When I was deemed old enough starting in 7th grade, I was left home alone during the hours between school letting out and my parents arriving home from work. This spacious period of 2 hours was enough to relax in front of the TV, play video games, have an adventure outside, never do homework, and hang out with friends who also were left alone during that pivotal 4 to 6pm window.
What started as innocent play changed as some of my classmates began experimenting with drugs, mainly alcohol and weed. I started hearing about these endeavors at school, but because I lived far enough away from the town center I was often not a part of the activities. Hearing what my friends were doing and not being able to participate created a huge desire to know what was going on. This desire coupled with the time spent alone at home led me to experiment with trying what was in my parents liquor cabinet, or later attempting to make a pipe and smoke some weed that someone had given me. As 7th grade turned to 8th, I soon found myself a part of some of these “extracurricular” experimentation activities after-school as a way of satisfying a desire to fit in and ultimately understand what the buzz was all about.
If not for sports and organized after-school programs and activities I was involved in at this time in my life, I may have continued down the road of experimentation with substance to perhaps meet greater consequence. After-school activities starting as early as 6th grade gave me a structure that created greater resilience and a healthier environment, allowing me to develop safer habits with friends. Even if I didnt choose to get involved in some after-school events, my parents always encouraged me to stay busy with something that kept me ‘focused on what was important’. This encouragement was enough to get me to do things that ultimately shaped who I am today.
Many of my old classmates did in fact suffer greater consequence from repeated experimentation with drugs and alcohol that starting during the 6th-8th grade period. They were also the kids I remember as having little involvement in community after-school programming. Later in high school, they became the ‘ex’-cool kids that struggled to maintain good grades and stay out of trouble. I look back at the after-school opportunities I had to participate in; sports, hanging out in a teen center, playing games in the park, building planter boxes in a community garden; and I realize that giving young people a task to work towards together can greatly help in building the capacity within themselves to make smarter decisions while also collaborating on creating healthier ways to hang out.
I propose that communities get together and discuss ways to keep kids meaningfully involved after school- create a mini-sports league, build a garden, start a youth club, create team-building activities, etc. The possibilities are endless. In short, a community needs to create space to engage youth while also having a discussion about what youth are doing, in order for the youth themselves to understand the motives and consequence of their actions.
For more information on activities for youth in Marin County, check out these links and/or email for more information:
Coalition Connection: Working to change community norms with respect to underage drinking. Visit website for more info. http://www.thecoalitionconnection.com.
Ross Valley Coalition for healthy youth: A new coalition starting to create healthy norms and activities to build a healthy community and prevent youth alcohol and drug abuse. Email for more info at email@example.com.
The Fairfax Youth Club: A new after-school program starting in the Fairfax Community Center at 16 Park Rd, open M-Th from 4-6pm. There is an OPEN HOUSE on Wednesday the 17th from 4-6pm with information on healthy activities for youth.
Zach Laurie is the co-founder of Roots to Branches, an organization that seeks to create safe and dynamic learning experiences for youth. Roots to Branches runs in-school community service projects and after-school youth programs. Their website is http://www.rootstobranches.org.