Red Ribbon Week for Elementary School Kids Is Completely Pointless

It’s been Red Ribbon Week at my daughter’s school, and I don’t think I have ever seen a bigger waste of my time and attention than this ridiculous nonsense.

Red Ribbon Week is supposed to be an annual observation of the dangers of drugs, and as a person who can still sing the D.A.R.E. song as an adult, I can get behind that. Substance abuse is a thing that I richly have on both sides of my family, and anything that might help head off that possible future for my child is a plus in my book. In theory, this is a great thing. In practice, holy mother of God, what is this mess?

At my daughter’s school they send home a piece of paper with a different theme for each day. Monday was “crazy socks,” Tuesday was wearing a shirt for your favorite sports team. Friday was “smart apparel,” which is apparently some sort of newspeak way of saying dress like a nerd, and which kind of annoys me because my daughter already wears glasses and I feel they’re making fun of her.

But whatever, all in the name of a good cause, right? As long as they’re getting some sort of drug awareness, we can play dress-up. Problem is, they’re not getting any awareness.

Walking home from school with my kid, I asked her if she knew what drugs were. Her answer: “a fancy version of smoking." Now, that’s not entirely inaccurate, but it’s also not a terribly helpful definition, and I would expect a better answer from a child supposedly in the middle of an “awareness” campaign.

Further quizzing her, I found there wasn’t really any programming to accompany the parade of themed outfits that made up this campaign. There was no discussion of, say, addiction. No visit from Officer Friendly. Nothing.

More important, there was no description of what drugs actually are. There are posters everywhere encouraging kids to be drug-free, but no definition of what that means. I get that there may be reticence to tell seven-year-olds the minutiae of heroin use or about the prescription pill epidemic among the rural folks, but if you’re going to dodge that, then at what point is awareness actually being raised? It’s like me starting a campaign to raise awareness about snakes without ever showing you a picture of one.

As Melissa Radke put it in her viral rant on the subject, all this campaign seems to do is give parents an additional errand to the store in order to make sure their kids have something tie-dyed to wear on a Thursday or something. There’s not a pamphlet on the types of drugs, or signs of addicted behavior in a family member, or anything remotely useful.

You may be saying to yourself, “Well, it’s your job to educate your kid about drugs, not the school's,” and I absolutely agree with that. Thus far the primary discussion we’ve had with her has been not to take pills she may find around the house. She doesn’t have any of her own money, so it’s not like I have to worry about someone selling her meth over the recess fence or anything yet. Contrary to what they told me as a child, no one is handing out drugs for free to children. Not in this economy.

That said, if the purpose of all this was to get me to speed up the discussion on drugs with my child, then just say that. Don’t tell me she needs a hat on Wednesday and that this is somehow helping her avoid becoming a junkie because it is not. You’d be better off just sending parents a guide to talking with kids about the subject, or a list of web resources, or literally anything else besides instructions regarding what socks best support a drug-free America.

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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner