norms established in elementary and middle school. In high school, students can gain a deeper understanding of how external factors can influence their own attitudes toward drugs. Topics such as media literacy and influence, how relationships can influence decision-making, and addiction all work to enhance the teen’s understanding of how their decisions are affected by the people and the world around them. High school students should learn about the safe use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs and the effects of nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana use, as well as the effects of street drugs, including opioids and stimulants. Programs at this level can also foster more complex discussions around the effect of substance use on health, life, and career goals.
When schools support parents’ efforts to talk to their children about substance use, they make it more likely that kids will lead healthy, drug-free lives. Drug prevention education that is tailored to the right age group can be a powerful tool in empowering young people to make healthy and responsible life choices.Too Good for Drugs programs are designed to mitigate the risk factors associated with substance use, and enhance a student’s ability to resist drug use and other problem behaviors.