A new Declaration of Independence… from peer pressure

No matter what your political views are, take note. A new résistance is on the horizon. It is made up of young people, who aren’t going to take it anymore.

Take what? Peer pressure, that is. A growing number of teens, and even tweens, these days have the… let’s call it chutzpah, shall we… to resist the influences of negative peer pressure. And although they may still be outnumbered, they are mighty, and making their voices heard during this year’s Red Ribbon Week.

Wuv Bernardo, drummer, rhythm guitarist and founding member of the grammy-nominated band P.O.D. feels this chutzpah in his bones. He had to develop it the hard way. He grew up watching his dad live on the streets of San Diego, doing drugs.

Now Bernardo is here to tell American students that “cool” isn’t what they think it is.

“If you wanna have respect, respect for yourself, that’s what it comes down to,” he says, of how he persevered, in spite of his childhood.

Bernardo is one of dozens of celebrity storytellers whom millions of educators and their students will have access to during Red Ribbon Week, through free videos and curriculum provided by the nonprofit Natural High. Red Ribbon Week, which runs from Oct. 23–31, is the chance to focus youth nationally on drug prevention education.

P.O.D., famous for its alternative-rap metal, and some 40 other celebrities across every corner of entertainment, sports and the arts, including professional surfer Bethany Hamilton, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, and professional dancer Chelsie Hightower, known for ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, speak directly to students about the fundamental choices they have to make when confronted with drugs, alcohol, and… well, life.

Teachers also get free Common Core-aligned curriculum that hooks students into issues and powerful feelings raised by the videos, launching them deeply into the underlying lessons of resilience and perseverance in the face of enormous peer pressure.

For example, Natural High’s Red Ribbon Week plan provides teachers with a Declaration of Independence from Peer Pressure lesson, among other materials, to use with students, as well as tools interested students can use to launch a Natural High Club at their school.

But sometimes before we can move towards the ‘high,’ we first need to get in touch with that part of us that feels low.

Incredibly, opioid overdoses are currently driving a decline in U.S. life expectancy, according to recent CDC news. This is of educator concern, because nine out of 10 addictions begin in the teenage years, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

“I’ve seen that process of being torn down, being brought down to the bottom,” Bernardo says, with intensity.

Many kids can relate. It is no surprise that the angst inherent in Bernardo’s story, which is woven into the spirit of P.O.D.’s 2001 epic rock anthem “Youth of the nation” — a Grammy-nominated performance — also resonates with millions of youth who still jam out to it today.

Like any tweens and teens touched by personal and national tragedy, the “Youth of the Nation” music video shows the numb, stone-cold faces of youth of all walks of life as they stand, shoulder-to-shoulder, staring forward. Of the tragedies they’ve faced, from shootings to suicides, in unison, they mouth the haunting words: “We are, we are… the youth of the nation.”

Bernardo shares that he and his bandmates have felt this bottled aggression after tragedies like a school shooting near their studio that prompted the lyrics in “Youth of the Nation.” But, to their great credit, they were able to move past the angst — without drugs or alcohol — because they discovered they could get ‘high’ through creating and performing music itself. This is the part of the journey that can inspire young people to do the same, through their own pursuit.

Research shows that if young people discover their passions and are directly engaged in a compelling way by people they look up to and trust, they are more likely to make positive life choices and much less likely to choose drugs and alcohol.

So what made the difference for Bernardo and his bandmates? It all gets down to “comradery,” he says.

“The true homies are the ones you can catch a natural high on… you’ve got to have a group of people that enjoy the same thing.”

So if you would enjoy the comradery of being among other teachers who are also working to lift up their students, join us. Consider adopting some or all of Natural High’s Red Ribbon Week plan for teachers. But don’t let ‘everyone’s doing it,’ be the reason. Instead, declare your independence from the pack, and then decide for yourself whether watching your students find the strength to say yes to their own passions and wellness is what will bring you your own ‘natural high.’

  • Gina Morris, executive director, Natural High, 2015 Winner: Red Ribbon Outstanding Prevention Program Award. Morris previously taught elementary and middle school in the San Francisco Bay area, and was a curriculum director at Stanford University.
Grammy-nominated P.O.D.