Educators have a significant opportunity to help protect teens’ health when experimentation or substance use, and the risk of addiction, is high.
Schools that implement comprehensive, age-appropriate and research-based prevention programming can have a real impact on reducing youth marijuana use and its adverse effects. It’s essential to start at an early age and continue throughout a child’s academic career. Programming is especially effective if families and other caregivers take part.
If you haven’t already reviewed our information on youth marijuana use — including reasons for use, ways it’s used and the impact of legalization — it’s a good place to start before diving into your specific role as an educator.
Focus on health, not punishment
Use strategies based in science, not fear
By using evidence-based practices, schools can support the development of life skills that decrease risk and help delay the onset of substance use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse details essential principles of prevention for youth. These include, but are not limited to:
- Enhancing protective factors
- Offering family-based programming
- Intervening early at the sign of risk
- Enhancing social-emotional learning
Know and share the facts
Aim to be an informed and reliable source of information about marijuana and other substances. As a result, students may turn to you instead of less credible sources like peers, social media, popular culture or advertisements.
Young people often respond better to their peers than from teachers or other adults. In other words, peer-to-peer intervention works. It can help successfully sway youth attitudes about marijuana use and promote protective strategies among students. You can teach these strategies through role-playing and other activities.
Engage family and the community
Schools often are at the center of their community and an essential resource for families. Your ability to collaborate with families and other community systems can create a unique environment that promotes and reinforces healthy adolescent behavior. Substance use prevention programming and other educational resources can and should reach the entire school community. The result is an informed base of parents and a safe body of students. Therefore, whenever possible, information shared with students about marijuana use should also be provided to families and caregivers.
Work with community organizations to provide fun and substance-free activities for students. These adult-supervised events allow students to socialize, have fun and take healthy risks without marijuana and other substances.
Educating students about marijuana use and bolstering skills to resist it are essential components of effective prevention. However, what happens in their home and community plays a major role in a student’s risk for marijuana use and in getting needed help should they develop a problem.
Use data to inform programming
Data can help inform your activities and policies around intervention. Collect data on the types of addictive substances students use and track trends in use. You can then address emerging trends and adjust policies and practices to best meet student needs.
Help students who show signs of use
Through screening of all students, and especially those at risk, identify those in need of help. If they need services and counseling beyond those available within the school, be ready with referrals to quality professional counseling and treatment within the community. School professionals can serve as a source of positive reinforcement and support for students in need of help or treatment for substance-related problems.
Know the signs of student marijuana use
It is important to identify students who use marijuana or may experience marijuana-related problems, regardless of when and where it happens. Schools can help guide them toward the help they need. Some of the more common signs include:
- Changes in mood (irritability, paranoia, indifference)
- Bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, slow movement or walking
- Loss of interest in academics, extracurricular activities, hobbies, sports
- Lack of focus, poor class attendance, low grades, conduct problems
- Disregard for school rules
- Failure to fulfill responsibilities at school
For students suspected of marijuana use, establish specific protocols for involving the student’s family. First, make reliable local referrals to students and their families for professional assistance. Second, reconsider suspension and punishment to ensure students understand the consequences of their substance use on their health, well-being, education and family. Above all, students should feel comfortable coming forward to seek help from trusted adults.
There are numerous resources available for school professionals to help prevent their students from using marijuana or other substances, and assist those students who need help.
Our guide to helping prevent and address underage drinking.
Lessons, activities and information to help schools educate students about the consequences of substance use
Online substance use prevention resources aimed specifically at adolescents and young adults