August 2010


Drugs Anyone?
Simon Gunn

Adventurous teenagers, elite schools, lots of cash, massive amounts of free time, and add some spice to life with a little stash a friend of yours heard about and got, from a friend of a friend. Sounds like the intro to an episode of that 90s favorite Beverly Hills 90210. However, in fact, these conditions reflect real life for many expat teens in Bangkok.

How do we as teachers offer help to students in need, tell who is in need, and do so in an ethical manner within the bounds of school policy? Now that is a tightrope to walk.

Simon Gunn, Managing Director of Channah Thailand, came to TEN August 10 at Roadhouse Barbecue and shared some of his vast expertise gained from working in the Drug and Alcohol field since 1993 with various organizations, including five years specializing in counseling young people with drug or alcohol problems.

Simon has started several clinics in the UK to treat drug and alcohol misuse as well as a Steroid Users Clinic. He has also worked teaching Relapse Awareness, Drug Education and Solution Focused therapy to teachers and counselors. As an author, he developed the ThinkingCap Relapse Awareness program used at rehabilitation programs around the world as well as here at Channah Thailand.

At the school level, there are three primary perspectives. First, principals often feel that having a drug education program implies a drug problem. Teachers believe they have no problems related to drug and alcohol and often see no need for a program.

If principals offer any programs or training, or even acknowledge drugs are a concern, parental ignorance of the prevalence and pervasiveness of drugs today will lead them to believe that drugs are a school’s fault, or that a program about drug prevention will actually encourage, not discourage their use.

Every school has its own policy concerning drugs. You should become aware of yours. The responsibility of reporting to administrators or parents could complicate any interaction with a child. What you can do is look for the signs of drug use in your students and have lessons with information about places where they can get help. The information is freely available

For children, the most important people on campus, they just want to know with whom they can talk about drugs or alcohol, but know that a teacher must report what they say to the principal. It is not clear how and where these perspectives can come together and if they do not, the only ones losing out are the children.

With regard to student privacy, when Simon goes to schools and offers training to students, he does so with the proviso that there will be no teachers or administrators in the room, as kids need to be in an open environment free of any distractions. As he pointed out, if you have a teacher in the room, you might as well not bother.

What is important, Simon suggests, is that as existing programs do not work for every young person, we need to remember that the most important thing for kids planning on or currently taking drugs is awareness and education. While not what many parents would like to hear, if young people are considering taking drugs, they need to question their frame of mind, who they are with and what the setting is.

When looking for the signs of drug use, as teachers, we need to know our students. We have to look for patterns of behavior that can change drastically; introvert becomes extrovert and vice versa. Clothes and friends can change just as drastically. However, as these can just be signs of adolescence, knowing your student is best, along with being supportive and, if speaking about drugs, be honest.

In particular, Simon insisted that one of the best ways to negate a successful anti-drug message is to tell them, “Drugs kill.” Far too many of them know or have heard of famous people who take drugs and who are not dead to believe this. In addition, it is important to remember the mind-set of many young people in that they believe they are indestructible and as such have no concerns whatsoever about drugs and death…

In fact, today the two most dangerous drugs according to Simon are alcohol and tobacco, killing more people in one day that drugs in an entire year. Two drugs, that while many parents would be unhappy to see their children use, are probably being enjoyed in the student’s home by parents themselves further reducing the impact parental pleas and warnings to avoid ‘dangerous’, addictive drugs might otherwise have or have had…

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