Heading back to school is a time of transition, especially for students entering middle or high school or students attending a new school. Studies show that times of transition increase a child’s risk for substance use. For some students it is the stress of having to navigate through a new school building and seeing so many new faces; for others it is the new or increased peer pressure to fit in and belong. For many students, it is the new or increased exposure to substance-using peers; or it could be the higher expectations coming from teachers, coaches and parents. Or, it may be a combination of the overall pressure to do well in school and in extracurricular activities.
Teachers are powerful influencers in the lives of their students. What you share in your classroom can positively impact a child’s decision to not use alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other drugs during those high-risk transition years and other times during middle and high school. Teachers are also in a position to guide parents in helping students make healthy, drug-free lifestyle choices by encouraging increased prevention-related conversations at home, as well as encouraging parents to implement an after school plan to reduce their student’s risk for use.
In most schools, the beginning of a new school year presents opportunities to connect and share such information with parents. When doing so, we ask teachers to keep three points in mind:
- KNOW! every student is at risk for substance use;
- KNOW! to increase your knowledge on current and emerging drug trends;
- KNOW! to increase the number of prevention-related conversations with your students (in the classroom and at home).
It is also important to know that for youth between the ages of 12 to 17, the hours after school are critical when it comes to preventing substance use. The majority of drinking, smoking and other drug use among teens takes place when they are hanging out together, unsupervised, after school.
In order to reduce the likelihood of your students’ use of substances, parents need to know where their children are and with whom they are spending their free time, and they must also ensure that their children (your students) are being appropriately supervised after school. This can be tricky for some families, who for one reason or another, have a child or children at home alone in the hours following school. For these families, you can encourage them to set the rule of no friends in the home without a parent or other trusted adult being present.
Another point relevant to a child’s risk, including those who are properly supervised, is how they are spending their after school hours. Those engaged in sports, band or other extracurricular activities for at least some afternoons during the school week, are at a reduced risk for use. Teachers, you’ll definitely want to share this next statistic: Youth who routinely go home and do homework - they are at the least risk for substance use.
While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to preventing students from using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs, teachers should be aware that there are certain times children are at greater risk (heading back-to-school is one of those times), and overall there are certain things you can do and encourage parents to do (like increasing prevention-related talks in the classroom and encouraging parents to provide afterschool supervision, set rules for when friends are allowed over and by encouraging certain after school activities and routines) to put students at better odds for remaining substance-free.
Learn how to get the conversation started at StartTalking.Ohio.Gov.
Sign-up for Know! parent tips.
Return to the Ohio Department of Education’s Start Talking! Web page.
Source: Joseph A. Califano, JR. - How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid: The Straight Dope for Parents.