I had my second full day at St. Bede on Monday, and it nice to see the place all decked out for the Holidays. Here is what I talked about with the kids:
4th Grade – Under Whose Influence
After spending a little time talking about drugs in general, I read the class a short “choose your own adventure” novel called Under Whose Influence. The book tells the story of a middle-school girl that goes to a classmate’s house to study and is unexpectedly given the choice to drink alcohol. Depending on the choices made by the class (majority rules), the main character might be peer pressured, she might choose to stay in the house or leave, drink or not drink, or whether to keep the incident a secret or tell her mom. The story changes depending on the choice and the consequences of each choice are described for the students to hear. After we finished the story, I spent the end of the class going through the branches that they didn’t choose.
Kids see adults in their lives drinking occasionally (and for some, more than occasionally). Most adults that choose to drink manage to do so in a responsible manner without creating any adverse consequences, but when minors chooses to drink it can become very dangerous very quickly. Its important that the kids understand that any time a person crosses the line of abusing alcohol, there could be potentially life changing consequences. Whenever someone choose to drink, its their responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen.
5th Grade – Time to Make a Good Decision
My time with the 5th Grade was spent talking about decision making. The kids broke up into groups and played a game using scenario cards. There are 12 cards (an example is pictured below); the kids take turns reading the cards and then they reveal their answers Rock, Paper, Scissors style with the Yes, No and Maybe cards.
Some of the themes and topics we covered include:
- You have a chance to cheat; what do you do?
- A friend tells you a secret; do you tell?
- You find a wallet with money and an ID; do you try to return it?
- Your mom tells you to do your homework and read for a specific amount of time, but you want to watch TV; do you obey mom’s orders?
- You see a student doing something dangerous at school; do you tell a teacher?
- You break something at your friend’s house and they get blamed; do you speak up?
The kids really got into it, and we finished the class by talking about some of the scenarios as a group. I emphasized that our decisions shape who we are and how others see us; I want the kids to understand that having integrity and doing the right thing is a habit that needs to be ingrained just like brushing your teeth and eating healthy.
Almost all 5th graders have a good handle on what is right and what is wrong when it comes to these types of decisions. However, kids that age (and sometimes adults too) would rather come up with elaborate reasons to justify doing what’s wrong instead of just keeping it simple and doing what’s right.
6th Grade – Caffeine and Stimulants
I spoke with the 6th Grade about Caffeine and other stimulant drugs.
Caffeine is a stimulant drug that is in many foods and drinks consumed in the US. I explained that stimulants are drugs that speed everything up; people often use stimulants because they speed up your heart rate, give a sense of increased energy and added focus and they can help keep a person awake for long periods of time.
People that abuse stimulants may have heart problems, they may have trouble concentrating and they may be unable to sleep. In addition to caffeine, other stimulant drugs include nicotine (must be 21+ to use), prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin (used for conditions like ADD and narcolepsy), and illegal drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy. Although these drugs differ in strength and effects, if abused they can all yield similar problems.
During class we screened a few minutes of a video about caffeine abuse. The video covers the story of a teenage athlete that passed out on the field after overusing caffeine. While watching the video, I also explained the importance of reading and understanding nutrition labels on food and drinks, and I also shared some stories of caffeine abuse from the schools that I have been teaching in over the past few years.
After the video, I told the kids the average amount of caffeine in the most common caffeinated drinks, and I answered questions about any products the kids may have encountered. Here are the caffeine levels in the most popular caffeinated food and drinks:
- soda/colas: 30-50 mg per 12 oz can
- Monster/Rockstar: 160 mg per can
- Red Bull (small can): 90 mg per can
- 5 hr Energy: 200-250 per bottle
- Starbucks: 225-430 mg depending on size
- Keurig K – cup: 75-150
- Hershey’s Kiss – 1 mg
After going over these amounts, I gave the kids a rule for how much caffeine a growing kid (middle school, high school, maybe halfway into college) should not exceed:
No More Than 1mg Per Pound Per Day (1mg/lb/day)
This rule is based on a recommendation from the Canadian Government regarding kids and caffeine use. For one reason or another, the US has never made a ruling for how much caffeine a person of any age should have.
I emphasized to the kids that this rule is for them to use as they grow. Adults can have higher amounts of caffeine without negative results, and caffeine does not have the same risks for adults associated with the more powerful stimulants or drugs in other categories (so there’s no need for your child to slap the coffee or diet coke out of your hand in terror tomorrow morning).
7th Grade – Hookahs and Tobacco
After talking about drug advertising in our first lesson, I moved on to an alternative to smoking cigarettes which has grown more popular in the United States in recent years: 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.
This is the amount of tar that passes through a daily smokers lungs over a year.
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 YouTube says its harmless.