Addictions and at-risk behaviors obviously impact our health very negatively. What is the best way to educate our youth in order to prevent these behaviors?
You ask a vitally important question. We often think that education and information are the main pillars of prevention. Information and facts are important, but they are not enough. If education or the understanding of the dangers of tobacco use was enough of a deterrent, warning signs and notices on cigarette boxes would be sufficient to stop people from smoking. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Warning labels are very necessary, and some countries are placing warnings of the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy on bottles of alcoholic beverages. There should be more of this. Sociologists and psychologists, however, have found that even life-threatening events such as heart attacks or the diagnosis of cancer are not sufficient to produce changes in health behaviors in a large percentage of individuals. This is frightening! Should we be reading labels on the foods we eat and what we drink? Absolutely! It is essential to know the sodium content, fat content, transfat content, number of calories, etc., of the products we consume. If we paid more attention to labels, we would have fewer cases of high blood pressure and diabetes.
In the area of behaviors—specifically addiction—if education alone is not enough, what else should we be doing? There are many well-conducted and analyzed studies that show there is power in connection, or connectedness. This should not be surprising to a people who preach that our religion depends on a close relationship with Jesus. (Maybe as with our health habits, we preach more than we practice!)
But to what or whom should we be connected? In order to help people resist at-risk behavior (alcohol, drugs, premarital sexual experimentation, etc.), they need to have a meaningful relationship with a person of significance in their life. This would be a parent, grandparent, teacher, pastor, or other trusted friend. There is also a second and equally important component, and that is a connection to a set of values. We identify these values as those found in the Bible and exemplified in the life of Jesus.
What is the result of this kind of connectedness? The development of resilience. Resilience is the ability to cope under difficult circumstances and in stressful situations. Resilience is something that develops over time and is nurtured by a support system such as that found in families, churches, and communities. Youth who are connected to those of significance in their lives have more confidence and self-respect. This is fostered further by love, respect, and acceptance from the significant individuals in their lives and environment. Such relationships provide golden opportunities and methods for addressing the very serious problem the Adventist Church faces in trying to retain its youth.
Two other important factors strengthen the benefits of supportive relationships. One is the active mentoring of our youth. We need to become mentors and life coaches, sharing skills and knowledge that will help youth travel life’s road. Mentoring needs to be combined with the other essential ingredient—service. Our youth are tired of our attempts to entertain them; they need rather to be involved in service. Service for others has been shown to strengthen resilience and the ability to cope despite the chaos that shows up in life from time to time.
Meaningful relationships and good friends are beneficial to our health. Positive friendship connections promote positive mental health, a sense of belonging, self-respect, and the strengthening of purpose. This can occur at any age. It is vital to foster resilience in our youth; investment in our friendships can improve health and brighten disposition for the long haul.