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 – The Team Game
I started by explaining to the kids not think of drugs as good or bad. Drugs are just inanimate chemicals that affect our minds and bodies in a variety of ways. The good or bad comes from why a person chooses to use a drug. The laws and attitudes surrounding drugs are constantly changing, but every time a person uses a drug for any reason there is a risk involved. Especially for kids that are still growing and developing, the only time they should be using a drug is with the approval of their parents and/or under the care of a doctor. Any drug use outside of that is likely something they should not be doing.
After that introduction, I turned the discussion towards tobacco. Five students from each class performed a skit called “The Team Game” which stated numerous facts about the hazards of smoking and chewing tobacco. Highlights included:
- identifying chewing tobacco (spit and dip), cigarettes and cigars
- the long term and short term effects of chewing tobacco (tooth and gum problems, mouth cancer, addiction, etc)
- the long term and short term effects of smoking (emphysema, lung cancer, stained teeth and fingernails, smoke stench, addiction, etc).
- legal age and increased risk of smoking or chewing as a youth
I finished the lecture with a few visual aids of the effects of smoking on lungs. First, there is the bottle of tar that shows the amount of gunk that will pass through an every day smoker’s lungs over the course of a year.Then I have a board with plaster models of lungs before and after smoking depicting lung cancer and emphysema. I also have a display of preserved lung tissue showing a healthy lung along side an emphysematous lung of a 20 year smoker.
Needless to say, the kids were very clear by the end of class that tobacco products are legal to use for an adult, but are not a healthy choice in any way shape or form.
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).