Written by David Partington.
You can download the PDF of this resource here.
I believe the stage is set for the western world to lose a generation to drugs, if parents don't take their responsibilities seriously. But what exactly can we do?
I am convinced that parent power has got to dictate the agenda at home, schools and in society in general. Why? Because the question is not if your child is going to be offered drugs but when!
Prevention must become the single most important word in our vocabulary when it comes to drugs and young people. Preparing our children to say Yes to a drug free lifestyle, and No to drugs, is of paramount importance.
It is never too early to start talking about how they can say NO! The reason is simple: the age at which school children are coming into contact with drugs is getting younger all the time. In one Oxford newspaper a policeman was reported as saying, ‘I recently spoke to an eight year old who told me how he had watched his ten year old friends smoking cannabis. He obviously knew what the stuff was, how much it cost, and even where to get it.’ 1
Then there was the mum who, following a crisis, sat down to talk with her children, a boy of ten and a girl of eight. She told how they talked about drugs with a matter-of-fact knowledge that was startling. They spoke about how there was a small group in their junior school who regularly smoked cannabis, which they got from their elder brothers and sisters. They told how some do ‘trips’: ‘Oh you know, mummy, it's speed or ecstasy.’ They were vague about the source of these drugs, but explained that everybody in the playground knew who had them, and you could buy what you wanted with your pocket money. Most of their friends don't, they said, because it's too scary if the teachers or your parents find out; but some of their playmates regularly sniffed Tipp-Ex, butane lighter gas or even aerosols. 2
Pushers in the playground
Have you ever thought why so many secondary schools are expelling children? It is happening in so many places - Croydon, Bury, Newcastle, Manchester, Wanstead - but why? Because drugs are becoming part of the lives of those school children. A report in the Times communicated the facts:
‘In my school, mum, about 80% of the pupils are taking or have taken some sort of drug. It's hard not to. You can buy speed, hash and trips from other boys. People smoke speed, they don’t inject things because that's considered a bit serious. You always buy from people you know, otherwise you get skanked [conned] and find you've spent, say, £50 on half an ounce of hash, and they've given you less. Half an ounce can keep you going for a month, so you buy it to sell again and make extra money to go to the movies or a club or something. If people buy for themselves, they usually buy one-eighth of an ounce. Cocaine you can't get from school but people go to Brixton to get it, most people smoke it; they don't snort because your nose gets screwed up.’3 The report goes on to talk about a complex set of ‘rules’ which govern who takes what, how, and when. Sixteen year olds are too sophisticated to bother with solvents; that's for kids. They work hard at covering up for one another even if someone they don't like is stoned and acting stupid. They play up themselves, to confuse the teacher.
No village is untouched. Drugs are available for those who want to find them, in every village, town and city in the western world. Sit down by all means and be comforted by the words ‘for those who want to find them’; but remember that there are smart young people who want to find your child and persuade them that drugs are fun!
Prevention - parent power in action.
Prevention is all about giving our children the security and the facts about drugs which will lead them to make the decision to say NO to drugs or alcohol abuse, and YES to a healthy lifestyle.
Young people themselves have some clear ideas about prevention. One group of 16-18 year old girls had some interesting comments after a prevention talk:
· ‘Speaking plainly, telling the truth and being honest was really helpful.’
· ‘A more personal emphasis rather than factual information really helped me.’
· ‘A more open and less alarmist attitude makes a real difference to my response.’
· ‘You understand the vulnerability of teenage years.’
· ‘Talk some more about peer pressure – please.’
· ‘You weren't patronising.’
· ‘You didn't treat us like over-protected children.’
This group of bright, intelligent young ladies communicated what they and their peers want to hear when it comes to the prevention message. They want to hear all the facts, communicated with realism and respect for them as unique individuals. On another occasion a young man came up to me after a drug education seminar and said, ‘Hearing all the facts about drugs is going to make it easier to make the right decisions’.
So if young people do want to hear the right messages, what are the prevention measures you can take in your home and family environment to minimise the chances, as much as possible, of your children abusing alcohol and drugs?
Prevention - build their self esteem
More than 15 years of involvement with addicts and alcoholics has taught me one fundamental lesson about who is more likely to go down that route. Basically it's a person without any real self-esteem; someone without any significant level of self-worth about themselves. It’s someone who was never really been loved and cherished as a unique and special individual. It follows that preventing your child from being controlled by drugs or alcohol is not about talking, it’s about doing. It’s primarily about building self-esteem and self-worth. How do you do it?
· Let them know you love them - demonstrate it, physically as well as verbally. Don't just tell them, give them a cuddle.
· Respect them and treat them as unique individuals - for who they are rather than what they can achieve.
· Respect their opinions by listening and agreeing where appropriate.
· Show you are interested by spending quality time with them, doing what they want to do as well as what you want to do.
· Reward the positive things they do, and especially tell them how much you appreciate their effort.
· Use words carefully, remember how negative words can hurt you.
· Help them to see that their asking for advice and help is something that brings YOU pleasure.
· Communicate with them regularly.
· Remember this quote: ‘I want to be loved and accepted totally apart from what I do. The fear of having to perform to be accepted dominates the thought life of most teenagers. All of us are driven to be accepted and loved. When we discover an unconditional love and acceptance with our parents, we are set free from trying to earn a dominating, emotionally draining performance - based love.’(Josh McDowell.) 2
Prevention - practice what you preach.
