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Times have changed, and so has the message behind D.A.R.E., the long-running program for elementary school students administered by law enforcement officers.

As the Clarion reported this week, while D.A.R.E. still stands for “drug abuse resistance education,” the acronym is now used to describe a different set of skills taught to students participants: “define, assess, respond, evaluate.”

The program now emphasizes life skills that students can apply to many different situations — not just the drugs and alcohol “just say no” message many of us remember from years ago.

“The whole goal is to educate them to resist using drugs,” Soldotna Police Officer Tobin Brennan told the Clarion. “But the way that they do that is not through scare tactics, but through life skills.”

We think providing young people with the tools to make good decisions about any situation, whether it is evaluating the consequences of risky behavior, or simply looking for help with a book report, is a valuable component to any education.

Quite frankly, having the skills to deal with stress, peer pressure, bullying and other of life’s many challenges is something we can all benefit from, regardless of our age.

We also hope that the conversation doesn’t end with the D.A.R.E. program graduation. Today’s youth — even in the small communities of the central Kenai Peninsula — face challenges we couldn’t even imagine 30 years ago, when “just say no” was enough. We encourage parents to continue to talk to their kids about risky behaviors. We know children benefit tremendously from having responsible adults in their lives, and as distant as a son or daughter may at times seem, we know parents are still their biggest influence.

So please, keep the conversation going. What’s age-appropriate to discuss with a fifth-grade D.A.R.E. participant will change and evolve as he or she gets older — just as the D.A.R.E. program has evolved — but we’re glad to see our young people equipped with the tools to do so. Let’s make sure they are able to keep putting those skills to use.

Editorial from Peninsula Clarion

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