Back to Banned Substances? Back to School Tips to Help Students Make Smart Choices


Back to School doesn’t have to mean back to using banned substances. As summer winds down, we offer advice for parents to help their students navigate temptations in the new school year.

By Azhane Williams and Allison Burnett, ACE Prevention Coordinators

WRAL Investigates:

Substance abuse trends in schools—and why parents need to talk to their students now. WRAL highlights tips from SouthLight’s Azhane Williams, an ACE Prevention Coordinator
Watch it on WRAL

Heading back to school should be an exciting time for both parents and students alike. However, with school comes certain challenges and peer pressure, which can make it difficult for some students to make smart decisions about substance use.

Azhane Williams and Allison Burnett are prevention coordinators and instructors for SouthLight’s Alternative Counseling Education Program in the Wake County School system. The program reduces long-term suspension for students who bring/use drugs and alcohol at school. 

Nearly 700 students were enrolled in the program last year. Azhane and Allison have a lot of experience working with both parents and teens.

4 Tips to Prep Students for Transitioning from Summer to School

Review the rules.

Go over the school rules as well as your expectations for the school year with your child.

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Beware of the bully.

Practice strategies to avoid peer pressure, and learn how to say NO. Remind your child of the definition of bullying, and offer your child a list of trusted adults who can assist them in the event that they are bullied.

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Stick to a schedule.

With the first day of classes approaching, now is the time to recreate a sleep schedule and manage your time so that school work and related school activities are prioritized.

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Talk about the risks of drug & alcohol use.

Back to School: Helping Teens Deal with Peer Pressure to use Drugs, Alcohol and Vaping

Don’t be afraid to speak directly to your child about the risks of using alcohol and/or other drugs. Believe it or not, your attitude towards alcohol and other substances plays a significant role in how your child will respond if they are ever pressured into trying them.

Make sure to approach the conversation in a concerning yet supportive way. Your child may feel like they are being targeted, or they may feel like they can’t trust you – depending on the approach.

Bag Check! Checking Backpacks & Personal Items as a Parent

Some students get suspended for items they consider minor but, in a school setting, are actually considered major. As a parent, you can help your child avoid any issues by letting them know that you will be checking their backpack regularly. Let them know the reasoning behind this action, namely that you are trying to ensure that they won’t get suspended for an item or device that should not be on school property.

This is a great opportunity to remind your child of the consequences that could stem from having contraband on school property.

Pledging to avoid substance use will not only give you a goal to reach but will remind you of all you could be losing if you choose to misuse drugs/alcohol at school.

Pledge to be Substance Free

When you create a personal goal, you tend to work harder to reach the goal because it matters most to you! By pledging not to use banned substances, it gives you a real and tangible goal to reach. It also serves as a reminder of all you stand to lose should you misuse drugs and/or alcohol while at school.

Set aside time in your discussion to work together on a “back-to-school pledge” where your child can make a pact with you on staying focused and avoiding substance use with other family members and/or friends.

Having a healthy outlet (joining school-related groups/activities) for your child’s energy can boost confidence while helping to steer them in the right direction.

Creating a common goal may also encourage your child’s friends not to use drugs and/or alcohol on school grounds, which may eventually spill over to not using substances outside of school as well.

Encourage your child to pursue extracurricular activities or join school-related groups they may be interested in. Having a healthy outlet for their energy can boost confidence while simultaneously steering them in the right direction.

Establish Substance Use Rules Early!

Set clear rules early on about alcohol and other substances – even as early as BEFORE your child enters elementary school. Doing so will help them be better equipped to make smarter decisions should they suddenly find themselves in a peer pressure situation.

While it is good to start conversations about substance use at an early age, remember to keep the conversation going, and check in with your child periodically as they grow.

Azhane Williams and Allison Burnett are both Prevention Coordinators and Instructors for SouthLight’s Alternative Counseling Education Program, known as ACE. The goal of the ACE program is to reduce long-term suspensions by providing drug education free of charge for first-time offenders of the school’s drug and alcohol policy.

“As an instructor, I use the resources available to give my students healthy alternatives to drug or alcohol use and misuse. Each day I teach, I learn something new from my students; that is what allows me to succeed in this position.”

Azhane Williams