Spring brings with it a lot of renewed energy and excitement at Derryfield. These past few weeks of beautiful weather have prompted outdoor classes and gatherings of friends for lunch. Large numbers of students, parents and faculty have been attending athletic events. We are quickly making our way toward a lot of exciting events and celebrations as the school year flies by. A large number of seniors begun their Independent Senior Projects. Prom is less than a month away and the series of pre-graduation celebrations continues next week with Senior Celebration. It is about this time of year that students begin getting very anxious for summer, more and more sophomores get their license, giving them greater independence. In homeroom and in advisories, we encourage students to have fun and enjoy these beautiful days, but also to stay focused and to finish the year strong. We encourage them to help each other make good decisions in and out of school and to continue to work hard academically and athletically so that they can all finish the year in a way they are proud of, reflecting the hard work they have put in all year long.
This piece today is meant to be a proactive message about the ways that we can all work together to protect and support our kids in making good decisions this spring. I wrote a similar message last year and I am revising it because the message is still relevant. I continue to be concerned about our students; about their access to alcohol and drugs and the willingness of some parents to turn a blind eye, even when they know that dangerous behaviors are going on in their home or the homes of others. These are not just dangerous parental behaviors that the CDC warns contribute significantly to teen alcohol and drug abuse, but are also against the law. Over the past two school years we have worked to be more deliberate and to encourage robust conversations about drugs and alcohol and—more broadly—good decision making.
So what can you do? Talk to your son or daughter honestly about these topics and speak with other parents. Be engaged, be present, and be fearless and relentless in supervising your children and any under your care. If your son or daughter is headed out, ask them the details of their plan and communicate with other parents and confirm plans and supervision. If your child complains and says that no one else asks these types of questions and you’re embarrassing them, tell them they are wrong; that parents do communicate and that you’re doing it because you care. If you hear rumors of drug and alcohol use, speak to each other and ask. “Trust, but verify.”
We have been working hard over the past two years to step up to our responsibility to educate students about some of the most pressing health and safety concerns they may face and to push them to be their best selves and to support each other. Here are some of the steps we have taken over the past two years to raise awareness, begin conversations, and to educate our students:
Save A Life Tour presented this winter to all Upper School students on the dangers of distracted and impaired driving. Chris Herren held an assembly last spring with eighth through twelfth graders and all faculty about self-esteem and good decision making, highlighting the risks of drug and alcohol use but also compellingly addressing a wide variety of challenges faced by youth. Speak About It met with parents, trained a group of student leaders, held an assembly for tenth through twelfth graders, and facilitated breakout group discussions about sexual decision making and consent, as well as the important role of active bystanders in preventing sexual assault.
Lynne Lyons met with all tenth graders last fall to discuss stress and anxiety management and to provide strategies.
Jeff Levin M.A.T., M.S.W, met with all tenth graders this fall on the topics of managing anxiety, worry and stress. Jeff addressed a broad range of normal stresses in high school, including both academic and social pressures.
Advisory groups met to discuss and debrief many of these sessions in order to continue the important conversations, answer questions, and to express our commitment to supporting each student.
Many of our Upper school parent communications meetings over the past two years have focused on these and other issues central to the health and safety of our students and educating each other.
Faculty were trained ahead of the sessions on sexual assault and consent and drug and alcohol abuse in order to be equipped to continue conversations with students. The Manchester Police Department also held a one-hour training for all faculty and staff regarding local trends in drug use and signs of drug use to watch for.
For the past two years we have implemented a ninth grade Health and Wellness class that allows students to get to know one another, develop better self-awareness, and address some of these pressing topics.
As members of the Derryfield School community, let’s reaffirm our commitment to the care and supervision of our children. Let’s work together, communicate our expectations, and support each other in helping our kids make good decisions.
Here are some frightening but important statistics and trends to consider regarding drug and alcohol use and abuse among teens.
90% of all addictions begin in the teenage years, when the brain is not yet fully developed and highly susceptible to addiction.
In 2012, nearly 3/4 of students (72%) had consumed alcohol (more than just a few sips) by the end of high school, and more than 1/3 (37%) had done so by eighth grade.
The average age boys first try alcohol is age 11; for girls it’s 13.
Teens who start drinking before age 15 years are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after the legal age of 21.
Prescription painkiller abuse is actually the fastest growing drug problem in America.
80% of all opioid addictions happen accidentally. Users often get hooked while using prescribed medications to relieve pain after a surgery or injury.
90% of first time heroin users are white and a growing number are middle class to affluent Americans.
75% of heroin addicts used prescription opioids before turning to heroin
New Hampshire’s ranking is among the worst in the nation when it comes to teen alcohol and drug abuse.
These statistics are staggering and only highlight that we need to educate our students on the dangers of drug and alcohol use and abuse and - most importantly - good decision making. The good news is that many studies show that when teenagers engage in meaningful and honest conversations about drugs and alcohol, they are far less likely to try or abuse drugs and alcohol. So, let’s start conversations with our kids and with each other, even if it is uncomfortable at first.
As always, feel free to reach out to me if you have any thoughts or concerns.
Head of Upper School