Five times in the last two days I gave presentations to students at our local high school. The group size was probably around 60 each time. I felt it was a good experience, at least from my perspective. Yesterday my oldest daughter joined me at the school and she contributed personal experiences as students ask questions. She really took the talks to a higher level, the kids seemed to relate to her really well. I think it was the age thing, I'm just an old guy, dad type, and she is young and went to that school too.
We tried to make these talks very interactive. Because of that only one session ended when the bell rang. All of the rest kept going right through break and the teachers told the students, "Take all the time you want to ask questions, this is important." Is it possible for a presenter to feel true interest and concern from a group of students like this for what we were discussing? And I felt they had a real concern for my son and how he was doing. Each group ask how he was doing and when I told them he was over 3 months clean there was a huge group smile.
Two of the teachers at these sessions had my son in their class when he was attending this school. I told the group he was on the football and basketball teams, he has a whole stack of medals in forensics. These are things they can relate too. one of my sons teachers told them all he was really, really good in forensics and this was a very bright student.
Some of the students due to their class schedules attended two sessions. One of the teachers told me the kids ask if they could go again when they were given an option of attending. The same teacher said she overheard students discussing these talks in the hall between classes.
I tried a different approach to making my point. I did not want to be just another person in a long line telling them not to use drugs and why. My whole thing was based on using drugs is a choice, in the beginning, if you make that choice then this is what you WILL become and WHAT you will do to those around you to support your addiction. Our personal first hand experiences of being the parents of an addict. And with my daughter she spoke from the point of being the sister of an addict.
As I said we tried to make this an interactive discussion. My very first point was I ask them to be honest with themselves and I would not ask at any time for a show of hands. I want them to be honest inside, and in return for that request I promised I would be completely straight up and there were no areas out of bounds.
Once the first question was ask it was like a bursting dam, sometimes there was three and four hands up to ask questions at a time. I think the questions that were ask tell a better story about tenor of these presentations than my content. I'll just let you in on some of the questions.
When did you know he was an addict?
Do you feel it was your fault he used drugs?
Did he use drugs with friends he met here in school?
What if I know someone that is doing this, what can I do?
Did he go to jail?
Has his appearance changed?
Where is he living now?
What did you do when you first found out he was using drugs? My answer, we went for a long swim in the pool of denial.
Does he regret all of this?
Has he ever tried to kill himself?
What was the hardest thing for you and his mom?
To his sister, what is your relationship with him like now?
Could your son come and talk to us?
Are his friends still using?
Do you think he is done using?
I felt like every question that was ask over two days was expressed with genuine respect and concern for Alex for us. Plus I got the impression they ask questions out of real concern for themselves. There was no cross talking in these meetings. There was no disrespect exhibited at any time. My daughter remarked to me, "Did you see that there were students literally sitting on the edge of their seats?"
The after meeting discussions were heart wrenching. A teacher is open to his class about his brother-in-law was a meth addict and is now clean 4 years, and his admission that addiction runs throughout his family. Students waiting to get a minute to tell very personal and private stories about dealing with addiction in their families right now. Asking me if it would be OK if someone needed to talk to us could they?
I don't know where this will lead. One teacher expressed that every parent needs to here this and she sent an e-mail to the principal that they need to find a way to get parents to a talk like this. I'm willing if they are. Next steps? I don't know but I'll talk if someone will listen. One day I hope that when Alex is ready he can do something like this. With his gifted speaking ability and wealth of knowledge I think he truly could make a difference in some of these young peoples lives.