Film-based Classroom Resource Lets Teens Open Up About Cannabis, Choices and Consequences

“The film encourages students to come to their own conclusions about marijuana use through showing a variety of situations rather than just ‘telling them how to think.”—Teacher

….the video stimulates conversation because it is so powerful. So in all honesty the video did most of the work and I just kept the conversation going, changing its direction when needed and appropriate and prompting where I could.”—Substance use counselor

Teens need opportunities to talk openly and honestly about cannabis (marijuana). This is the thinking behind a new, award-winning classroom resource called CYCLES, developed by researchers at the UBC School of Nursing and based on studies involving youth in three BC communities.

The Cycles logo

Cycles is an educational resource to help engage young people in productive discussions around cannabis use.

The goal of CYCLES is to help engage young people in productive discussions involving decision-making and cannabis use. The resource features a locally produced short film (28 minutes) about two fictional high school students and their relationships with cannabis. There is also a facilitator’s guide containing lesson plans, teaching tips, student handouts, and quick facts about cannabis use. Together the classroom materials support self-reflection and dialogue about factors that can influence a teen’s choices to use—or not use—cannabis or any other drug.

Facilitators of the 50-minute module (or longer if a deeper discussion is desired) do not need to be drug experts. Their role is simply to guide a thoughtful class discussion, whether students are experienced with cannabis and its effects or not.

“Meaningful dialogue with young people about marijuana use can translate into informed decision-making,” say the resource’s creators. In other words, talking things out may make frequent users consider cutting down on how often they toke up, and it may delay or deter other students from trying cannabis in the first place.

A recent survey of BC students supports the call for open, non-judgmental conversations in schools about cannabis and other drugs. Teens who are able to discuss such issues with parents, teachers and other adults are more likely to make healthier decisions. Rates of substance use among students have been declining for a decade, says McCreary Centre Society’s 2013 Adolescent Health Survey. The vast majority of students in Grades 7 through 12 said they had never tried cannabis (74%), and many of those with experience reported waiting until they were at least 15 before first experimenting with the drug. Eight percent of students reported using cannabis on the weekend before the survey was taken, down from 12% in 2008.

“Judging young people for their choices regarding marijuana is not helpful,” reads a CYCLES footnote. “Rather, engaging in meaningful discussion contributes to healthy dialogue.”

For more information, check out the CYCLES resource on the CARBC website. While the CYCLES guide is currently published in English only, the video is available with French subtitles. Student worksheets will soon be available in French. A script of the video is also available.

Bodner Nicole-

Author: Nicole Bodner, Centre for Addictions Research of BC

**Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC.

Supporting Change from the Inside

Brandon came into our Youth Probation office with the bravado of a Sopranos’ character. He had strong handsome features and he was highly athletic. He commanded a presence. Brandon was charged with trafficking cocaine and he was connected to a local gang. He was impeccably dressed and everything about him alluded to power and presence. Brandon didn’t use drugs; he just sold them, and he was working his way to becoming a true gangster.

This was not a typical case. Nor was it easy even though I was an experienced Probation Officer. I admit, I first tried the typical “strong arm” authoritarian approach. But Brandon defiantly opposed authority. About that time, I was introduced to a different approach. Youth Justice Services had been working with the Centre for Addictions Research of BC to develop a new resource. AME (which stands for awareness, motivation and engagement) uses the techniques of motivational interviewing (MI) to help young people explore what they want from life (rather than telling them what they need to do). After attending training in MI with Rob Axen, my approach with Brandon took a 180 degree turn. He began to trust me. He opened up more, and we had some amazing conversations. Finally, he was ready to look at changing his life.

Brandon started to talk about his dreams and his future. He disclosed that he wanted a wife and children. I quickly latched onto that prosocial cue and used it in most of our discussions as the carrot to his success. He quickly began to look at the pros and cons of staying in the drug business and how that might interfere with his dreams. He became more concerned about the potential dangers to his future family and how others would perceive him when he was with his children. Eventually Brandon’s “change talk” was centered on the reasons why he should not be a drug dealer.

The process of attempting to change his life was both dangerous and difficult for Brandon. It is not easy walking away from a gang and starting over. I helped Brandon build on his confidence as an athlete and a son and a big brother. He gained his strength and started to create a plan, working with his family who supported him. Brandon made a decision to leave the province and live in eastern Canada. He had other family who could support him there and his parents were willing to assist with finding an apartment. He made the move, found a place to live independently, and obtained a legitimate job.

I continued to supervise Brandon by phone in the final months of his order. Brandon went on to be successful in his life. He is in his mid-20s now and his mother continues to send me a Christmas card every year letting me know how well her son is doing. This change in Brandon did not happen overnight. It meant learning to change my own approach. It meant having access to new resources and training opportunities. All of this eventually helped Brandon see a new life. And me? I have been hooked on MI ever since.

