Monday, July 17, 2017

Why Just Say No Doesn't Work for Drugs or Sex

Friendly reminder that I teach comprehensive sex ed in my spare time. I was the beneficiary of comprehensive sex ed starting in fifth grade. I believe that sex, sexuality, and sexual expression are natural parts of our lives, and the idea that children will be magically provided the necessary information at the point they are emotionally and physically ready without any prior preparation is ridiculous.  
Drugs are a little different. But at some point in most everyone's life whether it's alcohol or prescription meds, most people will encounter drugs in some form.  So, again, I do think learning a little about how different substances act on bodies is useful so that you don't go off what some random person tells you.  Ideally this would - just as comprehensive sex ed does, look at consequences. Not just legal, but how these various drugs act on your body not only through the high, but also through the withdrawal or hangover.  And talking about what responsible and legal drinking looks like so that we don't learn all of this through trial and error.  
One of the things we talk about in our sex ed curriculum is that substances you are not familiar with can affect your decision making, and talk with the students about why that might mean getting drunk or high at a party where you don't know people might not be a great idea.  What to do if your friend suddenly seems out of it, and is being led away by someone you don't know.  
This is a common refrain for me, but we insist that to be useful adults, teenagers need experience learning languages, math, and science, even if they are planning a career that doesn't require all of these things.  We require it not to torture them, but because the critical thinking skills and language affinity skills are useful in a lot of ways later.  
I think dealing with sex and drugs is similar.  We don't expect high schoolers to be ready to be translators at the UN without further study.  But we are stuck on this idea that teaching kids about sex or drugs with any sort of depth or nuance means they will think we are telling them they are all set to go.  It ignores the idea that part of what we should be teaching is how to make the best choices for themselves, how to practice having tough conversations, and how to have discussions about what healthy boundaries look like for them.  Adults often have trouble with this.  Partly because it's hard.  And partly because we don't practice. We teach kids CPR in case they could help someone.  Teaching them how to say, I am open to this but not that is just as important.  
So, the suggestion we revive the DARE program saddens me.  We already know telling kids all drugs are bad doesn't work.  Because even if they believe it in the moment, they will go home and watch someone drink a beer and not die.  What it instead teaches them is that adults are not trustworthy sources about drugs. And that helps no one.