Monday was my second day at St Bede, and it was great to see the place all spruced up for Thanksgiving.
4th Grade – Goal Boosters
My first STAR topic with the 4th grade this year involved picking good friends. I started explaining to the children how important it was to occasionally evaluate the kids they choose to hang out with. I told them to ask themselves:
- Do I have good friends?
- Do I hang out with good people?
- Do I have people in my life that always cut me down or that I always get into trouble with?
Most elementary school kids get along with each other, but as these kids get older and move on to larger schools, the group each kid surrounds themselves with becomes more and more important. During my years in the STAR Program, I have seen numerous students help themselves by having a good group of friends through middle school and high school, and I have seen kids put into bad situations over and over again just because they were hanging out with the wrong people.
To emphasize this message, I have two skits for the class act out. I am the narrator, and the students have to act out the actions that I announce (for example, if I say that the student enjoys playing the violin, the actor must mimic playing a violin). The skits are about a boy named Gunther, and how his friends react to him as he tries to accomplish a personal goal. Some of his friends mock him, some try to distract him and some are helpful. Its a simple idea, but I want the kids to understand that they should treat their peers with respect and they should be respected and supported as well. The punchline of the 2nd skit suggest a possible date for Gunther, and it always brings down the house and turns some faces red (which is always fun).
5th Grade – Communication
I started my visit with the 5th grade with an admonition about using their electronic devices. By 5th grade, the vast majority of kids have their own cell phones and/or computers, tablets, video game consoles or some other online device, and not every kid understands what a big responsibility using those devices has become.
There are at least two or three examples of inappropriate behavior using electronics every year at the various schools I teach at, and I shared with the kids a few of these stories and the consequences that ensued. Whether its an inappropriate picture, a disrespectful or outright mean message or some other inappropriate behavior, the kids need to understand that anything sent out electronically has the potential to be seen by anyone and everyone. They also need to know there are consequences for inappropriate use of electronics that could include restrictions, suspensions, expulsions and even arrests. With that in mind, I gave the students the following rules:
- If you have something important to say, say it in person (if at all possible).
- If you wouldn’t say something to a person face to face, you shouldn’t send it electronically.
- Don’t send any pictures or messages that you wouldn’t be comfortable showing your parents, grandparents or teachers.
After our discussion, I gave the kids a communication exercise. The students paired off and interviewed each other on a couple of set topics. The first interview involved a famous person that they would like to have lunch with, and the second asked about a fictional planet of their creation. After the interviews were completed, some of the kids came up to the front of the class and shared their interviews.
6th Grade – Decision Making
I started by reminding the kids about the decision making card game we played last year and about our peer pressure discussion about a teenage girl that is pressured to drink alcohol. Then I had them write down a method for making good decisions:
- Stop – whatever the situation, and take a moment to …
- Think – about your options, before you …
- Act – on your best plan, and then
- Reflect – on how you did, so you know what to do nextime.
I think its obvious why this acronym appeals to me (STAR Program … S.T.A.R… get it???), but it’s also good advice against our impulsive moments.
After getting that down in their folders, we did a quick decision making exercise where the kids stand up or sit down based on the choices I give them (stand up for cake, sit down for pie, etc). Many of the kids got very worked up over the arbitrary choices I was throwing out, so when I was done I asked them to imagine how it would go if they were making decisions for real. I suggested to them that it might be a good idea to spend a little time thinking ahead to the typical situations all teens go through from time to time (moments where peer pressure come to play) so that they have an idea of what they want to do when they are in that situation for real. If they think about how they would want to act beforehand, then they have a better chance of making a good decision (and not freezing up) when it counts.
We spent the remainder of class going through two decision making scenarios.The first was about a girl named Janet that steals money at a convenience store. We talked about why Janet should not have taken the money. First, $20 is absolutely not worth the consequences Janet faces if she gets caught. Secondly, even without thinking about the consequences, Janet shouldn’t take the money because stealing is wrong. We finished the scenario with a skit about Janet that involves 5 students, a gavel and some handcuffs. Lot’s of fun was had by all.
The second skit involved a boy named Jose that got caught holding marijuana:
Jose was talking to some other kids behind the gym. One of them pulled marijuana out of his bag and passed it to Jose. Jose took it and looked at it for a few seconds.
