Despite media headlines announcing ‘ice epidemics’ and our ‘drinking culture’, Australians are using less alcohol, tobacco and other drugs than they did a decade ago. 1
And it is our younger generations who are leading the way: the age of first drug use is on the rise and there has been a significant decline in younger people engaging in risky drinking.
That is not to say preventive drug education is no longer needed. Children and young people are still exposed to drugs and their inherent dangers and existing school-based education programs play a key role in these promising trends.
However, it is important to recognise that when it comes to health and wellbeing our young people are doing a good job and - when given the necessary support to develop their knowledge, understanding and skills - will make safe and healthy choices.
In school speak, this is called a ‘strengths-based approach’. Rather than being told what to do, how to behave or being shocked or scared into making healthy decisions, a strengths-based approach recognises that most young people come from a position of feeling positive about their health and wellbeing.
Young people are capable of taking responsibility if given support.
Life Education’s program has long come from a position of positivity, recognising the challenges that face young people and working with them to find solutions.
For example, Life Education’s secondary school drug education program, Face the Facts, works from the position that most students are making good choices and are not using alcohol, tobacco or illicit drugs, and arms students with the requisite information to guide their decision making.
The strengths-based approach reflects the changing nature of drug education, and has recently been adopted by schools as a guiding principle in drug education, forming part of the new NSW Syllabus for Personal Development, Health and Physical Education.
It is a shift from a deficit model that blames individuals and social groups for their poor health, instead acknowledging their resilience, strengths, knowledge and capacities.
1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2017. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016: detailed findings. Drug Statistics series no. 31. Cat. no. PHE 214. Canberra: AIHW