Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Parties and parenting: Start the year as you mean to go on, particularly you Year 9 parents!

It's not long now until school starts again. I'm sure many of you have had to deal with the party and gathering issue over the holidays but it will really fire up in the weeks ahead. As young people start to socialize in the school environment once again, discussions about what to do and where to go on the weekend, including which parties to attend will dominate schoolyard conversations for many. The invites will start rolling in and parents are going to have to make decisions about whether to let their son or daughter go to wherever on a Saturday night.

If you're one of those parents whose teen has been going to parties each and every weekend and you haven't been policing the situation properly, to be honest, there's very little you can do. It's not only extremely difficult to change your approach 'midstream', it's also unfair and I can guarantee that your son or daughter will let you know that. In the words of my mother, "You've made your bed, now you've got to lie in it!" You can't all of a sudden insist on calling parents hosting a party or tell your child that they can't sleepover at someone's house if you've never done that sort of thing before. You can try, but you'll have problems and life won't be easy at your house ... Of course, if they've done something wrong and you're punishing them, that's a different matter, but suddenly changing your rules around parties is just not going to work. The only time that you possibly have a chance to change the way you do things is when they're making the transition from Year 10 to Year 11 - the move into upper secondary and those looming final exams. This is about the only time you can try a 'reboot'!

As they begin their final years, it is possible to renegotiate rules (or at least your approach to the rules) if you come at it in the right way. Of course you want them to have time to socialize and relax with their friends but partying every weekend, particularly if alcohol is involved, is not going to be helpful if they want to achieve their very best. Having a discussion about your expectations, the rules around parties and gatherings and the final years of high school can be really useful at this time.

But the parents that have the most to gain from getting it right now are those parents of Year 9s (sometimes Year 8s if the child is more socially developed or even Year 10s if they're a little less mature). I've talked about the Year 9 cohort many times, particularly around parenting and parties, but this is a great time to remind any parents going through this stage about some of the key issues they are about to face. This is the year that you start to hear about the party culture building (with a small but influential group starting to drink, some to excess) with some Year 9 girls being asked out by boys a couple of years older than them and subsequently finding themselves invited to Year 10 and 11 events. It's also when you begin to see students bringing cannabis to school and then being either suspended, 'moved on' or expelled. Year 9 certainly appears to be a very difficult time for many families, with parents often confused as to why this is happening.

This is the year they usually turn 14 and enter the time of their life often referred to as 'middle adolescence' - the time when the search for identity becomes a central concern. They start to pull away from their parents and their peer group becomes far more important. They're maturing and growing up, many are physically changing and are beginning to look much older, particularly the girls, and parents find themselves in a really difficult place. On the one hand they want to give their child the opportunity to create their own identity and establish where they fit in the world and start to make more decisions for themselves, but on the other, they want to keep them as safe as possible during this potentially very dangerous time and that involves maintaining rules and boundaries.

This is where these parents get into trouble - they can see that their child is growing up and believe that they need to let them start to make their own decisions and trust them 'to do the right thing'. Year 9 is the year of the 'sleepover', as well as the 'party' or 'gathering', and instead of making the call to parents hosting these events and dropping their teen off at the home and then picking them up, they begin to get increasing pressure (from their child but also friends and family members as well) to loosen the rules a little and let their child fly a little more. They've got to be trusted at some point but really, is Year 9 the time to do it, particularly when it comes to sleepovers and parties? Far from it - this is the time when if you see their wings sprouting, you should be getting a great big pair of garden shears and clipping them off as quickly as possible!

