I made my first full visit to St Bede’s this Monday, and here is what we talked about:
4th Grade – Goal Boosters
This visit we talked about friends. Why is it important to choose good friends? What do you look for in a good friend? Do you hold yourself to those standards? These are all questions I asked the kiddos to think about.
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, 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. 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 – What’s Necessary
I spent my time with the 5th grade talking about dealing with bullies and what to do in the face of a physical confrontation. I told them a story about a confrontation that my son had in school where someone was pushing him around and he didn’t know what to do because he didn’t want to get in trouble for fighting. I then asked the kids what they would do if they were in a similar situation.
6th Grade – Decision Making
The topic of the day in 6th Grade was decision making. As the kids grow up, they gain the power and responsibility to make decisions for themselves, and we started by talking about how peer pressure can sometimes make it hard to make a good decision or how we sometimes make bad decisions when we let our emotions get the best of us.
That discussion led to 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 we all go through from time to time (moments where peer pressure comes in 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 talking about a scenario involving a theft. A girl named Janet steals money at a convenience store. What are the consequences of her decision to steal? Is the risk worth the reward?
After some relevant personal stories about finding lost property, the class 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.
I finished the class by emphasizing 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 – Drug Advertising
My time with the 7th Grade was spent talking about the ways drugs have been marketed and sold over the years has changed. 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, 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 minuscule 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 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.
We are just starting to see changes in regulations for vaping and marijuana ads, 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).