THIS article looks at what the school can do to ensure young people do not partake in drug and substance abuse. It then ends by unpacking what the children and young people can do.
Schools in their loco parentis role need to realise they have a big role to ensure the learners wellbeing and prevent the onset of negative coping mechanisms. Urgent guidance and counselling sessions should, if this is not already happening, include dialogue about drug and other substance abuse. The psychosocial environment within the classroom should change and be more supportive. Teachers always have the extra duty of supporting learners who have difficult home circumstances, this duty is now called upon to include connecting with learners and working towards a drug-free classroom. For now, schools can be forgiven if they prohibit vendors at their gates and insist learners buy from the school tuckshop. I know some vendors depend on selling food items at school gates for survival but these are not ordinary times and we need to come up with extraordinary measures.
Role of friends
Many a young person are introduced to drug and substance abuse by friends and peers through negative peer pressure which can be direct and indirect. Direct negative peer pressure involves a group of friends asking someone to do something. This kind of pressure is normally very toxic and difficult to resist. Indirect negative peer pressure does not involve any coercion, but it’s when an individual does something they are not comfortable with but because they are trying to belong or fit in. It is important to choose friends carefully in order to avoid direct or indirect peer pressure. If one keeps the company of friends who have negative habits such as drug and substance abuse, the likelihood of being persuaded to indulge the negative habits is high. Each one of us brings value systems learnt at home from our parents and caregivers to school or college. It is important that we choose friends who either subscribe to our value system at best or respect and accept our value system at least. In such a situation, one’s friends will not try to pressure one into doing things one is not comfortable with. Don’t be friends with people to whom you feel inferior for one reason or another. If you feel inferior to someone and you want to be like them or to be liked by them, chances are they in turn feel superior to you and will treat you as such and you will succumb to indirect peer pressure from them. Being a mother to adolescents myself I understand that adolescence is a stage in life where life is generally difficult because of the confusing physical and mental changes happening to the body. It is also a stage where most are trying to establish their identity and friends are vital as they provide a safe space within which to figure things out and also symbolise the ability to establish healthy relationships. My advice is, don’t be desperate, your peers will like you for who you are if they really like you. Stick to people to whom you feel equal to remove pressure to measure up.
Have clear goals and set boundaries
The old adage that says he who stands for nothing will fall for anything remains true. It is very important for any young person to have goals and aspirations so they remain motivated. Set goals and share them with family, friends, mentors and pastors. Identify people who encourage and believe in you and establish good relationships with them. When faced with a choice or decision in life whether it’s to experiment with drugs or to engage in early sexual activity, always ask yourself how the choice you make would impact on your goals. Should the choice you make have potential to impede the achievement of your goals, ask yourself if it’s worth it. Stand for something or you will fall for anything. If it’s the in thing but has negative results, then do the out thing! We all need to set boundaries in all relationships in life. Do you know your boundaries and can you communicate them both verbally and non-verbally? There are healthy boundaries and there are unhealthy boundaries. It’s for instance a healthy boundary to refuse to go home late. It is, however, an unhealthy boundary to bar your parents or caregivers from accessing your bedroom. Your parents or caregivers will respect your privacy but it is unhealthy to be secretive. It is important for your family members to know you well enough to be able to vouch for you should the need arise. Our generation grew up with no personal phones and we shared bedrooms. If you have, however, been blessed to have your own phone or bedroom, it is not an opportunity to have a secretive life, remember your parents bring you up by influencing different spaces in your life and they can’t influence anything unless you let them in.
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Adversity remains part of life at all stages. Adolescents in particular are faced with parental poverty, toxic competition, disease, peer pressure, sexual reproductive health choices and at times difficult family circumstances. I wish our children would grow up in a problem-free environment but that is not the case. It is, therefore, important for adolescents to learn positive coping mechanisms. Some young people have resorted to drug and substance abuse as a way of escaping from or coping with life’s adversities. My advice is accept that there is no shame in admitting you are not coping and asking for help. There is also no shame in talking about your challenges as long as you are talking to someone whom you trust and respect.
Life does not come with a manual and we all need someone to lean on at times. It is better to talk to someone than to engage in negative coping mechanisms.