So to all you parents who are just about to begin that rollercoaster year, whatever age your teen may be (depending on their maturity level) - but I'll say it again, it's usually those dastardly Year 9s - here are just a few tips around the issue of sleepovers and parties:
  • Don't be bullied into making a decision about whether they can attend or not. Gather the information you need to make an informed decision and if they tell you they need an answer now - the answer is 'no'. Take your time and get it right. If both parents are on the scene, make it clear right from the very start that both of you make decisions around sleepovers and parties. Adolescents are extremely clever at setting up one parent against the other and it is vital that they understand that there is a 'united front' on this issue. Make it clear to them by telling them – "Don’t come to me, don't go to them – come to us!"
  • Know where your child is and who they're with – at this age, they're likely to start lying to you about where they're planning on going. If you want to let it slide, that's up to you, but I can guarantee you'll never forgive yourself if something terrible happens. To make absolutely sure, always take them to where they're going and pick them up. Don't leave it up to someone else to do if you can possibly help it!
  • Always call the parents who are hosting the sleepover, party or gathering. Speak to them and find out some basic information about supervision and whether alcohol will be provided or tolerated. Your teen is not going to like this and they'll most probably tell you that you're ruining their life - but that's your job! If they tell you that they hate you - respond with "But I love you ..."
  • Create rules and consequences around sleepovers and parties and stick to them. The beginning of the school year is a great time to have a family discussion about the rules you have in this area. The consequences of breaking those rules should also be clearly laid out and agreed to by your child. They can't say they're unfair later if they've agreed to them. Most importantly, if you don't follow-through should a rule be broken, you may as well throw in the towel straight away - the first time you buckle and let something slip, you will lose your credibility and your rules will become totally ineffective.
  • If kids don't like the rules, then they're most probably perfect. But remember, reward good behaviour and modify the rules as they get older to make sure they're age appropriate.
  • If things start to get out of control, get help. Too often parents leave it too long to seek help should things be going wrong in this area. If your teen is climbing out of the window on a Saturday night and not coming home, that is not normal behaviour. You can always start with the school counsellor, or even your GP, but make sure you talk to someone and get professional advice if things start to get too difficult!
With teens of this age, it's also incredibly important to 'choose your battles'. You and your partner need to identify what your 'non-negotiables' are (i.e., those things you won't compromise on) and spell them out clearly to your teen. Fight with them about everything and your life will be very difficult. If you let the ones that really don't matter (i.e., they have nothing to do with personal safety and more to do with your personal disappointment, e.g., "You're not going out dressed like that!") slide once in a while you'll find yourself having a much easier time. Letting a Year 9 have a win occasionally can make family life so much more pleasant. If your 14-year-old wants to sleepover at someone's house or go to a party and you don't think that it will be safe, however, this is where you do stick to your guns and the rules and boundaries do come into play.

And remember, it's not all about saying 'no' to everything. If you want a warm and positive relationship with your teen always look for opportunities to allow your child to do something. If it looks safe and you feel comfortable - say 'yes'! Wrapping them up in cotton wool and saying 'no' all the time is not healthy. But when you have made the decision that you're not going to give your permission, say 'no', make it clear why you're saying it and don't back down!

Thursday, 5 January 2017

With media promoting drinking as the 'norm', how can parents help their teen develop healthy attitudes towards alcohol, including regarding 'non-drinking' as a valid option?

Last night I was watching the TV news and during a story about the current Test match the cameras suddenly turned their focus onto none-other than our ex-Prime Minister, Bob Hawke. I didn't catch why we had turned our attention away from the game but a moment later we flashed back to the older statesman while he successfully skolled a beer in celebration of our success on the field. The commentators obviously loved it, thoroughly enjoying his drinking skills laughing and saying "He's still got the capability – good on him!" The SMH continued the same line this morning writing "to the delight of the crowd, the 87-year-old pulled out his party trick, downing a frothie with aplomb … Hawke was then shown on the SCG's big screen fulfilling expectations, to the cheers of an adoring crowd." (By the way, the screen is sponsored by Victoria Bitter beer!) News.com had the headline - "Hawke knocks back a frothie" and Sporting News wrote "Bob Hawke necks a beer at the cricket"...

Now I have no problem with anyone, whether it be Bob Hawke, The Queen or Humphrey B Bear, enjoying a drink and even skolling a beer if they wish while they're watching sport, socialising with friends or whatever. It's a legal activity and it's not my business what anyone does in that area as long as it doesn't affect me or anyone else that I care about. That said, did Channel 9 really need to turn a camera onto an 87-year-old man and show him skolling a drink and then actively celebrate it, not once, but over and over again? Not surprisingly, the SMH story took it even further, grabbing the opportunity to let us all know (once again) that our one-time PM once set a world speed drinking record …

"The former PM was re-enacting his feat from the 2012 SCG Test against India ... Without hesitation, the then-82-year-old downed the beer in one go in front of an ecstatic crowd - taking about 11 seconds to finish the drink. That is the same amount of time he is said to have taken to drink 2½ pints of beer when he set a world speed drinking record during his time as a student at University College, Oxford in 1955."

As I said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with what our ex-PM did – he looked like he was having a great time and good on him! What I have the issue with is that we don't need to see it. It was a cricket match – show the cricket! So many young people watch the sport – what message are they getting from this sort of coverage? Most of them would have no clue who Hawke was – all they would be picking up from what they were seeing is a very clear message that alcohol and sport go together and that if you can drink it quickly it will be celebrated. Skolling a beer or any form of alcohol is seen, at the very least, as funny (the commentators thought it was hilarious), and, if you're lucky, you may even get a standing ovation for your efforts!

Australia has a unique relationship with alcohol. It plays a major role in many people's lives when it comes to socialising and is not only regarded as 'socially acceptable' but 'socially expected', i.e., if you don't drink, there must be something wrong with you. We drink alcohol to celebrate, to commiserate, to relax, to have fun, in fact, it is central to almost any social gathering or event held in this country. It is interesting, therefore, that even within such a culture, we have a growing number of adolescents choosing not to drink. Not just drinking less (and the numbers there are increasing as well), but actually not drinking at all. Unfortunately, however, alcohol use is perceived as the norm and it is vital that we start to support those who choose not to drink and promote 'non-drinking' as a valid and socially acceptable choice.

It is difficult to be an adult non-drinker in this country, with few, if any, social gatherings or events where the presence of alcohol is not front and centre. Most adults who choose not to drink, for whatever reason, will tell you that they find it incredibly annoying that most people assume that everyone drinks, and if you don't there must be something wrong with you. Constantly explaining and often defending the reasoning behind your decision can get tiresome at best. If adults feel that great social pressure, how difficult must it be for a 15-16-year-old adolescent who is struggling with working out where they fit in the world?

So how can we support our young people when they are constantly bombarded by messages (like the ones that we saw celebrated at the cricket yesterday) that suggest the only way to 'have a good time', particularly in a sporting context or at a special event, is to drink? One simple way is to challenge existing stereotypes around alcohol, with families able to play an important role if they set their mind to it. Unfortunately, many parents believe that they can do little to influence their child’s drinking behaviour. This is not true. Parents can make a real difference and promote positive attitudes around alcohol, including seeing non-drinking as a valid and socially acceptable option, by doing the following:
  • acknowledge all types of drinking – 'risky', 'moderate' and 'non-drinking'. There are basically three options when it comes to alcohol. You can choose to drink to excess, drink responsibly or you can choose not to drink at all. All are valid choices (with varying degrees of risk) and all should be acknowledged. Assuming that every young person will drink alcohol at some point or another is simply not true and can make your child feel something is wrong with them or their choice if that is the path they want to follow
  • if you know a 'non-drinker' – talk about them! If you or your partner doesn't drink alcohol – talk about your decision. Don't jam it down their throat - but if the topic arises, grab the opportunity. If alcohol is a part of your life, a non-drinking relative or family friend can be 'wheeled out’ occasionally to talk about their decisions around drinking with your teens. Your child needs to be aware that adults can have a good time without alcohol and that if they choose not to drink they will not be a 'social outcast'.
  • discuss reasons people choose not to drink – we know most drink to socialize, why do people choose not to? This is an important conversation to have with a child, acknowledging different religious and cultural differences, that some people experience great problems with alcohol possibly due to their family history, while others simply don't like the taste or just aren't interested and that's okay!
  • promote positive norms – 'flip the figures' and talk about how many people don't drink to excess and that the majority of teens are not doing these things, e.g., most 15-year-olds classify themselves as non-drinkers and the number is growing.
  • challenge misconceptions and avoid generalizations – all too often parents make huge statements like "everyone drinks" or "they'll all drink at some time or another". Actually, not everyone drinks, they won't all do it and most teens don't take part in some of the riskier alcohol-related behaviour often reported in the media!
  • be a positive role-model – a child learns so much about alcohol from watching you and your drinking behaviour, not only during their teen years but from the very early years. If you have a brown paper bag with a couple of bottles in it under your arm every time you're out with friends, you are sending a strong message to your kids about the role alcohol plays in socializing. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just important that you talk about it.

