*This post was written by Ventura County young adult, Hannah Yale
When I was in elementary school, Red Ribbon Week was my favorite part of the school year. It was a time when you could wear your pajamas to school, and teachers passed out free jelly bracelets that read, “Say NO to Drugs.” It was a fun and lighthearted way to plant the seed in children’s’ minds that drug use should be avoided. However, it seems that the gardeners are forgetting to water those seeds as time passes. Elementary schoolers don’t know what drugs are, and once children reach middle school, their main sources for education about drugs are their peers and the media. Students aren’t actually taught about drugs until 8th grade, which gives ample time in between for kids to develop false ideas about drugs and to potentially even use them. Then, in freshman year of highschool, students have one more unit about drugs in their health class, and then they are released into the world.
During middle school and high school, drugs become relevant and prevalent. They are no longer a foreign substance vaguely mentioned during school assemblies. Classmates and friends are talking about drugs and using drugs. “Are you high?” has become a common question directed at anyone who seems to be having too much fun with something simple. Last year, during my freshman year of high school, many people mistook me for being high on marijuana simply because I was tired and laughed at silly things. Drugs are now so common that it is assumed that teenagers have access to them and are taking advantage of that. So where is Red Ribbon Week?
Since I’ve been in high school, we have not had a Red Ribbon Week, or any kind of drug-prevention events, to my knowledge. It is possible that it happened and I just didn’t know, but if that is the case, it probably wasn’t a very effective method. In all honesty, most drug-prevention methods in schools are not very convincing. While they are happening, kids who don’t use drugs don’t pay very much attention, and kids who do usually make fun of the event. Unfortunately, teenagers often won’t take topics like this seriously unless it is seriously affecting their life. People who aren’t going through a particular experience are less likely to understand the situation than someone who is or someone who has. This is because personal relativity creates empathy, a very powerful tool of persuasion.
I propose that we utilize this tool on our quest for drug-prevention. Why not host an event with guest speakers who have personally had their lives demolished by drugs? I believe that by sharing personal, emotional experiences with one another, humans are able to redirect people’s mindsets and essentially alter the way that they think. I know that when someone shares something private with me, I will consider it in the future when I come across a similar circumstance. One of the simplest but most common examples of this is recommendations. Just today, I was talking to my friend about acne, when I told her that I was considering getting a prescription acne medication. Immediately, she began to say, “No, no, no. Don’t get that. I had it once and it didn’t work at all. And it burns if you go in the ocean while wearing it.” Because she was sharing a personal experience with me, I was persuaded that maybe I shouldn’t get prescription acne medication. If just a few sentences changed my mind about where to invest my money, imagine the effect that a story of a life-changing experience would have on a group of impressionable teenagers.
Although Red Ribbon Week is fun as a young child, the effects of it do not last through adolescence. If we want the rates of teen drug use to drop, we all need to take action. What will you do for drug-prevention?