This year, Homer Middle School’s seventh and eighth graders were posed a question: what do you want adults to know about substance use and abuse?
A local initiative, called the Substance Misuse Prevention Lessons, asked the question as part of a new curriculum that was implemented earlier this school year. Roughly a third of students said they were concerned about their parents’ use of substances.
Jerrina Reed and her wife Lindsey Wood were part of the handful of parents sifting through quotes from middle schoolers answering the question during a public meeting about the program last week.
“It's difficult to say no when you're being peer pressured,” Reed read.
“I don't believe choosing to use substances is a responsible or thoughtful decision,” Wood read. “People should think things through before choosing to use substances. But I think that in the end it's their decision to risk their future.”
Over 100 seventh and eighth graders at Homer Middle School answered the question during the three-day program, which is taught by Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic’s Youth Resource Enrichment Cooperative, better known as the R.E.C. Room.
Last week, the program’s leaders gave parents a first-hand look at the curriculum. Parents were also advised about how to talk to their kids about drugs and alcohol, and they were asked what they thought about students’ comments.
For Reed, one particular quote stood out.
“I want my parents to know that it makes me feel really unsafe when they drink,” she read.
Reed said that’s not a problem in her house. She said her partner and her 15 year-old and 12- year old agree that they have open communication when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Still, she said comments from local students on the topic are hard to hear.
“I think it's really scary to see a lot of those comments where so many of them are focused on their parents’ behaviors—that having to feel unsafe,” she said.
Leaders of the program made it clear that students’ comments were not part of a formal survey, but they said the results are noteworthy.
“A good 30 to 40 percent remarked not liking drugs as a result of parental usage,” said R.E.C. Room Peer Education Coordinator Connor Schmidt.
Schmidt was startled to see how attuned students are to their parent’s behaviors.
“A couple said something along the lines of how ‘when my dad opens a beer, I can feel myself getting down’ or ‘anytime a wine bottle gets opened, I know where this is going’ type of a deal,” he explained. .
Schmidt said results don’t necessarily mean a third of middle school parents are alcoholics or addicts. He said students may simply be more aware when their parents drink or smoke marijuana.
Schmidt adds that when parents don’t practice what they preach, it can be confusing for teens.
“I don't think a lot of parents realize that when they tell their kids don't drink alcohol, but then they're drinking a couple glasses of wine with dinner,” he said. “They shouldn't not be allowed to do that, but there needs to be a healthy conversation around that.”
Still, it’s clear that parental use of drugs and alcohol are causing real problems in kids’ lives. High school peer educator Parker read an anonymous comment from a student.
“I hate seeing my parents drinking or smoking,” he read. “They can get pretty aggressive when they don’t have any.”
Homer Middle School Principal Kari Dendurent reacted strongly to comments like these. Dendurent added that she was unaware so many students feel affected by drugs and alcohol.
“They are sharing and they do want us to know,” she said. “It just kind of broke my heart, but if we definitely can do something to try to help support our kids, I want to make sure we’re doing that.”
The community conversation is part of the R.E.C. Room’s Substance Misuse Lessons curriculum. The leaders started the program at Homer Middle School, Kenai Peninsula Youth Facility and the Susan B English School in Seldovia. It plans to bring the program to Port Graham this year and Nanwalek in the fall.