Author: Karen Oddy, Kelowna Youth Probation

**Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC.

Drug Ed for Parents – It’s about relationships, not facts, stats and scare tactics

Parenting is a lot like being on a road trip. It can be fun to experience new places with our growing child, but it can also be challenging. It doesn’t help that we live in a society that emphasizes the hazards and highlights stories of youth in serious trouble. News flash – young people in BC today are doing pretty well (see Adolescent Health Survey 2013).

As parents (or those who support them) we want to do our best to help our kids thrive in today’s world. That includes helping them learn about substance use. Many of us struggle with how best to approach topics like substance use with our kids. Here are some fundamentals that can help:

  • Stay connected – more than anything, your child needs you! Show him (or her) you believe in him and support his interests. Foster a relationship that helps him, no matter what his age, talk about and share his thoughts and feelings.
  • Talk when it makes sense – every child is different, so there is no “right time” to start the conversation about alcohol or other drug use. But engaging children earlier in open exchange about the things that touch their lives is a helpful way to help them address those things. (What doesn’t help? Lectures and threats.)
  • Substance use is part of our culture – our children see people drinking around them, are exposed to advertising, hear about it in music etc. so this makes it an easy subject to bring up. Open-ended questions such as “what do you think about … ?” can be a useful way to start a conversation. Moving in to the teen years, you might ask questions like “When do you think you might be in a situation to use substances?” and “How do you think you would handle it?” Talking about alcohol or other drugs as they make choices on the path in to adulthood helps them to develop personal standards, minimize risks and critically assess popular assumptions about substance use.
  • Recognize we all make mistakes – and use them as opportunities to learn and to have an honest, open conversation with them. If you discover your teen has been using alcohol or other drugs, stay calm. Yelling and issuing threats does not work. It is important to not let our concerns and fears destroy our relationship with our child. Wait for the right time to have a conversation and when it is start by expressing your own concern “I’m worried because …” or “I’m afraid because …” and listen more than talk so your teen can express their own feelings, making sure they know they are listened to.
  • Be a positive role model – part of being a parent is modelling healthy behaviours and attitudes
  • Safety first! Ensure that your teen knows how to contact you or another trusted adult to find a safe way home, regardless of the situation they find themselves in.

Looking for more?

The Road Ahead: A Guidebook for Parents of Young Teens. A handbook to help parents of young teens make their trip through the teen years a positive experience for both.

Guide to Talking About Alcohol or Other Drugs. Having honest, open conversations about alcohol or other drugs is a key way to protect our children from harm related to substance use.

Cannabis Use and Youth: A Parent’s Guide. This guide explores facts and misunderstandings about cannabis and helps parents find ways to engage their children in conversations about cannabis (or any other subject).

Here to Help Infosheets. These touch on a variety of topics that may be of interest.

Cindy Andrew

Author: Cindy Andrew, Program Consultant, Helping Schools, Centre for Addictions Research of BC.

**Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC.

Does Impaired Driving Reflect Impaired Learning?

If you’ve ever driven when really tired, or been in a car with a driver who’s really tired, you know what “impaired driving” feels or looks like. (For those who don’t: in a nutshell, it’s kind of scary.) Chances are, though, you don’t think of being tired as something bad. Instead, you know that being tired means you should be in bed, recuperating by sleeping for a while.

Drug-impaired driving is much the same thing. It’s less about whether a drug is good or bad, and more about where you are when you’re feeling a drug’s full effects. While avoiding intoxication may be the best option with any psychoactive drug, if it happens, the safest place to be enjoying or reversing the buzz is at home, at a pal’s house or in the back of a taxi or sober person’s vehicle. Almost anywhere but behind the wheel.

Even though we all know we shouldn’t drive impaired, it still happens.

  • In 2012, 6.5% of BC drivers tested positive for alcohol, and 7.4% tested positive for other drugs, cannabis and cocaine being the most commonly detected substances, according to a roadside survey report.
  • ICBC reports drug impairment (involving alcohol, illegal drugs and medications) was the key factor in 23% of fatal car crashes in 2013 (speed was key in 28%, and distraction in 29%).
  • Over the last five years, an average of 86 people per year lost their lives in impaired driving crashes on BC roads.

So, what’s going on with us? What narratives are running through our heads about our rights and responsibilities as drivers? What are the best ways to change some of our beliefs and behaviours? These are the kinds of questions we not only need to be asking ourselves, but should also form the foundation of our drug education programs in schools.

Instead, most of the conversations we have with young people about drugs are not really conversations at all, but lectures aimed at scaring students into saying whatever the adults in the room want to hear. The problem with this approach is that it isn’t working. Young people, particularly young males, continue to make up the bulk of those taking unnecessary risks with substances and vehicles. We should be wondering why, and we should be talking to students more often about the things that drive their decisions to drive under the influence.

