Talk Early, Talk Often: Preventing Substance Abuse Starts with SEL
Red Ribbon Week 2016 has arrived! Schools nationwide are adorned with red ribbons, posters and marquee messages declaring important commitments by our students to a substance abuse-free life style. We know that those messages must continue beyond this week-long declaration – and that commitment can continue most effectively with ongoing social and emotional learning.
Indeed, social and emotional learning can be framed as a public health issue. A 2015 national study published in the American Journal of Public Health found statistically significant associations between social and emotional learning skills in kindergarten and key outcomes for young adults years later in education, employment, criminal activity, substance use, and mental health, all of which cost billions of dollars in public funding.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, while substance use generally begins during the teen years, action taken during a child’s first eight years is critical for substance abuse prevention. "Thanks to more than three decades of research into what makes a young child able to cope with life’s inevitable stresses, we now have unique opportunities to intervene very early in life to prevent substance use disorders," says NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D.
Social and emotional learning, engrained in the everyday school and family routines, encourages students to develop the life-long skills that combat substance abuse: to recognize not only how they are feeling, but also how someone else might be feeling; conflict resolution and cooperation skills; to have both respect for others and self-respect. Developing these age-old attributes can work to boost self-confidence and positive decision-making and avoid behaviors that lead to substance experimentation and abuse.
Consider these SEL discussion guides in classrooms and living rooms to help guide students toward positive social and emotional health.
Self-Awareness: Are you feeling overwhelmed by particular emotions or challenges? Do you need some assistance, and if so, who can you turn to for help?
Self-Management: What are some of your important goals and challenges? Are your choices and behaviors helping you to achieve those goals? What are some simple changes that might be considered?
Social Awareness: How do others influence your choices when it comes to trying alcohol, tobacco, prescription or illicit drugs?
Relationship Skills: Are you leading or following others? How can you help others and how might others help you?
Responsible Decision-Making: What effect will your choices ultimately have on others you care about? What are you placing at risk by making a decision regarding drugs and alcohol use?