So what can you so to be a good role-model? Here are some simple things that parents can do that can make a positive impact on your teen's attitudes around alcohol and socializing:
  • talk about your alcohol use – how do you try to drink safely?
  • try to limit your alcohol use in front of your children
  • organise events with families and friends that don't involve alcohol
  • provide food and non-alcoholic beverages if making alcohol available to guests
  • don't portray alcohol as a good way to deal with stress, e.g., "I've had a bad day, I need a drink!"
  • sometimes decline the offer of alcohol

I'm certainly not about promoting abstinence when it comes to alcohol – it's a legal product and, as I've already said, if you want to drink and you're not hurting anyone else, go for it! It's important to acknowledge that we live in a society where alcohol is used widely, with the majority of Australians drinking reasonably responsibly. Most adults actively support, both by their actions and by what they say, those teens who choose not to use illicit drugs, however, the same cannot always be said when it comes to alcohol. If teens choose not to drink alcohol they need to be supported in that choice and the best way to do that is to make it very clear that choosing not to drink is socially acceptable and those who don't drink do not have three heads and are, in fact, completely normal!

I'll say one more time – I am not criticising Bob Hawke for having a drink or even skolling it – that's his business. But when are we going to get to the point when the media realizes that their constant 'promotion' of the link between alcohol and sport (e.g., any Melbourne Cup coverage, or winners of almost any sporting event are shown popping open a champagne bottle) and any special event (I can almost guarantee that any news coverage of Australia Day will involve at least a few cans and bottles and a couple of people looking a bit worse for wear!) is not helpful? Most importantly, they don't need to show alcohol in these stories. It's simply not necessary. There's so much more they could include in a 90-second spot on the news about any sporting event (like the actual sport perhaps?) and do we really need to see a pile of drunk Aussies with tinnies in their hands in a piece highlighting our national day? (The image of a surfer paddling at Bondi balancing a can of VB with an Australian flag in it on his board played over the final credits of the Channel 9 News on Australia Day a couple of years ago still baffles me. There must have been so many other wonderful shots that could have been used - why that one? Is there any other country in the world where their flag is used to promote alcohol to such an extent?)

Challenging the messages our kids are bombarded with around alcohol by the media is not going to be easy. It's not about being a 'wowser' and demonising alcohol and those who choose to drink - it's about redressing the current imbalance and acknowledging that it's okay if you don't.  Parents can make a difference in this area if they put their mind to it. At the very least, it's worth a shot, particularly for those kids who don't want to drink and constantly feel like something is wrong with them because they don't fit in with what they see as the 'social norm'! 

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Holidays, teenage parties and music festivals: Simple things parents can do to keep their child as safe as possible

None of what I'm going to talk about today is new - I've raised almost all of these issues many times before - but leading into the holidays it is important for parents to remember that this is a dangerous time. Every year we lose a number of our young people around the Christmas/New Year break due to alcohol and other drugs and almost all of them are completely preventable. We see a spike in alcohol-related drownings and alcohol poisonings, young people dying in car crashes where alcohol is involved increases and, of course, there is the inevitable rise in drug overdoses and, in some cases, deaths, increasingly linked to the use of ecstasy and other illicits at music festivals. It's hard to forget that we had six ecstasy-related deaths at music festivals over last year's holiday period ...

Our teens have just finished the school year and are keen to party, the weather is perfect and there is an expectation in this country that whatever we do, we need to do it in a big way! In addition, parents are tired ... they want a break as well, a break from constantly battling with their teen around maintaining rules and boundaries and a break from having to say 'no' all the time. I get it - it's exhausting and we certainly want our kids to have a good time but it is important that parents stay vigilant over this period and keep 'parenting'. No-one is saying that you should lock your child in their room over the Christmas break but it is a risky time and we all want to keep our kids as safe as possible.

