High School Students talk about Drug Education Programs
This transcript is from an interview with several high school students
that was conducted by Joel Brown, Ph.D. in 1993 as part of the California
Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Education (DATE) evaluation sponsored by the
California State Department of Education.
This research was supported by the California State Department of
Education, Contract No. 3279. The views expressed herein are those of the
authors and do not necessarily represent those of the California State
Department of Education.
- Interviewer: I have a question. What should the goal of these [drug
education] programs be? Should the goal be to get you guys never to drink
alcohol, smoke a cigarette or smoke a joint? What should it be?
- Respondent : To know what your limitations are, to make yourself aware
enough so that you know-personally, I've never felt very worried that I
would ever become a substance abuser. When I was like in elementary school
it was crammed down my throat, "Just Say No..." it's the most
awful thing in the world, and so when it first came, like in ninth grade,
I remember this girl was trying to get me to do pot I'm like, "No,
that's evil." It was that kind of a thing, but I think the goal of
education should be you're going to be in the situation, you're going to
see this, that and the other thing, it's not evil if you've got a good
enough sense of self worth, if you know what your boundaries are, if you
know what you feel comfortable with and if you know what it's going to do
to you and you know what the consequences may be.
- I: OK, I'm not trying to put you off, but I have a question that comes
from that, which I think is very important. You mentioned getting stuff in
elementary school and junior high school, have all of you gotten
- R: [Several voices] Yes.
- I: I'm wondering what happens between what you get-we've spoken to
elementary school kids and junior high school kids and they all think that
what they're getting is hard and what we're trying to figure out is what
happens between elementary school and junior high school and then high
- R: Reality.
- R: Yeah. [Yes]
- I: [Laugh] What do you mean reality?
- R: When you're younger and much more impressionable you look up to
your teachers, you take everything that they say, so you respect
everything they say, you don't want to disappoint; your teachers, your
parents have certain expectations of you, the pressure is not on to do all
that stuff when you're in elementary...
- R: Actually the pressure is-it's just the opposite. I remember being
invited to a party when I was in sixth grade and some guy lit up a
cigarette and my boyfriend threw him into the pool and everybody was like
beating him up because he did that and now it's like- [Laugh]
- I: So what switched?
- R: Well, what happened is that we, first of all, were influenced by
other things when we were younger-like we looked up to our superheroes and
our cartoon characters and the Sesame Street people-and by the time you
get to middle school you don't want to be like elementary school kids
anymore, you want to be like the high school kids, so you find out what
they do at their parties and what your older brothers and sisters are
doing. You also have more of your own mind, the teachers don't think
you're as impressionable as you were when you were younger, they're not
going to preach to you, so they're just going to tell you what is in the
curriculum because really what they tell you is not going to really make
an impact. I think what it would be neat to do is bring in recovering
substance abusers who abused as teenagers and have them tell the class
this is what happened to my life when I was an abuser and show them how it
destroyed their life and that way teenagers can relate. When you're
talking to somebody twenty years older than you who is going to preach to
you Just Say No that kind of thing does not really get home, it doesn't
last, you need something that is really, I don't know, kind of like our
- R: [Several voices] Yeah. [Yes]
- R: I also wanted to say that what I think that part of the problem
seems to be is that any subject the teachers or anybody is really
uncomfortable talking about it seems to all get pushed to the side and I
think that more with drug and alcohol abuse, I think that it is something
that people are very uncomfortable talking about.
- I: You mean adults?
- R: Yes, adults. I think that, especially, I guess, when you're in high
school or junior high, also, when somebody says to you don't do this,
because it's bad, you know, the automatic reaction of a teenager growing
up is to say why is it bad? Everybody is curious about what this does, the
way they're curious about anything and I think that by just saying that
it's bad and just putting things in the curriculum is doing that without
saying this is why, this is what can happen, and showing what can happen
to you and presenting both sides realistically and when you don't do that
then people don't know what the consequences are and are more apt to
- I: What's both sides? Sorry.
- R: I think at the same time as presenting everything that is bad, you
can't just preach one side, you have to somehow, I mean, you can't ignore
that sometimes it feels good to be drunk and that sometimes it feels good
to- you might want to smoke a joint, you might want to escape, I mean...
- I: Yes but then they say well that's promoting you guys using
- R: No it is just admitting the fact that...
- R: That temptation is there. I mean, just because you're saying, just
like when we're talking about AIDS, just because we're saying if you're
going to have sex use condoms does not mean I'm going to have sex now
because you told me about that. It just means that if it happens I know
what's out there because the more you know, the more you're prepared.
Nobody ever said anything like that to me and I think when you get into
high school it is just such a different world than junior high you want to
fit in and explore everything so much and when you find out these things a
lot of the old barriers come crashing down that you've had when you were
in junior high.
- R: I think the problem with education is-this kind of education-is
that you're constantly being shoved down your throat it's so wrong, if you
do it you're a terrible, evil person, instead of just educating saying I
know some of you people do it, why do you do it, let's try to help you so
you don't do it any more. If it is shoved into you that you're a terrible
person when you do this, you know, you kind of want to back away from the
education process because they've already made a judgement upon you,
you're a terrible person if you smoke marijuana, if you do alcohol, if you
smoke cigarettes, you're a terrible person, instead of approaching it as,
OK, you guys do it, let's help you now.
- I: So then the goal should be to get people into not doing it.
- R: No I'm not saying that, I'm saying the goal should be to evaluate
yourself and figure out why you do it, evaluate your own personal habits
and your personal values and morals.
- R: I don't think it is realistic to assume that anyone is not going to
try some things in their life, I mean, it's ridiculous that presidents-I
think that is a part of growing up...
- I: Finish that thought.
- R: I think it's ridiculous that presidents get judged on their - if
Bill Clinton inhaled or not, I think that's stupid. Everybody - we've
talked about this in psychology, when you grow up you go through different
experiences and you need to make mistakes and you make some things that
aren't mistakes and that's how you learn and you don't want anyone to
learn the very hard way by making huge mistakes, but it's OK if people
make little mistakes and you can forgive them for those, you can forgive
them for the big mistakes too, you know. I think it's very tough on a lot
of kids thinking, OK, this is the way my parents want me to grow up, I'm
supposed to do these kind of grades when I'm in junior high, have these
friends and in high school I should be like this or whatever and where is
the room for experimenting so that you can expand your mind. I think if
you educated students well enough they wouldn't feel the need to make as
many mistakes to find these things out because if you educated them well
enough they wouldn't need to make the mistakes to learn what they need to