There is a big difference between what adolescents believe to be true, versus what is actually true. Many teens don’t know the real facts on important issues, particularly drug use. Not knowing what’s really true impacts their choices. But when kids do get the right information it hugely impacts the decisions they make. Once they find out the norm is not, ‘everyone is doing it’ then often they don’t do it.

So the biggest question is, how as a society, can we help guide our teens to make informed and healthy decisions? Many organizations have moved to using prevention, which begins with education. As a society, we tried the scare tactics or avoiding the issue altogether—and neither worked. But since we easily see the impact teens have on each other; whether it’s, “positive” or “negative” how can we use that in the most useful way possible?

We look at stars like Miley Cyrus, who is currently seductively throwing herself across any media venue that will have her, promoting illegal drug use as a way to “express yourself” and “be who you really are”. She clearly has no concern for how her younger fans see her or that she is a role model to many. Instead she seems most interested in the publicity she receives for her wild antics and out-of-control behavior.

The problem is this—the publicity is funding a lot of her bad habits, but most parents don’t want their children to look or behave like Miley Cyrus. Young adults are influenced by this behavior because people like Miley make it look safe. The world isn’t hearing about the teens in the spotlight who have died from taking too much Molly, or even the consequences associated with being over sexualized. Instead they see someone their own age making it look fun, safe and most importantly “cool.”

Who doesn’t want to be “cool?!” We are designed to want to belong, and “fit in.” It’s against our nature to want to be alone or unpopular. So a real disservice is being done for our young people by promoting Miley’s antics as normal or something to aspire to. 

Then we have incredibly, strong women, like Demi Lovato. She’s a young woman who has found a way to make her fame include her over coming struggles, having faith, finding support and attempting to lower the stigma around mental health, addiction, self harm and eating disorders. In the documentary she was recently in “Stay Strong,” she shares her struggles with her viewers about the pressures associated with being a “made role model.” We all want our daughters to be role models and not followers, but with that comes pressure. How do we help girls become leaders that can handle the pressure? Even Demi recognizes the power in human connection, as she shares her recovery and tools that keep her “staying strong.” She hits the nail on the head in her documentary when she states that some of her greatest struggles were related to no one “coming out and talking about the issues” teens are facing. For teens to learn they are “not alone” when they face difficult choices, feelings and experiences is crucial in outcome of who they are to be and how they will learn to cope.

I hope that not only can we all learn from each other, but that it doesn’t only have to be from the horror stories that teach teens the difference between unsafe and safe. Teens need to learn that the majority of their population isn’t using drugs or alcohol and don’t think it’s “cool”. Therefore they have to become the loud minority. Statistics from the National Institute of Drug Awareness continues to show us this through their surveys. And so, I think the next important mission is to encourage the healthy teens to have the loud voice they deserve, while silencing the minority. Stay Strong and Get Loud! 

 ~Ashley Le Grange, LMHC, NCC, Certified School Counselor, Director and Founder of SUF

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