A cartoon image of a brain listing different types of impairments

A screenshot from the drugsanddriving.ca website.

Honest, open and real conversation about alcohol and other drugs is one of the goals of Drugs and Driving, a project involving a range of classroom learning activities, a variety of web apps, and even a free iPhone app. Drugs and Driving is designed for Grade 10 students but can be used in other grades as well. The program is less about telling kids about the dangers of drugs and driving and more about helping them reflect on a range of issues related to impairment. What are the things that might cause impairment? How do I know if I am impaired? Why should I care? How do we make decisions? How can I influence the decisions of my peers? These are important questions for all of us.

Bodner Nicole-

Author: Nicole Bodner, Centre for Addictions Research of BC

**Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC.

Screening: A Further Purpose and Reach?

Can simply asking someone how often they smoke marijuana, or how much alcohol they drink, or what impact doing cocaine is having on them, cause them to rethink their use pattern? Questions like these are part of common screening tools. Can they play a broader, more dynamic role?

Typically, the questionnaires help a professional identify those at risk for – or already experiencing – associated harms. As such, screening serves a clinical function to distinguish appropriate candidates for further assessment, diagnosis and intervention. Screening can facilitate the timely delivery of service to those who require it. However – somewhat to the surprise of researchers and clinicians – another positive result is not uncommon. Giving people opportunity to report signs of risk or difficulty in their substance use has at times, by itself, prompted a positive change on their part, without need for any further treatment.

This reality, that screening can prove effective on its own without referral to specialists for continued assistance, suggests a broader beneficial role for it than just functioning as a prelude in the clinical process. People often engage in habitual behaviours without considering various influences on those patterns or adverse impacts arising from them. Screening can be used as a conversation starter, to open an exchange that prompts critical self-reflection, raises awareness, and increases intentionality around such behaviours. Using screening in this way can enhance someone’s literacy around wellness – including not just their capacity to understand health-related messaging or access support services but also their ability and skill to better manage their own health. Rather than leading to an intervention, this approach to screening is brief intervention – an occasion in which attentive care is actively exercised toward another’s well-being.

What are the important implications for screening with this educational purpose? For one, it aims to reinforce agency and self-efficacy, without ignoring interdependence and the benefit of support from fellow human beings. The client or patient in the clinical setting is not a passive recipient of authoritative care, but the primary actor. Miller and Rollnick’s Motivational Interviewing approach to counselling is perhaps the most acclaimed way of evoking the other person’s internal resources for making change.

But this empowering orientation is far from being the domain of professionals only; screening as an educational exercise can be carried out by non-specialists in unofficial or casual settings, reaching a much larger circle of people. In these contexts, laypersons without clinical credentials act as helpers to those who are essentially their peers. The “screen” may consist of a few relevant questions around another person’s substance use. The aim again will be engagement, to initiate a respectful and receptive dialogue that explores why the person might want to make changes to their behaviour, in the process eliciting and encouraging their ownership and pursuit of such change.

At CARBC, we have developed a variety of screening tools for educational purposes, for both adults and youth. Since people can also self-screen using web-based aids, Alcohol Reality Check is available in online and paper versions that provide personalized feedback or short guides with suggestions on offering such feedback face-to-face. The Art of Motivation and AME are more extensive educational resources that also use screening as a gateway to conversation rather than a precursor to assessment and diagnosis. But learning can happen in any relationship. Respectfully asking a friend about their pattern of use and how it may be affecting them and others now or in the future can open the door to some enlightening and transformative discussion.

Tim Dyck

Author: Tim Dyck is a Research Associate in CARBC’s Vancouver-based knowledge mobilization unit.

**Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC.

Trading Places: Young People Educating Adults

Young people frequently listen to adults talk, question, give advice, direct, correct, educate, praise, cajole, and more.  But what if youth had an opportunity to educate adults, such as parents, teachers and others? Would a youth voice sway adult attitudes and understandings regarding communication, youth culture,  parenting approaches, adolescent substance use?

Based on experience from conversations over the last seven years the answer to the above questions is a resounding “yes.”

What is a Capacity Café?

A Capacity Café is a youth-friendly environment where youth openly talk about what matters to them while adults sit and listen!  It is a unique, structured opportunity where grownups can come to understand and appreciate life from a youth’s perspective, thus becoming better equipped to support and be an ally for youth.

How is a Capacity Café conducted?

Capacity Cafés are held several times a year in local Vancouver high schools and are organized by SACY, the School Age Children and Youth Substance Use Education and Health Promotion Initiative. Secondary school students with and without substance use experience are recruited, primarily from those whose voices are least attended to by adults. Prior to the café, these young people participate in activities with SACY facilitators to help them develop trust and comfort within a group setting, build confidence and a sense of safety for speaking their truth, and prepare for a larger group discussion with adults. The adults (from a different school than the youth speakers) meet separately to identify topics they would like to know more about from the youth perspective, hear about the safety guidelines for the evening and learn how to participate in an effective listening activity.

