How to Deal with Teen Drug Dealers: Methods for Teachers, Principals, Counselors, Juvenile Justice and Youth Workers


teacher classroom management blog


How to Deal with Teen Drug Dealers:

Methods for
Teachers, Principals, Counselors, Juvenile Justice and Youth Workers



Subscribers often send us great suggestions for topics for this magazine. Here is a suggestion from Laura, a school counselor and MSW in North Carolina, who works with some youngsters who are dealing drugs:

"I'm looking for tips and information on working with kids who are dealing, and happy with the money they make. Any information/suggestions would be helpful. Thanks for your service."

Laura, this is an easy topic for us. In our live behavior management workshops, we sometimes slide into nearly a half hour of creative strategies for this problem. While we can't fit the whole half hour of ideas into this email, we will have space for some of our best. By the way– and this is very important– most of these strategies work equally well for some other similar problem areas. For example, by changing a few words in each of the following interventions, you may be able to also use these strategies for students who steal, burglarize, and engage in other apparently lucrative, but illegal behavior.

juvenile justice workshopI'm Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. and I started my career in juvenile justice working with children and teens who were adjudicated drug dealers, rapists, thieves, murderers and extortionists. I don't have any magic answers for you, but I do have some of the very best answers that exist. Now, I can't promise these methods are going to be magic, but I can promise that these interventions are geared for the real world, and especially designed to work with extreme youngsters who have penetrated the juvenile justice system, are repeat offenders, or at risk of incarceration.

Since drug dealing is not a small, inconsequential problem area, but is quite serious, note that many of our strategies in this area are deliberately hard-hitting, dramatic, unusual or forceful. Use good judgment to evaluate whether a method is a good fit for you to use with your students in your setting.

juvenile justice guideAlso, make sure you are really knowledgeable about conduct disorders, a topic that we have frequently covered in this blog of educational articles on behavior management. You'll need to have razor-sharp skills with conduct disorders because many students who are successful dealers, may also be conduct disordered.

If you need to refresh your memory on this topic, or you need to learn more, our $15 All the Best Answers for the Worst Kid Problems: Anti-Social Youth and Conduct Disorders is the perfect guide, with hundreds of strategies. This essential guide to conduct disorders and other delinquent and at-risk youth is available as a book, audio book or instant printable ebook, and also as an online workshop.


Methods to
Turnaround Teen Drug Dealers
and Other Juvenile Offenders

Even though your students may claim to earn much money dealing, that probably is mostly wishful thinking. The typical full-time dealer earns $24,000 year, but be sure to tell your students that amount is before deducting for "guns, ammunition, lawyers and unpaid vacations…"

The next few strategies also address financial gain. (By the way, car thieves earn about $18,000; burglars and robbers net about $3,000 annually.)

Dealers can lose all the money they earn at any time. State laws also usually permit the seizure of more than any money earned illegally. Police can also seize any items that they believe may have been secured with the proceeds of crime. Further, federal law permits the government to seize items not even involved in a crime. For example, a teen only slept over at his grandma's house, but did not do any illegal activity there. In some situations, the feds may still seize Granny's home. Do your dealers know they can lose all they have and more?

juvenile justice postersStop drug dealing posterPosters that sit on your walls can continually gnaw and chip away at the dealer's mind set that dealing has few potential hazards. Here's two examples from our posters. At right is Poster #33 and it's perfect for schools, agencies and juvenile justice courts and centers.

Directly above at left is Poster #127, and it is also ideal for juvenile courts, detention centers and justice programs, along with youth-serving sites of all types.

You can use these ideas depicted on the posters. Simply memorize the concepts pictured on the posters, then use those ideas verbally.

Dealers may think that they are earning a lot of money, but compared to what they will earn if they simply finish high school, they are earning very little. If the energy instead went into graduating, the student stands to earn $329,000 more than a dropout. Best of all, when you finish high school and get a job, no one can seize that money and just take it away from you.

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Dealing works because it is illegal. If drugs were legalized, the dealer is "toast." "Won't happen," the dealer says. Help the dealer make a nice long list of all the things that people have said wouldn't happen. Top the list with "they will never legalize alcohol," which bootleggers once said. As of 2014, two states have de-criminalized marijuana. If I was typing in Amsterdam, I could type in a "coffee shop." That's the euphemism that they use there for a cafe where it is legal to use marijuana. Whenever we hold our workshops in Canada, we notice that marijuana is close to essentially legal in that country. Shouldn't your dealers know that their sole occupation could one day just vanish?

Ask your dealers to calculate how much they can earn each year. Next, ask the dealers to determine how many years they can deal before being locked up. Next, ask them to determine how many years they might be jailed.

Now that you have the data that you need, figure out the true cost of dealing. Typically, a dealer will say that he can earn about $25,000 for 3 years without being locked up, and would only be locked up for 2 years at most. Here's the math: That makes 3 years of dealing at $25,000/year. That's $75,000 total. The 3 years of dealing and the 2 years of jail total 5 years. Divide the $75,000 by the five years, and your dealer is earning a measly $15,000 per year– assuming that the police didn't seize it first.

If you use the intervention directly above, your dealers now understand that they are earning less than half of what the typical high school grad earns. Now, help your dealers realize they may put their life on the line for that small amount of money. To help them realize how little $15,000 is, have them make a budget of what adults need to survive. By the time you are done, your students should have come to realize that drug dealing is a drag, hardly a delight.

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About Ruth Herman Wells

Author/Trainer Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. is the director of Youth Change Professional Development Workshops. In 2011, Ruth was rated as a Top 10 U.S. K-12 educational and motivational speaker by Speakerwiki and Speakermix. She is the author of several book series, a columnist, adjunct professor for two universities, and a popular keynote speaker and workshop presenter. Ruth's dozens of books includes Temper and Tantrum Tamers and Turn On the Turned-Off Student.