Pathways to Prevention
Introduction to Learning Activities
Youth today are bombarded daily by messages that normalize ideas and actions that are harmful to their emotions, bodies, and spiritual walk. Materialism, casual sex, and the abuse of drugs, alcohol and tobacco have become an accepted expression of popular culture as portrayed in movies, TV and literature. The conflicting messages youth receive from the popular media and from school friends can easily overwhelm their ability to distinguish right from wrong and to understand the inherent problems associated with substance abuse. The church needs to have a positive voice to speak the truth about these issues and bear witness to Christian discipleship regarding these issues. Your role as a youth leader in the church is both timely and vital. You are in an ideal position to give young people one of the most valuable gifts an adult can provide — a good example.
Alcohol and drug abuse can have serious consequences, affecting the user’s judgment and have proven to be strong predictors of involvement in other high-risk behavior, including sexual activity. But beyond these health consequences, drugs and alcohol can impair young people’s ability to reach their goals by interfering with school studies, jeopardizing their performance in the workplace and diminishing their ability to avoid physically dangerous behavior. Substance abuse also can interfere with their ability to form deep and trusting relationships with others.
Some youth will be tempted to experiment with drugs, tobacco and alcohol as early as elementary school. But realistically, by the time most kids leave high school, they will have been in unsupervised situations – alone or with friends – in which they have made decisions about how they will deal with these issues. Because young people today live in a world of confusing value systems and daily face conflicting peer pressures, they often must make on-the-spot choices that could alter their lives forever. In this climate, having a Christian foundation on which to base choices becomes critical. Through formal and informal activities, as well as through planned and spontaneous communication, you can help the youth in your community make wise decisions that will keep their journey to adulthood free from substance abuse and its consequences.
What’s Faith Got To Do With It?
Our faith is the covenant trust we have with God in Christ. Through this covenant relationship lived out in a community of faith, we learn the craft of discipleship — acquiring the virtues, habits, and affections necessary to follow Christ. Christian discipleship involves the decision-making process regarding right and wrong, good and evil, choices and consequences.
Christian faith also reflects hope in the future and the conviction that there is a higher plan for one’s life, a plan worthy of commitment, work and sacrifice. Faith gives us the ability to make tough choices about substance abuse. The teen whose faith is strong can more readily say with confidence: “No, thanks, I don’t do drugs,” or “No, thanks, I don’t drink.” The sustaining power of faith is a safety zone in times of temptation, which, for many teens, are all too frequent.
Religious faith is truly critical in the healthy development of youth. Research consistently shows that young people actively involved in church tend to have lower rates of drug and alcohol use. This inverse relationship between religious involvement and substance use is remarkably robust across different religions, ages, ethnic groups and substances. Most importantly, the effect seems to be stronger among youth than adults. But you know from experience that even a strong religious upbringing does not guarantee a young person will be safe from the lure of drugs, alcohol and tobacco. As a youth leader, you are in an ideal position to influence youth by illustrating the practical power of faith in your own life.
Use Teachable Moments
An active approach to prevention can help the young people in your church acquire skills to make wise decisions within the context of their faith. An active approach means involving youth in structured activities that help them learn reasons to avoid drug, alcohol and tobacco use and develop skills to do so effectively. It also includes taking advantage of “teachable moments,” i.e., windows of opportunity that can happen any time adults and young people are together. Teachable moments open the way for you to introduce or reinforce the prevention messages you want youth to learn and follow.
Can you recall a moment when you heard or saw something that sparked a quick comment, a provocative question or just a statement of feeling? That “something” is the backdrop for a teachable moment when you can guide a discussion with a young person, offer advice or just make a clear statement of your own beliefs and thoughts. Such a moment may require that you, as a youth leader, be a good listener in order to hear what youth are thinking about and feeling.
Teachable moments can occur when you are with one person, a small group or a large group. They might occur in the midst of a youth retreat when discussing a celebrity who was admitted to a rehabilitation clinic. They may arise in the discussion of a popular song or movie that depicts drug use as pleasurable without showing the real consequences of addiction. The challenge for the leader is to anticipate these teachable moments and seize the opportunity to share insight, wisdom or experience in sensitive, meaningful ways.
Using Prevention Activities with Youth
As you begin to review the learning activities , remember that there are a few consistent themes that are emphasized.
First, the materials will help you remind youth that most young people do not use drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. The activities try to instill the belief that drug use is not normal, is not socially acceptable, and is a contradiction of Christ-like living.
Second, there is a recurring theme that drug abuse causes pain and trouble for oneself and others. Youth are encouraged to think about the consequences of drug, tobacco, and alcohol use in a variety of activities.
Third, the learning activities and other resources emphasize that a drug-free lifestyle has clear and positive benefits. These benefits are physical, social, emotional, and spiritual.
Fourth, specific skills that have been shown to be useful in prevention are described and practiced. Opportunities to develop skills in communicating effectively, making wise choices about how to spend time, and developing good friendships are woven into many activities.
These themes are repeated and reinforced throughout these materials for youth of all ages, presenting prevention ideas and suggestions for making biblical and faith connections.
We hope that you find the activities to be good starting points for your ongoing efforts to guide the youth of your church toward drug free and healthy development.