Kids are impressionable. This can be both a problem and a blessing. It’s a problem when a child or adolescent is persuaded to engage in substance use by a peer, but it’s a blessing when the child learns important substance prevention information through school-based programs. Kids will always be confronted with peers who are participating in risky behavior, so arming them with useful information about substance prevention is important, especially at an age when they are still receptive to the messaging.
School settings are the logical choice for implementing the prevention programs. Providing this prevention programming at schools, starting in the elementary years, allows large numbers of young people to be educated about the dangers of substance use disorders (SUDs). The goal of these programs is that by the time children become teenagers, they will be less vulnerable when substances are introduced.
There have been many different school-based prevention campaigns launched over the last several decades, and the purpose of these programs is multifold. The goals are to educate kids about the dangers of substance use and addiction, to provide an opportunity for the child to connect with school administrators, teachers, and counselors as a support system, and to help reduce the future cost burden to society related to substance use.
The Value of Substance Prevention Programs for Children
School-based substance prevention programs differ depending on age, with programs designed for elementary school-aged children, middle school-aged adolescents, and high school-aged teenagers. The hope is that this continuum of education, beginning in grade school, becomes an important component of the children’s ongoing formation and decision-making skill set. The primary benefits of the after-school programs include:
- Preventing Substance Use Disorder. Knowledge is power. Kids who are educated about how addiction develops and are taught about the harsh reality of an SUD are more likely to think twice before experimenting with substances. Also, kids can take what they learn home to pass on the information to siblings and parents.
- Reducing Other Risky Behaviors. Risky and impulsive behaviors, such as sexual activity or criminal behavior, tend to exist in tandem with addiction. By reducing substance use among youth, other dangerous behaviors are often reduced as well.
- Helping Kids Feel Safe and Connected. Schools are where kids spend most of their waking hours. When prevention programs are implemented in schools, kids and teenagers will feel more connected to teachers and staff, and with that, comes a sense of safety.
- Standing Up to Peer Pressure. Substance prevention programs usually have a psychosocial component that teaches kids and adolescents strategies for defending themselves against peer pressure.
What Are SUD Effects on Children?
About 8.7 million of the nation’s children are raised in a home where at least one parent has a substance use disorder. This means that one in eight kids lives in a household where at least one parent is impaired by substance use. Children growing up in this type of home environment are said to have more difficulty in the areas of school, social relationships, and overall family functioning than peers in an addiction-free home. In addition, being raised in a home with open substance use increases the probability that the child will experiment with substances, too.
What Makes After School Programs Effective?
Anyone alive in the 1980s can recall the DARE program that was widely instituted in public schools across the U.S. Nancy Reagan’s infamous “Just Say No” slogan, while catchy, was an overly simplistic approach to a complex issue. With so many factors contributing to youth substance use, this slogan was not effective. To be effective, school-based programs must be relevant to each demographic, and inform about the specific needs and characteristics of each. For this reason, a localized program selected at the school district level can be more effective than a nationalized program like DARE.
Another trait of an effective after-school substance prevention program is interactivity. An interactive program engages students in role-playing, interactive lessons, art, games, and teamwork. A non-interactive program is structured more like a lecture, where the facilitator imparts data and facts to students. The more engaged or interactive the students are in the program, the more its message will resonate.
After-school substance prevention interventions are one more effort to reduce youth substance use. These programs amplify the messaging made by parents, teachers, and child-directed public service announcements in the media. School-based programs not only provide education about the negative effects of substance use, but also give kids the tools, techniques, and resources to access during their formative years.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.