When I asked the kids if Jose had done anything wrong, the majority said “No”.This happens with most of my classes, and they usually don’t understand Jose’s problem until I ask them to imagine themselves in the same situation and then in the next moment their teacher and their mother walks around the corner and sees them with the drugs. Jose might not have ever used the marijuana, but just being in possession of some sort of contraband is against the rules. Using it would be breaking a different rule. We wrapped Jose’s story up with another skit (spoiler alert: Jose gets suspended and loses his girlfriend).
I finished the class by emphasising that we should make decisions based on:
- what is the right thing to do, and
- what is the risk vs what is the reward involved.
We should always try to make decisions first on “what’s the right thing to do?” By 6th grade all of the kids know what they should or should not be doing as long as they take a moment to think about it first.
7th Grade – Hookahs and Tobacco and Advertising
My time with the 7th graders was spent talking about tobacco and some of the alternative methods that folks use to smoke or ingest tobacco products and/or nicotine.
I started the discussion with a talk about how these products are advertised. Fifty years ago, there weren’t a lot of rules regarding how drugs were marketed or presented in the media, and the tobacco companies took full advantage of that with advertisements like these:
As the research about the dangers of tobacco became more refined, it became clear that the tobacco companies were advertising in an unethical and dangerous manner, especially in regards to children. As a result, strict laws were passed to restrict how and when tobacco could be advertised. Now the ads look more like this:
Regardless of the content of the ad (a picture of cigarettes or some nonsense with people playing tug o war), there are large warning labels on all of these tobacco products. However, relying on the law to maintain guidelines on issues like this is problematic because these types of laws are often reactionary (only coming after the problem is established). Alcohol is also extremely dangerous if abused (especially for kids), but the restrictions on alcohol advertising are miniscule compared to tobacco (just turn on a random sporting event to see the difference). For example, compare the warning on this ad for an alcoholic soda (certainly something that would qualify as an entry level booze for a teenager) to a warning on a chewing tobacco ad:
Alcohol and tobacco have been legal (with a small exception in the 1920’s) for all of US history, and we are still trying to figure out the proper regulations. What about the new stuff? Vaping and e-cigarettes were invented in the last decade, and after a century of prohibition, marijuana is slowly becoming legalized across America. We are still figuring out how to deal with these new options for recreational drug use for adults, but in the meantime the messages being sent to kids are confusing and dangerous. I emphasized to the students that any ad they see for a vape device or some sort of marijuana/THC product is just that: an advertisement trying to sell them something.
There aren’t any real restrictions on advertising marijuana and vaping products yet, and at this point the long term effects (especially for children) are still being studied. What we do know is that teen use of marijuana and other THC products is harmful to children, and the same can be said for nicotine (from smoking or vaping). With all that in mind, I reminded the kids that they should look at any advertisement with the idea of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).
After talking about advertising, I moved on to another alternative to smoking cigarettes which has grown more popular in the United States every year: hookah pipes. Many of the kids had heard of a hookah, but almost all of them were confused as to what it was. Many of the kids thought it was closer to a vape device than a smoking device, and almost none of the kids were aware that it had anything to do with tobacco.
During our discussion, we talked about the dangers of smoking in general. It doesn’t matter if its marijuana or tobacco, or if the smoking is done with a water pipe (hookah or bong) or with a cigarette or cigar. If you are smoking, you are doing damage to your body, and the more you smoke the more damage you are doing. Smoking increases risks for problems like: emphysema, lung disease, higher risk of cancer, chronic bronchitis and heart disease.
During a short video presentation specifically directed towards the rise in popularity of hookah pipes we talk about:
- what hookah pipes are and their growing popularity as an alternate form of smoking.
- the similar health risks between smoking cigarettes, cigars and water pipes
- dispelling myths regarding hookahs being a less damaging type of smoking (they are not).
Video: The Hookah Hoax by HRM
Popular culture spends a lot of time debating better or worse (alcohol vs marijuana, smoking vs vaping, etc), and these might be valid and important questions for adults. However, teens need to understand that using any of these products while they are still maturing can have profound effects on their growth and development … even if the guy on youtube says its harmless.