I was reading a 'Real Life' excerpt from the Herald-Sun's Body+Soul(1)lift out earlier this year and was again concerned by the inability of 'grown ups' to actually be just that!
Gareth Wills a 30 y.o. Masters student had decided, after a very demanding 2008 to make the following year a little less stressful and a little more healthy. One of his, as he later stated 'promises to himself' was to give up alcohol for a year. Now Gareth wasn't a daily drinker or even a 'binger'(by his estimation anyway) but he had enough on a weekend to, and I'm quoting... "Write off most Sundays." On a personal level it was a win/win for Gareth - He dropped 12 Kilos, felt physically and mentally brighter and now has a whole extra day a week that was previously lost to booze....but it was his social setting that took some pretty hard hits!
Gareth's male friends were unsupportive of his abstinence decision and made their disapproval known to him in no subtle terms. They constantly goaded him to have a drink and saying... "Come on, just one won't hurt you!" As disappointing as that was it was his female friends that disturbed him more. When Gareth would attend a function, say a birthday of one of his female friends, there was a very clear and seemingly non-negotiable requirement to have a 'celebratory drink'. When Gareth graciously declined he was met with offence by his lady friends. They would feel disappointed that he wasn't drinking with them. But the 'peer pressure' got worse, to the point where they would accuse him of making them feel uncomfortable because he wasn't drinking!
I have no doubt that these upwardly mobile pseudo-sophisticates would pride themselves on their 'tolerance' of many things, but it would appear tolerance ends as soon as they are made to feel 'uncomfortable'.... wow – obviously no concept at all of what tolerance really is!
What is a little scary to us here at the Dalgarno Institute, is that these are not mere vulnerable teenagers still wrestling in the formative stages of both physiological and social development – these are supposed to be fully fledged adults!
There are some very real 'evidence based' facts that can help you easily deal with the social contagions such as the negative peer pressure element. Though the team of experts who wrote the book 'Drug Education In Schools' were by no means the first to acknowledge the following realities, they have put them in this latest academic work.
"To help protect young people against drug use problems
- Feeling connected to others
- Seeing positive meaning in life
- Having the possibility of a fulfilling life
- Feeling love and cared for by parents and significant others
- Feeling that you can fit in at school
- Having a group of friends who don't use drugs."(2)
Now, what this list doesn't indicate is which of these can have the strongest impact and why? Let's do a bit of a road test of these protective factors... For example alcohol is a legal drug, but even though it is legal it is a drug, and by all evidence the single most society menacing drug we have at the moment.
We'll run through the list and see which ones hold in certain circumstances.
Factors 1, 3 and 5 are all about relationships. That's a good thing – we all need good, healthy and functional (whatever that means in the current social context) relationships! Yet it's not just about 'feelings' it's also about values, scripts and models.... for example a 'feral' adolescent might only 'feel' loved by a parent, if the parent let's them do whatever they want. A teenager may 'fit' in a school, but how and why he/she fits in may be because they are complying with a dysfunctional or even dangerous script of pattern, but at least they 'feel' like they fit.
Let's pretend for a moment that all the family and friends are not too dysfunctional, they have relatively caring connections that are fixed to a reasonable 'right and wrong' morality – but they all drink alcohol. That obviously means that not only factors 1, 3 and 5 are severely compromised as protective elements, but now factor 6 ('having a group of friends who don't take drugs') is also rendered useless as a protective tool.
So, what do we have left as possible 'anchor' points to help keep us being blown around by 'negative peer pressure'? Protective factors 2 and 3 - which in basic terms are... 'a sound and 'others' considering values, informed by a sustainable meaning, that gives real hope for something better than 'inebriation, as well as genuine potential for both a positive future and purpose, that has context outside of mere feelings'.
Now it's these clear, well thought out and sustainable elements that can not only hold you against the push of negative peer pressure, but more importantly help you become the relationship builder that Factors 1,3,5 and 6 need you to be! The trick is to get out of the current cultural 'bubble' we're in and have a look a bigger possibility. However, if we are just swimming around in our goldfish bowl of poorly thought through, pop-culture informed superficialities, then we aren't really going to be 'protected' and we'll certainly have next to no chance of being an agent of protection.
It's time we started to look up and out! Start to think and wonder and find best practice, not just repeating poor practice! The question then remains - where are you going to find this and what will inform your protective values?
- Body+Soul – Sunday Herald-Sun, January 3. 2010 page 6
- 'Drug Education in Schools' 2006 page 67