Growing up, I remember how our school, like 75 percent of American schools, took part in DARE: Drug Abuse Resistance Education program. I remember how police officers would come in once a week and talk to us about different drugs and alcohol, explain what they can do to our systems, and told that we should “just say no!”
DARE was part of my childhood, and I resisted drugs. So I was surprised to read that DARE, as it was when I was growing up, didn’t really work according to some. In fact, some studies suggest that kids in the DARE program during the beginning were more likely to use drugs.
Around 1998, DARE officials started looking into changes, and eventually landed on keepin’ it REAL. And based on an article by Scientific American, it looks to be working.
I’m very much appreciative of those who worked the DARE system when I was growing up, and I am thankful those leaders have made changes to better help kids. So what changed, and how does that relate to what we’re doing as a church/parents looking to train up kids in the ways they should go?
- Lecture-Based to Learner-Based
The original DARE model had officers speaking to kids for up to 45 minutes straight, mainly with facts and figures. When starting to look at new material, behavioral scientists looked for, “a hands-on program that would build communication and decision-making skills and let children rehearse these tactics via role play.”
With the new material, instructors only speak for around eight minutes, leaving time for kids to act out different scenarios and practice making tough decisions with their peers.
Richard Clayton, a retired prevention researcher formerly of the University of Kentucky, helped DARE make the change from lecture-based to learner-based materials. “They listened to the notion that comes from the literature that you need to be interactive—not didactic lecturing,” Clayton says. “I think what they’ve done is pretty amazing.”
What does that mean for us?
Look at how Jesus taught. He used things that the people around Him were familiar with (coins, wheat, bread, fish). He asked questions and told stories. He helped people live out their faith (walking on water).
Likewise, we can teach God’s truth by using different techniques (music, drama, journaling, quiet times, games, etc.) that help them digest and retain what they are learning. We can help them discover how to apply Bible truths and live it out in their daily lives.
Parents, read the Bible as a family, then talk with your kids about the truths you just heard. Have kids explain to you what the passage is about or draw a short comic that illustrates the point. Bring the Bible to life for your kids.
- Moral Modification to Heart Transforming
“Everyone believed that if you just told students how harmful these substances and behaviors were—they’d stay away from them,” -Frank Pegueros, the current president and CEO of DARE America
On paper, DARE looked great. It was all about building up kids’ self-esteem and helping kids resist peer pressure. But, it had the opposite effect of what was intended. It was sort of like trying cure the symptoms rather than fix the problem, or in this case say no because that’s what you were taught to say.
So how was REAL different?
“It’s not an antidrug program,” says Michelle Miller-Day, co-developer of the REAL curriculum and a communications researcher at Chapman University. “It’s about things like being honest and safe and responsible.”
REAL took a step back and helped kids think critically and, while not an antidrug program, as helped kids make smart choices. In early trials, REAL students have shown levels of reduced substance abuse and maintained antidrug attitudes.
Now let’s move back to the church and parents. We want our kids to know we shouldn’t lie, we shouldn’t hurt others, we should do this or that…but our goal isn’t behavior modification. Tiffany Francis, from Lifeway Kids, talks about this on the CentriKid camp blog.
“We believe everything we do should not simply teach kids good behavior or morals, but it should cause them to encounter Christ so that He can transform them,” Francis shares. “Behavior modification can be a burden, and kids have a hard time understanding what freedom in Christ can look when we focus on forming behavior instead of transforming the heart. It is only through the cross, through Christ redeeming us that our hearts can be changed. We must focus on heart transformation through Christ and not simply moral behavior modification.”
Each lesson we do with the kids, we try to connect to the cross as quick as possible. Without Jesus, teaching kids not to lie is just for moral sake. Parents, as you raise your children and help them learn right from wrong, remember to always connect back to Jesus and the gospel.
- Don’t be Afraid of Change.
So during DARE’s lifespan, there were a lot of studies done that showed the program didn’t work. So why did it take so long to make changes? Some suggest parents loved it because they believed their kids were being taught drug prevention (I wonder how many avoided talking to their kids about drugs thinking the school systems were taking care of it?) Politicians supported the program because parents loved it and they didn’t want to lose votes.
A legislator told the New York Times in 2004, on the condition that his name not be used, ”No one’s going to risk their political future by doing anything other than standing up with the parents. Parents vote.”
We can’t be afraid of change. I’m reminded of the story of the woman who always cuts the end off of hams before cooking. When asked why, she explained her mother always did it that way. Asking her mother, she explained that her mother had always done it that way. Getting to the grandmother, she explained that she doesn’t know why her daughter or granddaughter cuts the ends of hams, but she does it because her pan is too small.
God’s truth hasn’t changed, you’re not going to find a better gospel. But, the ways we can reach the people and families God has put in our lives has. The church doesn’t need to be afraid of change, but in all things look to God for guidance. Similarly, parents…don’t be afraid of change. Start doing a family prayer before school. Plan a family mission day. Read the Bible and have kids act out the passage with toys. Keep growing in faith in new and fresh ways.
One of the best memories I have of DARE when I was in school was how police officers came into the classroom to talk with us. I remember thinking that having the officer there was a big deal. Looking back, I’m thankful that the school system and police department were willing to work together to try and help me and others like me. That teamwork was something DARE did right.
We believe that God has placed children under the authority of their parents, and it is the parents’ responsibility to teach their children how to live a life that is pleasing to God. We seek to affirm what children are being taught at home, according to the truth of God’s Word. Thank you for teaming up with us as you bring up your children. Let’s work together to show them God’s great love!