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A narrative inquiry into parents' experiences with teens with substance use issues: Where are the schools in their stories?



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Responding to students who are experimenting with substance use is a complex challenge for schools and administrators. For parents of these children, deciding how to best serve their child’s needs can be an overwhelming and alien experience. I used narrative inquiry as the research framework for this work. This inquiry has interwoven stories of my personal experiences as a parent and educator with those of three other families who also have been challenged with this complicated and potentially fatal parental issue. In a narrative inquiry, narrative is both the method and the phenomenon under study (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). Recognizing that humans share their stories of experience, and embracing Dewey’s (1938) notion of experience as education, I sought the narratives of others as educative places for meaning and insight. Given that the parents’ stories are perceptual and subjective, each story speaks a personal truth and is heartbreaking. Together, our stories shed light on and raise questions about families’ needs for support for young people suffering from substance use and mental health issues. Where are the schools in these stories of parents who are struggling to guide and assist their children with this life-altering health and education issue? Conversations surrounding this research puzzle revealed that students’ substance use affects their education, health, their lives, and the lives of their families. Parents’ stories concentrated on their perceptions of relational connections and interactions of their children and themselves on the school landscape and within their broader communities. Society’s moralization of substance use issues and school cultures of zero tolerance, unyielding academic expectations, and limited programming set up barriers for families working through this critical health and education crisis. As schools and parents navigate the minefield of students’ substance use and mental health issues, these shared stories offer schools opportunities for positive change. Together, our stories emphasize the need for schools and communities to shift worldviews to become more inclusive and supportive of all students and their families. This inquiry highlights the urgency for school communities to recognize societal and systemic barriers and begins essential conversations about the challenges substance use presents for families, students, and educational administrators in our schools.



narrative inquiry, parent knowledge, school reform, parents, found communities, belonging, need to belong, substance use, chosen communities, stigma, de-stigmatization, social moralization, dislocation, self-stigmatization, inclusivity, adolescent mental health, reducing stigma, zero tolerance policies, hegemonic notions of family, inclusive school communities, mental health care in schools, student advocacy



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Curriculum Studies


Curriculum Studies


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