If I had the chance, what would I have told my 6th grade self if I could? Well, last weekend I had the opportunity to do something very similar. I didn’t talk to myself, (obviously) but I did talk to a group of 6th and 7th graders at a youth group about substance use disorders, alcohol awareness, and peer pressure. Wow, I could not believe the attention that they gave us. We sat down and had a discussion for about an hour and a half. We played games and asked questions, which definitely had an impact.
A group of us who are active in community awareness events started brainstorming ideas about what we could talk to 6th and 7th graders regarding recovery and substance use disorders for the presentation. A group of my peers and I thought about what experiences and conversation that may have impacted us at that age. Although when I was in 6th grade we did not have social media, and the game systems were far less advance as they are today, we still have like-minded qualities. There were a lot of questions that I had at that age that I was not “allowed” to ask. Most of the conversations were hushed by adults. The only conversation that I can really recall, was when a D.A.R.E. officer came to our school and talked to my 5th grade class. Obviously the conversation then, was very different. They came from a preventative approach, even stigmatizing in some ways, there was conversation about alcohol, and smoking, but synthetic drugs nor prescription drugs really was a factor in that point of my life. At least to my knowledge.
We decided to open up with a game, I mean after all who doesn’t like games!? We began with giving each adolescent a piece of candy. But the trick was they had to make a choice, they could eat it right then, or wait 30 minutes for our break, and if they waited they received an additional piece. (If you have heard of this game, then you know it is an experiment from the 1960’s by Walter Mischel, the Marshmallow test.) The point of the game is to see how kids coped with having to wait for the additional piece of candy. We are all too familiar with the fact that most children have short attention spans, and even less patience. Needless to say we were curious how it would turn out, and to see the reactions of the children when we told them why we played this game. In the interim we had great discussion about stigma and language, why staying silent can be dangerous, and some behaviors that could be symptoms of someone who is suffering from a substance use disorder. When that monumental moment came to disclose whether or not the candy had been eaten, we were truly surprised at the numbers.
Only about three children had eaten the candy, out of twenty-five, that is amazing! We asked them how they managed to keep their candy for 30 minutes and not eat it. Most of them said they put it under their chair, one girl put it in her UGG boot, and another in their pocket. So basically it was out of sight, out of mind. We explained what coping mechanisms are, and that in fact each of them had utilized this in order to keep their candy and get the reward of another piece. These were healthy coping mechanisms.
We began discussing how this experiment, as it related to the feelings of someone with a substance use disorder. The irritability, confusion, and impulsive behavior that could be symptoms of someone who may have a substance use disorder. We wanted the kids to see that everyone feels the same when it comes to wanting something. It is all about how you handle and can cope with life situations. Although the candy was a small thing, the emotions and thoughts of wanting and having to cope with waiting are important life lessons. They are stronger for having those experiences and knowledge of how to cope with even a small item, such as candy. This also plays an important role in all our lives today. How we cope with situations determines whether we make the situation worse, or can confront it head on. This is just another reason why it is so important to have this discussion with kids of all ages. The more knowledge they have, the more aware of their surrounds, the better chances they have to make informed decisions, tomorrow.
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