There are three issues to consider here and no matter what age your child is, you're going to be facing at least one of these. If they're in their mid to late teens, you've got real problems, because you're likely to have to worry about all three of them and if you have a Year 9 child that is about to move into Year 10 - well, I can almost guarantee you're going to have to do an awful lot of work on the first two!
  • knowing where they are during the day
  • teenage parties and gatherings
  • music festivals

During the year I highlighted three simple rules for parents around teenage parties and I have adjusted them slightly here to fit all the issues I have mentioned above. These are as follows:
  • if your child you 'can't' do something, that means you 'must'!
  • you make the decision how they get to where they want to go and how they get home and taking them and picking them up yourself is always the safest option
  • find out as much as you can about where they want to go and don't just rely on your child for the info!

Knowing where they are during the day
In reality this is going to be almost impossible to do at all times but it is vital that you and your partner put effort into finding out as much as you can about what they're planning to do each day, where they're going and who they will be with, particularly if you're not going to be around for whatever reason. Most importantly, you need to know when they'll be home. The reason I mentioned the Year 9 group as particularly problematic is that for some reason this is the age group that parents start to believe they should be giving their teen greater independence, particularly over the holidays, and the 'where', 'who' and 'when' questions stop being asked.

During the day it is entirely appropriate to allow your teen to use public transport to get to and from where they want to go - but remember, you make that decision, not them. When you can, offer to drop them off to where they're going and, as stated above, picking them up yourself is always the safest option. The holidays can also provide a great opportunity for you to meet their friends and their friends' families. Offering to drive a group of young people to the beach or to the movies allows you to find out more about what is going on in your child's life and strengthens your relationship.

Teenage parties and gatherings
Many teens will be invited to a number of parties and gatherings over the next couple of months and, due to them not being held during the school year, parents often let their guard down and some of the rules and boundaries in this area get forgotten. Once again, it's those pesky parents of Year 9s that tend to be the culprits in this area ... 
If you do decide to let your child attend a gathering that they have been invited to, there is no way that you can be prepared for all of the possible scenarios that may occur. It is vital however, that you realize that things can go wrong and do your best to outline some possible strategies that could keep your child and their friends safe should they find themselves in potentially dangerous situations, e.g., if something goes wrong, call 000. It is extremely important to have this discussion with your child and, most importantly, let them know that no matter what happens they can contact you and you will be there for them, no matter what.
Here are 5 simple tips for parents around parties and gatherings - they're certainly not always going to be easy to do, but when it comes to a teen's safety they are vital:
  • Know where your child is and who they're with – to make absolutely sure, do your very best to take them to where they're going and pick them up. It's not going to be possible every time, I get that, but don't always leave it up to someone else to do!
  • Always call the parents who are hosting the party or gathering. Your teen is not going to like this but this is most probably the most important thing you can do to ensure safety. Speak to the parents and find out some basic information about supervision and whether alcohol will be provided or tolerated. You can then make an informed decision about whether to let your child attend or not.
  • Review your rules around parties and gatherings. The holidays and particularly the new year is a great time to sit down with your teen and go through the rules that exist around parties and, if appropriate, reward good behaviour. If they've been following the rules and you're happy with the way things are going, adjust them, i.e., change the curfew, adjust the method of picking them up. Rules must be age-appropriate and fair - review them regularly.
  • Make the consequences of breaking the rules clear and stick to them - you can almost guarantee they will push the boundaries at this time of year but just because it's the holidays doesn't mean they can't be punished if the break the rules. Ensure they understand all rules are made because you love them and want them to be safe.
  • If kids don't like the rules, then they're most probably perfect.  Remember teens need something to 'push' against. It's not about making them too restrictive and stopping them doing fun things - every rules should be about keeping them safer - if that's not what they're about, change them!

Music festivals
These events have become far more mainstream over the past decade and we are seeing increasing numbers of much younger people attending (I go to some schools where up to a third of the Year 10s are going to festivals - amazing!). The majority of these are held over the summer break and due to the disturbing number of deaths that occurred last year you can guarantee that there will unprecedented media attention focussed on any event held in the coming months. Adding to that there have been growing calls for the introduction of 'pill testing' or 'drug checking' at music festivals and advocates have been working through the year trying to get government support for such an initiative. This will only add to the media interest.

I have said many times that I do not believe that music festivals are appropriate for the vast majority of 15-and 16-year-olds to attend. Of course, every teen is different and I have received some amazing emails from young people challenging me (usually extremely respectfully) on my comments in this area. These young people are passionate about the music and the culture around it and are obviously very mature and most probably completely able to cope (and likely to thrive) in the festival environment. Many others are not. There is a drug culture associated with music festivals and for some 15-and 16-year-olds that can be difficult to deal with and can be extremely confronting.

If parents do choose to allow their teen to attend music festivals (and at a certain age it's going to be difficult to stop them) here are just a few things that they should consider discussing with them:
  • Ensure you voice your concerns and set rules and boundaries around behaviour. If you are concerned about drug use, let them know and tell them why you are worried. Keep the lines of communication open and let them know at every opportunity that they can come to you and talk about anything at anytime. Even though you may not know much about these drugs, take the opportunity to learn about them with your child. Be as honest as you can when you talk about drugs and don't exaggerate the facts to scare them - warning them that if they try 'this or that' they could die is most probably not going to ring true to most young people. Certainly there are risks and there have been deaths linked to the use of ecstasy and related drugs, but they are not the norm and parents have to be careful in focusing on only the more extreme potential harms.
  • Discuss and formulate an emergency plan. For example, if they are out and have no way of getting home let them know that they can catch a taxi and you will pay. If they call you in the middle of the night that you won't lose it, but will help. This does not mean that you are supporting bad behaviour or condoning drug use but it does demonstrate that you will be there if thing go wrong in their lives.
  • Ensure they know what to do in an emergency. Basic first aid skills, as well as simple information such as how to call 000, may help save a life.  Reinforce to your child that in a drug-related emergency that the ambulance officers do not have to call the police, unless the person is refusing to seek treatment or there is the risk of injury to them. Make sure they have the 'Emergency+' app on their phone.
  • More than ever this year, young people going to festivals need to know the legal consequences of taking drugs such as ecstasy. There will be a huge police presence at these events over summer and policing strategies such as drug detection dogs and roadside drug testing have resulted in more people from the dance culture being prosecuted for drug offences. Let your child know how being caught for using drugs will affect the rest of their lives.
  • Make it very clear where you stand about the use of illegal drugs. As much as you may believe your views do not matter to your child, research shows that parental influence is still a major factor in the decisions many young people make.

So there we are, a whole pile of suggestions for parents around parenting over the summer break. I say it all the time, but it's so important to keep saying it, you guys have the most difficult job in the world! There is no rule book and you can only do the best you can do at the time ... when you make a mistake in the parenting area (and you most probably have and will continue to for the rest of your life) and something goes wrong, don't beat yourself up about it! Pick yourself up, learn from your mistake and move on and hopefully don't do it again!

This is a wonderful time of the year and, not surprisingly, many young people (and their parents) want to let their hair down and have a good time. Inevitably, in some cases, things do go wrong and the best way that parents can ensure that their child is as safe as possible is to actively 'parent' and remember the three 'golden rules' when it comes to parenting and alcohol and other drugs:
  • know where your child is
  • know who they're with, and
  • know when they'll be home

Have a great and very safe Christmas and New Year and thank you to everyone who has read my blog entries through 2016 - it really is appreciated!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Ensuring your child knows how to call an ambulance and that they have your support should they need to call: Not just a school's responsibility

If you've ever had to call 000, for whatever reason, I'm sure, like me, you found it quite a traumatic experience. You're not only trying to deal with an emergency situation, you also find yourself talking to an insanely calm voice on the other end of the line that keeps asking you questions when all you really want is the police, an ambulance or the fire brigade to show up as fast as humanly possible ... Don't get me wrong - emergency operators are amazing people who have to deal with life threatening situations every minute of every day, talking people through incredibly tough times, but boy it's not easy being the one who makes the call!

