Last Spring, as I attended my fifth grader’s graduation from D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), I found myself acting like a kid myself–making snide remarks to my husband and getting all squirmy in my seat while I sneered at the suck-ups who read their winning essays.
“They’re like little robots,” I said. “We will ne-ver drink or do drugs.”
“Yeah, sure,” I found myself mumbling even though, throughout high school, I could have been a poster child for D.A.R.E., which is now taught in 80% of school districts.
So why the hostility and regression, on my part? Maybe it was the echoes of Nancy Reagan’s prissy, preachy “Just Say No” campaign, which seemed only to spur teenagers on to want to do more drugs, just to piss Nancy off.
But there had to be something else.
The uneasiness began when a female police officer came to a PTA meeting to discuss the program with us. After she spoke, the mothers in the audience had many questions. “I have a glass of wine or two on Friday nights in front of my children. Is that okay?”
And then someone asked the police officer, “Do you or did you drink?” “If so, do you tell your children?” The officer laughed and said something to the effect of, “I was kind of wild, but they don’t have to know that.” While I don’t feel the need to tell my kids the details of every college bender I ever went on, I don’t think I need to hide my moderate drinking from my children. That seems ludicrous. As the daughter of an alcoholic, I have a real problem with hiding things from my children (the elephant in the living room). Also, by making alcohol forbidden or taboo, it will only increase the thrill of sneaking.
After my daughter started her D.A.R.E. education, my daughter looked at a glass of wine in my hands like it was a gun.
Therein lies the problem with D.A.R.E.–they fail to make a distinction between that which is legal, accepted behavior (moderate alcohol consumption when you’re of drinking age) and that which is illegal (Drugs). In D.A.R.E. world, everything is bad. Period. While I’m grateful to the schools for trying to make kids more street smart and savvy, and I am all for it, I am not for moralizing. The facts, pure and simple, should speak for themselves. You can drink when you’re of legal drinking age. Period. Some people have a disease called alcoholism, and these people cannot drink. Some people drink too much and can get very sick, or even die. If you have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism, you should be careful. These kinds of facts are helpful, not: “Never drink.” Because the fact is (and the statistics bear me out), most teens will at least try drinking. The best part of the program is where they arm kids with ways to deal with peer pressure, and alternatives to drinking.
Equating drinking with drug use is, in my opinion, setting kids up for subterfuge and shame. Studies have shown that DARE actually increases girls’ drug use and drinking.
So what, then, is effective, if not DARE and its scare tactics? Addiction expert Stanton Peele has an interesting take on these programs:
“The prevailing prevention approach is to tell everyone not to do these things, claim no one successful has ever done them, and carry on with what everyone knows to be a complete fiction. (Think of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.)
Well, this is not the whole story. Neural research indicates that adolescent brains program kids to try risky behaviors. It is unlikely we will soon prevent large numbers of teens from drinking and using drugs. Yet, subtracting the approximately 20 million current drug users from the 110 million plus people who once used, almost 100 million Americans have left drugs behind. Perhaps it can be good for young people to learn that as they mature they can, and will, straighten out and fly right?
This is the opposite of the approach of nearly all school drug education programs. Here the logic is to troop in people who have ruined their lives by their drug use and drinking, as object lessons in the evils of sin. But there are reasons to believe that kids reject negative messages from figures like these, and that purely scare tactics don’t work. Research on effective drug resistance programs finds that the best ways to prevent substance abuse are for kids to develop skills, feel good about themselves, have positive peers, and look forward to their futures.
From this perspective, Mr. Obama’s message that he briefly stumbled but then righted himself to achieve success may be just what the doctor ordered.”
D.A.R.E. is not the only program out there. Alternative solutions abound–programs, for example, that focus on developing positive behaviors rather than avoiding negative behaviors–and are worth looking into. While I believe it’s important to educate our children about drugs and alcohol and their effects, preaching and fear-mongering are not the answers. Instead of saying what we don’t want our children to do, let’s give them some ideas and role-modeling about what we would like them to do.