Red Ribbon Week is here, and New Providence is joining local schools this week in celebrating the annual event by displaying ribbons around the borough. The goal is to reaffirm a commitment to create a drug-free America and show intolerance of drug and alcohol abuse.
I know many parents who use Red Ribbon Week as an opportunity to reinforce the lessons taught to students to act in their own best interest when facing high-risk, low-gain choices and to resist peer pressure and other influences in making choices regarding alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.
This week, I'd like to share a story that I like to use when speaking to youngsters about making proper choices about alcohol, drugs and tobacco. This fable has many variations and is believed to have originated between the 12th and 13th century, though the exact origin is unknown. I have found that the tale provides an excellent segue into talking to children about the importance of making the right choices and trusting their judgment.
The Scorpion and the Frog
One day, a scorpion looked around at the mountain where he lived and decided that he wanted a change. So he set out on a journey through the forests and hills. He climbed over rocks and under vines and kept going until he reached a river.
The river was wide and swift, and the scorpion stopped to reconsider the situation. He couldn't see any way across. So he ran upriver and then checked downriver, all the while thinking that he might have to turn back.
Suddenly, he saw a frog sitting in the rushes by the bank of the stream on the other side of the river. He decided to ask the frog for help getting across the stream.
"Hellooo Mr. Frog!" called the scorpion across the water. "Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the river?"
"Well now, Mr. Scorpion! How do I know that if I try to help you, you won’t try to kill me?" asked the frog hesitantly.
"Because," the scorpion replied, "If I try to kill you, then I would die too, for you see I cannot swim!"
Now this seemed to make sense to the frog. But he asked, "What about when I get close to the bank? You could still try to kill me and get back to the shore!"
"This is true," agreed the scorpion, "But then I wouldn't be able to get to the other side of the river!"
"Alright then... how do I know you won’t just wait until we get to the other side and THEN kill me?" asked the frog.
"Ahh...," crooned the scorpion, "Because you see, once you've taken me to the other side of this river, I will be so grateful for your help, that it would hardly be fair to reward you with death, now would it?!"
So the frog agreed to take the scorpion across the river. He swam over to the bank and settled himself near the mud to pick up his passenger. The scorpion crawled onto the frog's back, his sharp claws prickling into the frog's soft hide, and the frog slid into the river. The muddy water swirled around them, but the frog stayed near the surface so the scorpion would not drown. He kicked strongly through the first half of the stream, his flippers paddling wildly against the current.
Halfway across the river, the frog suddenly felt a sharp sting in his back and, out of the corner of his eye, saw the scorpion remove his stinger from the frog's back. A deadening numbness began to creep into his limbs.
"You fool!" croaked the frog, "Now we shall both die! Why on earth did you do that?"
The scorpion shrugged, and did a little jig on the drowning frog's back.
"I could not help myself. It is my nature. Plus, you knew what I was when you picked me up!"
Then they both sank into the muddy waters of the swiftly flowing river.
After the story, I’ll ask the following questions:
“Should the frog have trusted the scorpion?”
“Why did the scorpion say, ‘You knew what I was when you picked me up?’”
“Why do you think the frog chose to pick up the scorpion even though he knew he was dangerous?”
I then ask, “Do people who decide to try cigarettes (abuse drugs, etc.) know they are dangerous?”
This leads to a discussion on why people try things like tobacco, drugs, and alcohol even though they are aware of the dangers. Some of the reasons I like to discuss are:
Peer pressure: friends encourage them to try tobacco, drugs, or alcohol.
Independence: they see smoking, drinking, or taking drugs as a way of rebelling or showing independence.
Curiosity: a desire to “see for themselves” what these substances are like.
Popular media: television, movies, and even advertising glorify drinking and smoking.
Boredom: teens often need something to keep themselves occupied and may turn to drinking or drugs.
Obviously, speaking to your son or daughter about tobacco, drugs and alcohol is a very important and a very personal matter. My goal is simply to share a strategy that has been useful to me. As Bruce Lee said, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not. Add uniquely what is your own.”