Perception vs. reality. That's the message Chad Williams shared with Delta High School students last week.
Williams, a former Mesa County sheriff's deputy, is the founder of Safe Teens America, a rapidly growing adolescent drug prevention program.
Working with small groups of students, Williams asked them how many DHS students they believed were recreational users of marijuana. Generally speaking, the students felt 40 to 60 percent of the students at DHS used weed once or twice a week. The good news, Williams said, is that students in many other schools place the percentage at 70 to 80 percent.
Even Delta High School's guess-estimate of 40 to 60 percent is significantly higher than the national average. Yet middle school kids who are getting ready to transition to Delta High School are hearing that a significant percentage of the student population uses marijuana.
"We know that's not the case," Williams said, based on national surveys, but that's a fact to the middle school student. "So if you're trying to fit in at high school, what's the very first thing you're going to reach for, to be part of the 'in' crowd?" Williams asked.
That's why it's important to distinguish perception from reality, he stressed, particularly when speaking to younger students. He urged the high schoolers not to propagate myths about what's actually happening at DHS.
How parents broach the subject is also important, and that was the focus of a presentation that night at a DHS Parent Academy. Williams offered tips for "messaging" to students without "shutting them down."
The marijuana industry's marketing efforts have been effective. Not only has marijuana been legalized in several states, including Colorado, perceived harm has dropped and usage has increased. But when it comes to marijuana use and teens, the science is indisputable, Williams said. Youth who use marijuana regularly are more likely to have a hard time learning, problems remembering and lower IQs.
Williams showed a television commercial claiming that marijuana is safer than alcohol. When kids feel defensive about marijuana use, they'll point to the can of beer in a parent's hands. Williams said the discussion should not center on "My drug is safer than yours," but drug use vs. non-drug use.
Marijuana is much more potent than it was in the '70s and '80s, and it comes in many more forms, from buds to edibles to concentrates. Williams passed around pipes, vape pens, dab jars and other paraphernalia so parents would know what to look for. A home reference guide can be found on the Delta High School website.
Williams said there are many "discreet" ways for students to use marijuana in front of teachers or parents, from sipping an energy drink to licking a lollipop.
If that's the case, one parent asked, what symptoms or behaviors indicate marijuana usage? Williams listed slurred speech, bloodshot eyes and small muscle twitches. "Or try to talk about time ... someone who's high can't track time well."
Parents left the meeting equipped with valuable information about how to recognize and respond to the dangers associated with drug use,
Holly Teyler-Crowder, DHS counselor, also updated parents on changes being made to the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application process.