When I started teaching over 30 years ago, some kids would smoke pot on weekends with their friends. As time went on, kids began to smoke pot near school grounds during school hours. In the last five years or so, kids started coming to school high in the morning and staying high all day.
All behaviour is logical. What is the logic behind this behaviour? Kids are medicating themselves for stress, and the source of the stress is school.
I received the following email from a concerned mother:
“The number of parents in my neighbourhood whose boys all started smoking pot at the grade 8-9 transition is heartbreaking and nobody wants to talk about it or for anyone to know, but at the same time we all feel helpless. I feel like its time school started to be recognized as part of the issue as it does take a village.”
Most schools have smoking areas – designated spaces for kids to smoke which are technically off school property, where school administrators have decided to give up on the battle against smoking, or, to put it another way, have abdicated their responsibility to be part of the village that we need to help raise our teenagers. Smoking areas become convenience stores for marijuana and other harder drugs.
But closing down the smoking area wouldn’t really get at the root of the problem. Kids are self-medicating for stress, and they would just find other places to use. The deeper question is why are these kids hurting so much? Having worked closely with thousands of teenagers over several decades, I have seen one major factor change kids’ lives:
Kids need to connect with adults who really care about their welfare. Not professionals keeping “professional distance” from kids. Walk through any school and you will find teachers at their computers. You will see few adults interacting with kids. When they do, it is often for punitive reasons. We need adults who are willing to connect with the whole child – head, heart and hands. Guest speakers and “Wellness Days” are not enough. Kids need mentors.
School is a class system. There are first, second and third class students. The first class students are those for whom the system works and who benefit from the rewards it offers. (These students often go on to become teachers.) Second class students just pass through the system unnoticed. They don’t cause trouble. They don’t talk back. They don’t like school, but they put up with it. Finally, there are the kids for whom school does not work. They are called lazy, bad or defiant when really they are just being honest. They hate school and are not afraid to say so. They act out or drop out.
A growing number of kids find school a competitive place where you either have it or you don’t. You are constantly being judged for your performance in subject areas that don’t interest you. One size fits all. No accommodations are made for learning differences. You must “get with the program.”
What can parents do?
- Show this article to your child’s teachers and school principal and challenge them to discuss the topic at their next staff meeting – to get involved in kids’ lives – to be part of the village.
- Listen to your child. Don’t lecture, punish or shut them down. They need someone they can talk to. Don’t close the door. Always be on the side of your child. Consequences for misbehaviour are fine, but not at the expense of your relationship.
- Encourage your kids to find mentors wherever they can – coaches, teachers, relatives, tutors – anyone who cares about kids. I have seen many kids’ lives turned around by the influence of just one caring adult.
Adolescence is a time when kids break from their parents in order to discover their own identity. Parents want to help, but often feel shut out and helpless. It’s not the fault of the parent. It’s the nature of the developmental stage. This is another reason we need a village – other adults who will step in and care.