During the Capacity Café, adults sit in a facilitated circle listening to youth share their perspectives and experiences on the issues anonymously identified by the adults. They do not speak.  Their role while with the youth is simply to listen. The one-way talk sees youth addressing questions such as:

  • What stresses young people out?
  • What gives you confidence?
  • Why do some youth use substances? Why do some youth not use substances?
  • What do parents/caregivers do that doesn’t work for you? What works well?

What are the benefits of the Capacity Café?

According to an evaluation by Arbor Educational & Clinical Consulting Inc., as a result of attending the Café, adults report spending more time listening to youth, more patience, more perspective-taking, and providing more space for the youth to approach them for conversation. Both youth and adults report feeling empowered by the event.

As a result of the Capacity Café,

  • 84% of adults strongly agreed that they felt that they had a better understanding of life from a teen’s perspective. “It was helpful to hear about other kids talk about “stress” – I thought my son was just sensitive.”
  • 70% of adults strongly agreed that they felt more confident that they could talk to their youth about difficult subjects. “I’ve learned to work with my son and not against my son.”
  • 57% of adults strongly agreed that they intended to spend more time talking with their youth about substance use issues. “Listening to the kids (at the Capacity Café) reminded me to slow down, and stop nagging and really hear my kids.”

Youth who have participated in several events have also experienced positive development in their role as community leaders. Youth say:

That is the longest an adult has ever listened to me in my whole life!”

“I can’t believe they (group of parents) wanted to hear what I had to say!”

Making space for the youth voice has the potential to shift adults’ understanding of youth experience, while strengthening adolescents’ sense of value and self-respect.

Art Steinmann

Author: Art Steinmann, Manager, Substance Use Health Promotion and SACY

**Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC.

The Politics of Drug Education

A lot of drug education is based on what Carl Rogers calls the “jug and mug” theory of education.[1] That is, the instructor (the jug) is seen as possessing knowledge that needs to be poured into the students (the mugs). The requisite knowledge is defined by the powers-that-be as information about drugs, particularly about the potential harms that might result from drug use. Generally, the “jug” exercises power over the “mug” through a combination of rewards (grades and career opportunities) and punishments (failure and fear). In the context of drug education, many of the incentives have little influence, so there has been an over-dependence on fear as a primary mechanism of power and control. As a result drug education focuses predominantly on negative consequences – often over-stating these.  And punishments for drug offences are often more severe than for other potentially harmful behaviours.

iminds

The iMinds Health Literacy Resource draws on Carl Rogers’ humanistic person-centred approach to education in combination with Bandura’s social cognitive theory.

Traditional drug education has not been very effective. There is an alternative. In developing iMinds, we have drawn on Rogers’ humanistic person-centred approach to education in combination with Bandura’s social cognitive theory. Essential to this approach is the presence of learning facilitators who trust that people can think for themselves. The other major element of this alternative approach involves striking a balance between a person’s autonomy and their social interdependence – what we sometimes call “the frog and the pond.” We need to be interested in the individual in terms of capacity and resilience (“the frog”). But we also need to give attention to the social, cultural and political dynamics of the classroom, school and community (“the pond”).

Both of these critical elements are “political” in nature in that they have to do with power, control and the making of choices. Humanistic education gives the power to the student. It is about preparing young people to be citizens – participants in our democratic institutions. As one writer puts it: “If democracy is to work, its citizens must be educated. They must know how to gather information, distinguish fact from opinion, analyze propaganda, understand many different viewpoints, understand justice, think for themselves, communicate their opinions clearly, and work with others for the common good.”[2] This seems like a good road map for drug education.

There are several rational reasons why a person might choose to use a drug. But the impact of that use almost always is affected by many factors related to the drug, the person using the drug and the social and physical context in which the drug is used. Drug education is not about saving young people from the evils of drugs or protecting them from the dangers of drugs. The stakes are far greater. Drug education involves giving young people the power to make decisions and helping them to develop the skills to make good decisions that will enhance their own lives, the lives of their peers, and the lives of those who come after them.

If we know that simply pouring out our knowledge about the risks involved is not effective, maybe it is time to give up the illusion of power and try a different approach.

[1] Rogers, C. (1983). Freedom to Learn for the 80’s. Toronto: Collier Macmillan Canada, p. 187.
[2] Herron, J. (1999). The Complete Facilitator’s Handbook. London: Kogan Page, p. 4.

Dan Reist

 

Author: Dan Reist, Assistant Director (Knowledge Exchange), Centre for Addictions Research of BC

 

**Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC.