Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Drug Education for Kids

There is a lot around these days... anti-smoking propaganda, 'Just Say No' campaigns, websites that may be excellent resources or condescending tripe aimed at kids, their parents or, let's be honest, other people who already agree with the position of those writing them. 

YES GHA alum drug abuse by AFS-USA Intercultural...

Recently, we received a web survey asking what the teenager in the house thought of some written materials aimed at teens. Oh, man. Where to start.

The overall tone of the material was, not surprisingly, "You are stupid, we know more than you and you will never understand this well enough to make sensible choices. Just do what we tell you to do, then you too can be 'cool.'"

A Self-proclaimed nerd by leyla.a
Do you remember being a teenager and being faced with one of those adults? You know, the desperate ones who want to be seen to be cool by the teens? Arg! I swear, this material was written by them. You can smell the desperation, the need to be looked up to, right alongside the utter certainty that the adult is right and the teen is a zombie.

My kids, without any difficulty at all, have found out everything they want to know about drugs -- to the point that they can tell me all kinds of interesting things about words I'd never heard of, like ketamine. They found web sources and books and experts they believed in without having to resort to watching a 20 second commercial telling them what to think.

Have you seen the anti-smoking garbage as of late? My goodness, there are so many people dying of the effects of cigarette smoke -- people who haven't been in regular contact with it, or been smokers themselves, sometimes for decades are somehow crammed into the statistics of 'deaths from smoking' and 'deaths from second hand smoke' -- it's almost the #1 worldwide killer, probably above the most basic 'all people will die of something' cause. Sometimes the deranged side of my mind suspects that everyone who isn't shot or run over by a car, who is old enough to have ever been in a restaurant when smoking was allowed, dies of 'smoking-related illness.' It's a simple leap for a propaganda writer, after all... It goes kind of like this:

  1. Tobacco, when burned, released 4000 chemicals (we'll talk about that piece of b.s. in a moment)

  2. Several (between 6 and 200, depending on who you're listening to) are carcinogenic

  3. THEREFORE anyone who has contracted cancer who was ever anywhere near tobacco burning has suffered from the effects of tobacco smoke AND

  4. Heart disease and lung disease are both known to be correlated to smoking and second hand smoke

  5. THEREFORE anyone with lung or heart disease who has ever been around burning tobacco is suffering from the effects of tobacco smoke

  6. ERGO, anyone who dies after having contracted any of those (cancer, heart or lung diseases) can justifiably be said to have 'died from' the effects of tobacco smoke.
Ha ha ha ha. Oh sure.

Back to that '4000 chemicals' bit. I like this part, it's the funny part. 

Just for comparison's sake: anyone have any idea how many chemicals are released into the air when spicy battered fries are fried? Just for comparison, I mean...


Hmm... perhaps 4000 chemicals released is a lot. Perhaps it is not. Who would know, with nothing at all to compare that isolated fact to? But 'chemicals' is a term that comprises... well, everything. Any compound (like gold-silver alloy) is a chemical. So are all vitamins, all minerals that aren't in their pure elemental form. Oh, and all elements. 

Some folks have managed to pollute the word 'chemicals' and really mean 'dangerous
chemistry solvents, by Hans Splinter
compounds' but, since the 'list' of 'chemicals' released when tobacco burns includes both carbon and oxygen, the whole thing is just silly.

And that, unfortunately, is where almost all anti-drug stuff goes. In an atmosphere of fear, and lacking any trust in the people receiving the information, the anti-drug folks (including the anti-tobacco crowd) are provoked to propaganda.

What is the difference between propaganda and, say, marketing? Well, for one thing, anti-drug campaigns don't have to meet any standards for 'truth in advertising.' They can tell people that marijuana is a 'gateway' drug without having to restrict that statement to any part of reality or define the term. 
The research is clear: the vast majority of people who use marijuana (like tobacco and alcohol) do not ever progress into 'heavier' drugs, not even for experimentation. 
Dailyshoot~2001 Peak District Oddity by Les Hains
Gateway to nowhere, perhaps? Why is that term used? 

To invoke fear and to maintain ignorance.

Propaganda also has a level of invective that borders on the evangelical. It's not unhealthy to try pot -- it's immoral. It's not illegal for minors to use alcohol, it's an indication of someone's lack of character. Strong, upstanding people don't do these things, weak and amoral people do. And today, with the No Stank You and The Truth ads, people who smoke are ugly, stupid, socially-unacceptable and smell worse than decomposing flesh, apparently.

Propaganda is most obvious, though, when the lack of trust in the truth really shines through. The message is 'don't just tell them the truth -- amplify and adorn the truth with hyperbole and speculation, dire warnings of doom and death.' And lots of exclamation points!! 
Drugs kill. !!!!   
Tobacco kills everyone who ever uses it, and most of the people who are ever near it.    !!!!
When parents are attempting to influence their children's choices, particularly into their 20s, when they are truly 'free' of the supervision we rely on for the first 2 decades, what can they do that will actually work?

What can parents do that will actually work?
The truth. 

In fact, the truth is quite bad enough. 

Meth is highly addictive (true) and causes unsightly skin problems (true), is illegal (true), may be tampered with to make it even more addictive (also true) and distracts users from things that are important to them, like loved ones and feeling like a capable, responsible adult (all true). 

Does everyone who ever tries meth get hooked on it? No. 
Does everyone who gets hooked on it die or contract infectious diseases? Also no. 

Is it possible to have a clean source that is easy to get and won't risk the more revolting side effects? Well, yes, maybe, for a while if no one gets caught and the people involved don't have any difficulty getting the ingredients, and have no nefarious agenda in addition to supplying someone with drugs... That's an awful lot of conditions required to make a happy life hooked to something. Not impossible, but who has time or energy to spend that much time making sure tomorrow's lunch is that safe, much less something illicit that makes 'finding out' even harder?

Another 'fact' about drug use that the anti-campaigners like to gloss over is the self-esteem connection.

People who have high self-esteem may, certainly, try out drugs that are readily available to them (caffeine, alcohol and tobacco being way at the top of the list), but the people who are 'hooked instantly' like the drugs specifically for their ability to stop them from feeling the way they always do (or give them access to feelings they walled off long ago in a desperate attempt to stop feeling all the pain). 

Self-esteem is not about being high on oneself, narcissistic or boastful. High self-esteem is based on feeling capable of accomplishing many of the things necessary in life, and on feeling lovable and loved.

Parents can help with all of those things: 

    Fall Family Photos by Chris Price
  • directing children toward doing things with their strengths
  • making sure they know that their weaknesses don't need to be 'fixed' 
  • weaknesses are no sign of being 'broken,' just an indication of where they're always (probably) going to need other people's assistance -- as is appropriate in a cooperative society.

Make sure children know they are loved... that alone goes a long way to ensuring they do not turn to drugs as a way to live with themselves...when they don't care much if they die.

1 comment:

  1. Let's revive that great old movie, "Reefer Madness". It's enough to make you want to light up right away...