Along with 80 million other Americans, my kids just concluded Red Ribbon Week at their public elementary school. Although the intention behind such a week is noble, the reality of it thrust in my children’s day to day life makes me question the program’s goals.
Red Ribbon Week has been held the last week in October since 1986, shortly after the kidnapping, torture and brutal murder of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena by drug traffickers. At first it was a grassroots campaign- people from Camarena’s hometown decided to wear red that week to honor the slain hero and to pledge to live clean lives, completely opposite from the lives the drug war fighters led who ended Camarena’s.
First Lady Nancy Reagan took notice and helped give the Red Ribbon Coalition a national platform. Its goal today is to raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, and encourage prevention, early intervention, and treatment services.
It is the largest, most visible prevention awareness campaign observed annually in the United States.
It all sounds noble and good. I remember how powerful some of the Red Ribbon assemblies were when I was a high school teacher. Yet I cringed when I walked on school campus with my precious 5-year-old kindergartner that first Monday morning and she asked, “Mommy, why are there red flags all over the school?” and then, upon closer inspection and to hear her reading in her barely 3 and 4 letter word way, she asked, “Why do the flags say D-R-U-G? Drug,” she pronounced.
Later, wearing a wrist band she was instructed to wear all week, she asked, “What does this bracelet say?” to which I stammered, feeling like she’d asked me a birds and the bees question in that way kids do, before we’re prepared, “Proud to be Drug Free,” I squeaked.
By the way, I am not the kind of mom who is uncomfortable talking about sex or drugs with my children. I am here, waiting with open ears and open arms to discuss serious moral and health issues with them. I just don’t want it thrust on them before they even know there is such an issue.
I don’t remember being so bothered or feeling so intruded upon when my 2nd and 4th graders were innocent kindergartners. This year it hit me. I finally get why parents opt-out of sex education and other programs they’d like to teach their children on their own at home.
Speaking of sex education- why is it that sex education is kept within the classroom walls of 4th grade students and older, but drug prevention is visible, trumpeted to all students?
Yes, the curriculum teachers use to instill the messages of Red Ribbon Week with younger students is tame- they talk about themes like choices and being a good friend. I still don’t like my young daughter seeing the word “drugs” all around campus, multiple times a day, though, and wearing the same wristbands with the same phrases the 5th graders see. I thought maybe it is a public school issue. Of the 3 family and friends I asked whose kids go to parochial school, 2 said their schools also celebrate Red Ribbon Week.
I know there are parents who will say, “But these kids may not have anyone else to talk with them about drugs and choices, etc.” I am all for drug prevention and I agree children need to have frank discussions with trusted adults before they or their friends may be in the situation, but to begin the subject in kindergarten and then to skirt around it, seems much too young, not to mention pointless.
What do you think? Is there a side you see I am missing?