There is no point in telling your children that they need to avoid drugs and drinking too much if we do not maintain consistent standards ourselves:
· Communicate your views about drink and drugs. This means telling them how you control your drinking, and why you won't drink and drive. It means telling them why you don't take illegal drugs (or why you do!) and why you do or don't smoke. You also have to be open about why you take regular medication.
· As regards alcohol use in the home, I would suggest you talk through with them your reasons for having drink permanently in the house (or not), and whether you personally will allow them to drink alcohol.
· Discuss with them what principles they should adopt about consuming alcohol away from home.
· Proprietary medicines are invariably helpful, but what message do we send to children if we give them a tablet as soon as they ask for one? If they have a headache maybe it would be better initially to tell them to lay down for half an hour. Then, if it doesn't go away, try half the advised dose to begin with.
· Show a positive attitude to your health as well as theirs.
Prevention - be aware of the issues
Get the facts about drugs - without being manic! But don't throw your new found knowledge around too readily, you could end up looking foolish! Having said this it’s important to:
· Educate yourself about drugs by reading the other appropriate parts of this resource.
· If you talk to your children about drugs be honest and realistic about all the effects, including the pleasant impact they might have.
· Take the opportunity to talk with them about their views on drugs, from the programmes, articles, reports they may have seen or read.
· Quietly and graciously state alternative, realistic perspectives. But do not bully them! It is important, for instance, to say that whilst alcohol adverts powerfully communicate the ‘benefits’, there is a down side - hangovers, being drunk in front of ones friends, liver disease, etc.
· Don't patronize them, and do not get angry if they refuse to see your point of view.
Prevention - help them work out how they can say ‘No!’
‘Help them’ are the key words here. Telling them they must say no is to ignore the pressure they are under in so many areas. It will also help if you preface any discussion by communicating that you are only too aware how difficult adolescence is for them, and you want to understand them better. Having done this:
· Ask how they will say ‘No’ when they are offered a cigarette. You can talk about how they will say ‘No’ to other drugs like alcohol, or cannabis later.
· Ask them how they cope with pressure from their friends on the subject of clothes, sex, etc. How are they going to say ‘No’ if they are offered drugs by their friends, if they can't cope with peer pressure over other things?
· Remind them that whilst 20% of some groups do say ‘Yes’ to drugs, 80% say ‘No.’
· Very gently tell them that the majority of addicts were first introduced to drugs by their friends.
Prevention - try to be friends with their friends!
Since most people are introduced to drugs by their friends this is an important area to consider. It’s a risky area, but it simply means being open and friendly to your son or daughter's friends. It is also vital because, during adolescence, peer pressure is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. In order to make things easier for your child and their friends:
· Make sure they know they can invite their friends home.
· If their friends do come home with them make sure they are welcome - even if you don't agree with their haircut, clothes etc.
· Try to make contact with their friends' parents - always useful if there is a need to discuss issues like ‘sleepovers’ and other party events.
· Never, ever criticize them in front of their friends.
· If you have a problem with one of their friends, don't criticize them until you have asked something like ‘Why does he do that sort of thing?’.
Prevention - get involved with their school work and their school.
In a major survey which asked addicts and their families why they started taking drugs, one classic conclusions was that over 75% of drug abusers were pressured by their parents to achieve good results.4 They felt that their parents’ love was conditional upon them achieving the right results! With this in mind it is important to remember to:
· Show that you are interested in their school work generally, and not just the marks or results they achieve.
· Support the school by your involvement in activities.
· Treat what the school says about your child and his/her abilities with caution, especially if it doesn't fit in with your perception. Assume your child is innocent until proven guilty.
· Get to know your child's teachers.
Prevention - check out the school’s prevention education and its policy on drug takers.
Most schools are developing their drug prevention education following government guide lines. Check it out to ensure that the lessons your child receives are balanced. It is vitally important these days that they receive all the facts. Some drug educators in the past have actually told young people that ‘Drug taking is only a phase you will go through’, the implication being that (a) you will use drugs and (b) when it happens you will come out the other end OK! It is also vital to ensure that both sides of the arguments on legalisation are given equal weight by the school, otherwise your child may well assume that drugs and especially cannabis, are harmless.
You also need to check out how your child's school treats people who are found to be using or pushing drugs. In these days of competition, the vast majority of schools react only one way: any involvement with drugs is met with expulsion. The problem is that this results in pushing the issue ‘under the carpet’, rather than using the circumstances as an opportunity to give a child (maybe your child) some valuable support and counselling!
All of this only reinforces the point that, when it comes to drugs, nothing is easy, especially on the subject of prevention. Once again I want to emphasize that taking a caring, positive stance with and for your child is going to go a very, very long way towards convincing them that you love them enough to tackle any issues, including drugs, which may result in problems for them.
1 Oxford Times.
2 Sunday Times.
3 Sunday Times .
4 Lions Club International, Drug Awareness Programme.
This feature is written by David Partington. David is general secretary of ISAAC, the International Substance Abuse and Addiction Coalition, www.isaac-international.org.
© David Partington 2011.