When attempting to help school-aged children deal with a world that uses alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, consider the following:
They are moving from total dependence on their parents to shared dependence with parents and peers.
They are very concerned and focused on their maturing bodies and respond to information about health, nutrition and exercise.
They tend to see things as either black or white; rules govern most aspects of their play and life. Legality and morality have strong meaning for children this age.
They view people and messages as they want them to be, not necessarily as they are. Tobacco and alcohol advertising often uses this "fantasy" appeal.
Middle School Youth
When attempting to intervene positively in the lives of middle school youth, help them gain control of situations and not be controlled by them, it is important to remember what motivates them.
They are often controlled by the moment, acting first and thinking about it later. What feels good at the moment can easily dictate the choices they will make.
They are keenly interested in their bodies and appearance, in how to become stronger or more attractive. This interest can provide a natural opening to teach them about the health hazards of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
They are big risk takers, quick to test limits, break rules and even flirt with death. They enjoy danger and often believe they are invincible.
They can think abstractly and are sufficiently aware of their own future to see the benefits of education and how their behavior can have long-term consequences.
They are beginning to see shades of gray and recognize that complex moral issues cannot always be defined in black and white. They are influenced more by their own ability to make moral judgments than by the opinions of those who have the power and authority to tell them what to believe and how to behave.
They are involved in their friendships. It is through friendships that they explore the world, test out ways of being and behaving, and acquire a sense of both belonging and identity. It is critical that parents, teachers and other adults help them learn how to develop healthy, positive friendships and reject friendships that are unhealthy.
They want to grow up, but they don’t always know how to do it successfully. They definitely need adults in their lives to answer their questions, help with their problems, and generally serve as models of healthy, responsible, mature behavior.
High School Youth
Drug prevention messages must have a foundation of accurate, factual information from which youth can draw conclusions about the dangers and long-term effects of drug-use. Still, there are certain things educators should keep in mind when communicating with high school students about substance abuse.
They need to continue learning and practicing how to resist peer pressure and to understand the valid reasons for saying "no" to risky behaviors.
They need to be allowed to make independent decisions and to assume responsibility for choices that affect them and others.
They need to see that, as citizens, they are responsible for making their communities better, safer places to live.
They like to explore different sides of issues, examine various interpretations and justify their actions as correct moral choices.