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Glass Half Full Makes the Point Better

by Jo-Anne Bowen, PhD
There’s plenty of good news about teens and drugs. It’s true! And in my experience, if we stress this good news, we’ll get more students on board. They’ll understand that they can indeed stay drug-free, because many of their peers are doing exactly that.

For example, instead of confronting students with how many young people smoke, try framing this issue in a positive manner. Core Lesson Four covers how peers and advertising pressure young people to try drugs. Activity 3B presents survey results regarding eighth graders and smoking. Here’s a suggestion: begin by asking students to guess what percentage of eighth graders reported having smoked in the past month. Write their answers on the board. Many kids think everyone smokes, and by extension they will as well, so they sometimes guess seventy-five percent or even higher. Then look at the survey results and write them on the board. When students see that only twelve percent of eighth graders reported smoking in the past month, they are usually surprised.

So while twelve percent smoked, eighty-eight percent did not. You can visually impress upon them that not everyone smokes by rounding off eighty-eight percent to ninety percent and have ninety percent of the students stand up. “This,” you can tell them, “is the percentage of eighth graders who do not use tobacco products.”

You have positively reinforced that becoming a smoker is not inevitable—that eighty-eight percent have chosen to stay smoke free, and by extension, they can too. They will have that image in their minds of nine-tenths of the class standing up to represent the nonsmokers.

Research shows that scare tactics don’t work. If they did, we would have less drug abuse. What works is information presented both objectively and positively. You give students the tools to make wise choices from a positive point of view to help them stay healthy and safe.

This approach to drug education should start at the classroom door. I advise greeting each student by name and establishing a relationship of trust that allows the class to openly discuss any topic that comes up, knowing that anything they share stays with the group.

Students shine when they’re in a positive setting. They fully engage in the material they’re studying. They challenge ideas, voice their own opinions and then take ownership of the conclusions they reach that will help protect them from drug abuse.
Canadian native Jo-Anne Bowen serves as the state of Washington’s Project ALERT trainer and has conducted training sessions for the program nationally since 1991. A former junior and senior high science and health teacher, she also works as a consultant in the Vancouver public schools. She received her doctorate in education from the University of Oregon.

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