D.A.R.E. stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, and its purpose is to educate young people starting in elementary school about the dangers associated with substance use and abuse of any kind. The current incarnation of the program is far different from its 1980s predecessor, updated and revamped with an eye toward efficacy and education that is specific and honest as opposed to vague and scary. Rather than being told, “It can kill you, so just don’t do it,” kids learn about what happens in the brain when under the influence, how ongoing drug use can alter the brain’s function over time, and the risks and concerns that can occur along the way.
In New Jersey, the history of the implementation of the D.A.R.E. program involved a messy legal battle when the local chapter refused to implement a new nationwide program that they said was not proven to be effective in reaching younger kids. The New Jersey chapter of the program lost that battle in court and was forced to stop breaking their franchise agreement by continuing to teach the program that the national organization called “antiquated” under the D.A.R.E. name. In its place, a new program called Law Enforcement Against Drugs sprung up and continued to teach the old program under the new name, but now there is interest in reinstituting the D.A.R.E. program with the new program in New Jersey schools.
Ocean County Undersheriff Rick Bergquist is on the forefront of the push to get D.A.R.E. back in the schools as the Director of Advocacy for Drug Education in New Jersey. He says: “D.A.R.E. America has been covering our costs here in New Jersey (since 2015). All you need to do is look at the opiate problem we have here in New Jersey and understand that our best opportunity is to reach these kids early and repeatedly. There’s just so many temptations and it’s just so easy for a kid to go off the path. Our goal is touch as many kids as possible in the state of New Jersey with the D.A.R.E. program.”
Changing Times, Changing Perceptions
Now more than ever, it is imperative to talk to your kids about drug use and abuse. As more and more states legalize marijuana for recreational as well as medicinal use, the perception among young people is that the drug is safe for use in any amount and fashion. Kids are reporting that they have had alcohol in their own homes or the homes of friends and that they are accessing prescription drugs that are left in medicine cabinets without permission.
Many parents are working hard to support their kids in making positive decisions about substance use and abuse, and having the school’s support will drive home the principles they are trying to impart to their kids. For those kids who are not getting the support they need at home, what they learn about substance abuse in school may be all they have to guide them in making strong, healthy decisions about avoiding drug and alcohol use.
Talking to Your Kids about Substance Use and Abuse
The more you can talk to your kids about the use of different substances, the more likely they are to make positive decisions when in situations where they are exposed to drugs and alcohol. Not sure how to start that conversation or when? Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Start early. When your child is in 4th or 5th grade, it is a good time to seize “teaching moments,” such as a scene in a movie about exposure to drugs or alcohol or seeing people who are under the influence, to begin the process of making it clear that use of any kind is not worth the risk.
- Be consistent. One conversation is not going to do the work that needs to be done. It is important to broach the topic repeatedly starting when the child is young and going all the way through high school in order to drive the point home.
- It’s okay if it seems like your kids aren’t listening. Kids often report that even though they may tire of hearing the same thing over and over from their parents, they do tend to fall back on that advice when they are away from home and faced with the potential for drug use and abuse.
- Be a good example. Kids pay attention to what they see you do perhaps more than what they hear you say. Avoid all use of illicit substances and make sure that your own use of alcohol is minimal, not only so you can focus on providing for them but also to be a positive example.
How will you help your kids learn more about how to handle the issue of drugs and alcohol?