Peers help teens say no to drugs, alcohol
By CHRISTEN GIBLIN
(Note: This article originally appeared in the Oct. 3, 2012 issue of the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune, as part of Christen Giblen’s regular column, titled “We’re All in This Together”. Photos provided by Hannah Jacobs and Jessy Schulte.)
Approach the subject of underage drinking with your teen and you’re likely to get a blank—or hostile—stare. After all, we parents don’t know anything and we’re totally out of touch! But young people really do listen to each other when it comes to issues like drinking, smoking, and drug abuse. And they’re even more likely to learn from the example of their peers.
This week I had the pleasure of interviewing two young women who’ve taken a leadership role with their fellow students. They’re probably too modest to describe it that way, but as members of Ohio Teen Institute Hannah Jacobs and Jessica Schulte have shown their peers that they don’t have to drink to have fun or make friends. Now college students, these young ladies became involved in the Wood County Educational Service Center’s Teen Institute program as students at Eastwood High School. “I got involved in Teen Institute because it seemed like somewhere I could fit in with my view on alcohol and drugs while raising awareness about these issues,” says Jessica, who was president of TI for three years.
There are Teen Institute groups in all Wood County high schools and at Penta Career Center. Funded by the Wood County ADAMHS Board and the ESC’s School and Community Based Prevention Program, this effort trains student leaders to show their peers how to resist pressure to use drugs and alcohol. Research shows that youths avoid substance abuse when they’re convinced peers disapprove of it and know it’s dangerous. Each summer at Kenyon College the Ohio Teen Institute teaches high school student leaders from all over the state how to send this message while providing positive role models for their peers and younger students. Says Hannah: ”These younger kids looked up to all the high schoolers and saw how much fun we were having while not drinking and doing drugs.”
During the school year they spread the message not only through Teen Institute retreats but also through the Red Ribbon program. They also participate in community-wide groups like the New Cool campaign (which has a website: www.thenewcool.info) and Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol. The New Cool campaign uses print and social media to “challenge the concept of underage drinking as a rite of passage.” The Educational Service Center has also placed prevention specialists in all ten Wood County schools districts to identify students with substance abuse problems and refer them for professional help. Prevention specialists also teach Life Skills courses about making healthy choices.
Jessy and Hannah enjoyed their time with Teen Institute and are still active as alumnae. Their experiences in the program have shaped their plans. Hanna is studying social work at BGSU and plans to become a prevention specialist. Now a pre-med major at the University of Toledo, Jessy is president of Students Against Destructive Decisions there.
Teen Institute and the ESC’s other programs all confront the misconceptions that “everybody’s drinking” and that bowing to peer pressure is the only route to acceptance. As Jessica Schulte puts it: “You are a person and you should not change to go with the status quo. Maybe you should change the status quo and take the less-traveled path of being drug- and alcohol-free.” After all, what’s cooler than being a rebel?