Red Ribbon Week

I hate red ribbon week at school.

Red ribbon week is the week at school where the kids have to wear something themed every day to school, theoretically to support the focus of not using drugs.  One day is favorite sports team day, one day is crazy socks day, one day is pajama day, or something like that.  The kids love it, and we do our best as parents in helping them play along with their peers.

But I hate it.

While well-intentioned, it’s upper middle class cultural assumptions isolating others either culturally or financially. 

That $18 team jersey for one kid cost $108 for all of mine, and that’s more than a grocery budget.  

That night parents ran out to buy new neon outfits for Tuesday was the same week the rest of us scrambled to come up with long sleeve uniform shirts before our children freeze. 

That time you found crazy socks on sale for $6, which means $36 for us, was the same time we had to come up with feeding tube supplies because the month has 31 days instead of 28. 

That day you thought was hectic trying to organize fancy outfits was the morning we were doing rescue breathing and chest compressions. 

The week you spent telling kids how bad drugs are was the week my kids got confused again about if their bio-parents are bad or not, the week my kids relive drug related traumas from the past that give them night terrors for a month, and the week their self-esteem plummets because of trying so hard to keep up with administrative measurements of cool while covering up personal experiences that are authentic and would be better dialogue from which others could learn.

I get that it’s all in fun, and maybe my mom fail is simply in being overwhelmed.

But I see the well to do kids in their school running up in fancy jerseys, and the rest of them stuck in school uniforms on free dress day.

It’s not just our family that struggles with it.

And it’s not just about finances – which are tight for us with six children with special needs – or culture, like our children being adopted into our home with no television or by us as writer parents who have no idea about sports teams.

And pajamas? Modesty is a big deal to our family, so sometimes it’s a little weird to send them to school in the clothes they wear to bed.  But even more than that, only upper middle class families even have pajamas.  Poor families don’t waste money on extra clothes just for sleeping, and some cultures don’t use them at all, either.

It’s also about philosophy and external things, that surely there is a way to celebrate individuality besides just which outfit to wear?  I am uncomfortable with teaching my children that the best way to say no to drugs is by wearing brand new clothes, or the cool socks, or the right team jersey.  It feels like that backfires somehow, creating the very social dynamics that set up addiction cycles.

What if red ribbon week reflected internal traits instead?

Dress up as your favorite book character day!

Bring your talent to school day!

Learn a new instrument day!

Spell a big word day!

Random act of kindness day!

I feel like red ribbon week commercializes social exclusion and class oppression in the same way high school cliques make some drugs cooler than other drugs, rather than developing the inner resilience and unique personalities of each of my children to help them grow in the kind of character strength it takes to actually resist peer pressure and say no to drugs.

Maybe instead of crazy sock day, my family needs Be Proud of Your Leg Braces Day.

Or maybe instead of team jersey day, my family needs I Have Autism But Can Be a Part of Your Team Day.

Maybe instead of neon clothes day, my family needs I Am Deaf So Flash the Lights When You Want the Attention of My Class Day.

I know not every family has so many kids, and many families have more resources, and not everyone has a baby on palliative care.

And I’m not saying it’s bad to be cool.

Because our family is very cool.

But I am saying that I think there are more layers than we realize, and I think the kids know it.

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Red Ribbon Week — 3 Comments

  1. Your alternative suggestions are nothing short of brilliant! Also, I never considered this perspective and how the school drug talks would effect children who had actual experience with that. It would be so much more powerful to learn from true experiences than to just hear “Drugs are Bad” – which is what I got out of it, when I was a child. I’d like to send a copy of your blog to our school principle. (though last year, they did have “Dress up as your favorite Character day”, which my son loved)