Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Students Vs. Drugs

Adults know it’s important to reach kids with warnings about drug use and the benefits of making positive choices. But kids often meet words of caution with “I know!”

Trevor, age 18, is featured in our DVD Drugs: True Stories. When the request came for him to address students at a large peer leadership conference, I hoped he’d be warmly received.

With support from his mother and mentors – including his pastor –Trevor manages to avoid drug use, even though temptation has surrounded him, as he says, “like second-hand smoke.”

Trevor is talented and focused. A year ago, when I interviewed him for the DVD, I noticed inspirational messages taped to the walls of his bedroom. He’d also posted his five-year plan. Drugs, he says, would block him from his goals.

Trevor and I talked before the conference. He asked me what he should tell the audience.

I reminded him that young people feel a lot of stress academically and socially. I suggested he acknowledge it’s hard to grow up swamped with these pressures. He’d told me about his own tough times as a younger teen.

“… I had a very hard time fitting in. My schoolmates would call me stupid, geek, or you’re ugly,” he says in Drugs: True Stories. “At the age that I was back then, that was a very hard thing, and an awful thing to deal with. I had a few friends here and there. But still, there was a level of rejection. I tried to dress a certain way. I tried to talk a certain way, just to fit in, but just didn’t really hit the mark.”

I explained the importance of reminding the young audience that for every choice there are consequences. We talked about why young people need this reminder: the part of their brain that grasps consequences hasn’t fully developed. I knew Trevor could talk about that effectively because he’d already done so in our interview:

“I don’t think it’s right to just tell someone to say no to drugs,” Trevor said. “I think the person just has to think things through and use good judgment and think about what could really happen as a result of using drugs. What kind of effect will it have on your health? What kind of effect will it have on those around you? Your family members?”

Trevor is a captivating speaker. The first time I saw him in front of a crowd – at our educational forum on drug abuse – I told him he could be President one day. He can hold a room in the palm of his hand.

Today, the conference organizer Michael P. Jackman, Director of School Programs, Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office, copied me on an e-mail he sent to Trevor. I’m sharing part of it to show that young people can be reached with prevention messages. They will listen.

Dear Trevor,

Each year we try to bring in someone who can motivate the students to keep up the good work as peer leaders in their school communities, as these students, in my opinion, are our best chance to reach the rest of the high school population with the important message of “choose not to use.” Having seen you in the video and at the State House at the video’s premiere, I knew that you were exactly what we were looking for to present that positive message to our group.

I also want to thank you for being part of the panel discussion with the two high school students, Jenna and Skye, as it was interesting to have your perspective as a college student living in the city to reinforce the message of high school students working in suburban school settings.

Who knows how long the students will remember Trevor’s words? His words to them need to be part of an ongoing dialogue about smart and healthy choices. But meantime, if he helps one boy or girl to avoid experimenting with drugs, he’s making a difference.

Drugs: True Stories
Words Can Work: When Talking About Drugs

Related Issues and Answers columns
Cocaine and addiction
Cocaine’s effect on the body
Crystal meth
Prescription drugs

Related columns for young people


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