Improved life skills can avert drug abuse

"Drug use never has and never will produce happiness," said Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, as he spoke to some 6,000 youth attending the 9th annual Life Skills Conference sponsored by the Utah Federation for a Drug-Free Youth.

The conference, a non-partisan and non-denominational effort that involves many agencies, is sponsored by various organizations in the community, including the Church. Its purpose is to help educate elementary, junior high and high school students on the dangers of drug abuse, and to create a network of positive peer pressure to help keep the state's youth drug-free.The conference was held April 22-24, at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City. The keynote ceremonies on Friday, April 23, also included a presentation by Leroy Cesspooch, Ute Indian artist who designed the conference logo, and presentation of the Ute Honor Song. At the four-day conference, nearly 50 experts in life skills, performing groups, athletes and musicians presented addresses or workshops for the youth. The workshops ranged from those centered on andi-drug education to those teaching relationships and self-esteem, positive role models, and "saying no" to gang activities. Other subjects included enhancing communication, combatting teenage depression, and building family strengths.

In his keynote address on April 23, Gov. Leavitt said: "The state is making healthy progress. I am proud that as a state, Utah is leading the way in being drug free."

He noted there is still considerable progress to be made, but, he added, "It is in the economic interest of all of us to be drug free. People are coming to Utah to live because this is a wholesome environment."

Representative of the conference workshops presented Friday morning were "Families Under Stress" by Dale Pearson, a BYU coordinator of undergraduate social work and a clinical and family therapist, and "Living, Learning and Grieving: What's It All About," by Karen O. Johnson, drug and alcohol prevention specialist and counselor of the Salt Lake City School District, and "How to Write Your Own Owner's Manual," by BYU Outreach Youth conference coordinator John G Bytheway.

Families Under Stress

In his presentation, Brother Pearson said homes, in many cases, have shifted from being a safe haven and places of security to places of upset, chaos and distress. All too often, families live as "intimate strangers" who exploit other family members, he said. He suggested that perhaps much of the explicit stress in today's families comes as a result of a focus on materialism. "We understand when a couple has to work, but we also believe two parents may be working because they want material things - a new car, a new house and gadgets.

"This sends a message to the child that gadgets are more important than people," he said. "It may now be more necessary to work than in the past, but the [researchT literature doesn't support that."

Families, he said, will continue to have discomfort until something is done about their emphasis on materialism.

To reduce stress, families should develop strong relationships of trust, said Brother Pearson. These relationships are built as memories are developed - the internalizing, or storing in memory, of positive experiences.

"We are too busy doing things that we don't have time to get to know each other better," he observed. "The way to treat this is to: 1. Do things together. 2. Internalize these things by remembering them, and 3. Hug and touch each other. We need closeness, but be sensitive in who you hug so you don't invade their privacy."

Families should have fun together, he said. "You don't have to go to Disneyland to have fun." He said family "silly play" and wrestling among siblings can be healthy ways to express affection. "Try `imagineering' for new ways to have fun and develop new ways to release tension," he suggested.

To help parents relax, he recommended finding a quiet place with soft lighting and then to visualize pleasant memories.

He encouraged an increase of showing affection between family members as well. Affection is shown: 1. Through words. 2. Though doing nice things. 3. Through appropriate touching. "If we can learn to express affection in all three ways, we can communicate and get back to basics. People need be loved. . . and they need something to nurture, love and to empathize with."

Living, Losing, Grieving

In her seminar on dealing with grief, Karen O. Johnson observed, "We are a loss-denying society."

"Loss [such as the death of a loved oneT is a totally new experience and there are no rules," she said. "Some say that there are stages of grief, but it doesn't always work that way. No one ever told us because no one can."

Holding a large bag in an object lesson, she demonstrated how people stuff their hurts deep inside to avoid feeling them. "As we get older, boy, does the bag get heavier!" she said. "You have to carry it or you have to deal with it."

She suggested that there are many ways for an individual to successfully deal with grief. Among the ways are:

Talk about it to a friend who can listen. "If you are fortunate enough to have someone bare his or her soul, be the best listener in the world. Bite your cheek if you have to, but listen." She said offering advice, trying too hard to understand, or asking them to "call me if you need anything" are all messages that say to a grieving person: "I don't want to talk about feelings."

Find a way to express grief. "Not everybody can talk," she said. Some might scream in the shower.

Write in your journal. "Some people can write when they are hurting."

"You can't work around the pain. You have to go right through it. If you ignore it, it will come back." She said that people have to learn that some losses in earthly life are permanent and have to be accepted.

She urged the young people who filled the room to take time to have fun. "The inner child in me is all that keeps me from being a boring adult," she explained. "There is a myth that if we go, go, go, we will find happiness. But until we find happiness inside, we will not find it.

"On most days, life is a tangle. If you can just hang on, the tangles will get better."

How to Write Your Own Owners Manual

BYU Outreach Youth conference coordinator John G Bytheway drew an analogy between the ordeals of adolescence and an overnight backpacking hike he took as a youth.

"We cannot change the trail," he concluded, "but we can make the hike easier if we change what is in our [emotionalT pack. If you want to load yourself down, you are going to have a tough hike."

Young people must learn patience because no matter what experiences they have in junior high and high school, life can radically change, he said. "Your high school experience is not a forecast of your life; life gets better.

"Some times you lose over and over again, but don't put that in your pack. You are going to get dumped by your boyfriend or girlfriend, but don't throw that in your pack."

He said young people need to make decisions, such as, "I am not going to follow the crowd. I am going to write my own owners manual." He added, "We are going to figure out what we really want out of life and then we are going to make the correct decisions to get there."

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed