A Q&A with Will Straughan '92 of FCD

Will Straughan ’92 is a prevention specialist with Freedom from Chemical Dependency (FCD), a unit of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the largest provider of substance use education to independent schools. Will visits Woodberry Forest twice a year for meetings with students and faculty. The boys relate really well to Will and see him as a valuable resource as they seek to make healthy choices. Will’s week-long stays on campus are part of Woodberry’s larger health and wholeness programs. Will sat down for a Q&A with Jacob Geiger, Woodberry’s director of strategic communications, on Tuesday after meeting with the faculty.

How do you frame substance use issues for boys and for their parents?

Substance use is first and foremost a health issue. We know there are risk factors for addition, including family history, age of first use, cravings, tolerance levels, and a person’s surroundings. Families should talk about health issues and family history. If there’s a history of addiction in your family, talk with your son about it, just as you’d talk about a family history of high cholesterol.

What’s your advice to parents who are uncomfortable discussing topics like vaping, alcohol use, or drug use with their son?

These conversations aren’t always easy or comfortable, but having them is the key. That’s why Woodberry has these conversations in an ongoing manner, both when I’m on campus and through people like a boy’s advisor, his teachers, and his coaches.

Parental conversations matter, too. It’s OK for these to be a series of short conversations, and in fact that’s probably better a long, one-time discussion about these issues. Having these conversations in a setting where your son is comfortable can really help; maybe that’s even on a car ride between home and Woodberry.

When boys are at Woodberry, their parents don’t see them every day. What are ways parents can help their sons make good choices?

Stress is a major reason boys give for using substances. Ask your son how you can help him manage his stress. Final exams are coming up in a month. Let your son know you’re proud of his hard work this school year, the work he’ll be doing on his exams, and the healthy choices he is making.

Any advice on how to help boys keep making good choices when they return home for the summer?

Summer is often a time of less structure for boys, and it can be easier to use substances when structure evaporates or when boys are bored. Think through how you can help your son build in some rhythm and structure to his days this summer, whether that’s a summer job, participation in camps or activities, or helping out around the house.

Woodberry’s Dean of Students’ Office and Health Services Team are always happy to discuss these issues with parents. You can email Dean of Students Joe Coleman, Director of Residential Life Ryan Alexander, Director of Health Services Tammy Firman, or school psychologist Christal Boesen if you ever have a concern about your son or another boy.

FCD also offers some great resources for parents on its website.
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