That is why I am constantly amazed at how many young people (and sometimes very young children) manage to do it so effectively. I believe one of the most important conversations any parent can have with their child (from a very early age and then regularly when they are in their teens) is ensuring that they know how to call an ambulance, what will happen when they do (i.e., what will they be asked and what information do they need?) and that they have your 100 per cent support should they ever need to make that lifesaving call.

Back in 2013 I wrote a blog entry after I received an email from a young woman who found herself in a situation where she had to make a 000 call, albeit after much resistance - some of you may remember the piece (which I have edited down below):

Last weekend one of my good friends ... decided to drink around 3 quarters of a bottle of vodka, eventually around the end of the night I was called over to come and look after him as he had thrown up ... he was foaming at the mouth and not responding to our attempts to keep him conscious. We had tried to reach his mother on his phone, however, his phone was locked and we could not get in, I told my friend that if his mother did not show up soon to call the ambulance. We had to call the ambulance eventually and I was very proud of my friend to have the courage to do it as many people, including parents at the party, were saying that he would be fine and that we didn’t need to be so dramatic. When we were on the phone to 000 we turned my friend (the boy who had been foaming at the mouth) onto his side into the recovery position and waited for the ambulance to arrive. The doctors and nurses eventually told us that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.25 and that he was lucky to have friends like us that were brave enough to call because if he had gone home by himself he would have either, choked on his own vomit, or gotten alcohol poisoning.
As I said at the time - isn't it wonderful that the young woman had the 'guts and gumption' to make that judgement call and ring for an ambulance ... but really, how appalling is it that "many people, including the parents at the party, were saying that he would be fine and that ... (she) ... didn't need to be so dramatic"? The young man was foaming at the mouth, barely conscious and the parents at the party said to this young woman that she was being dramatic because she wanted to call an ambulance - what were they thinking?

As I always say to students during my presentations, 'follow your heart, if the situation doesn't feel right, it probably isn't! If you want to call for help, call!' It may sound corny and, yes, sometimes the 'follow your heart' line gets a laugh from some in the audience, but it's a powerful message and one I hope gets through to young people.

But it's all well and good me providing these messages and I hope that they do make a difference, and of course, if they're reinforced by the school and classroom teacher that's even better - but nothing (and I repeat, nothing!) is more effective than having a parent let their child know their own views about calling 000 and that they have their total support should they ever need to make that all important call that could save someone's life ... One simple conversation at the appropriate time could make all the difference.
Now I know some parents will say that this is the school's responsibility and that doesn't this get taught in health education classes? I'm pretty sure that this comes from the belief that they feel they don't know enough about it and teachers are better equipped to provide information about 000 and how to call an ambulance. Well, to be quite honest, if you don't know anything about this area it's most probably time to find out (I have written a DARTA fact sheet called 'Calling 000 for a medical emergency' - take a quick look at it if you feel you should know more) - you never know when you may need to call for help yourself!
Here's some simple advice on how to best deal with the topic and some of the key points to cover:
  • Download the 'Emergency +' app from the App Store and acquaint yourself with its key features. This is a fantastic tool that everyone who owns a smartphone should have - when opened it provides all the key emergency numbers (you don't even have to dial them - just push them on the screen) and most importantly, it activates your GPS and provides not only your latitude and longitude but also your street address (so useful for young people who find themselves in an emergency situation and have to provide an address - I can assure you that almost all teens never know where they are on a Saturday night!)
  • If your child has a smartphone, sit down as a family and ensure that everyone (and I mean everyone - all adults included) puts the app onto their phone - this provides a great opportunity to talk about 000 and its services and when everyone does it, it helps to emphasise the importance of the service. If they don't own a smartphone, make sure they see all family members are loading it onto their phone.
  • If they have a mobile - make sure 000 is listed in their address book under 'Emergency'. Once again, talk about 000 and its services.
  • Ensure that they know that 000 can be accessed even if the phone does not have any credit or the phone is locked, i.e., you can pick up anyone's mobile and call 000 even if it locked. Show them that when the keypad is locked the option for 'emergency call' is always there.
  • Talk through what will happen when they call regarding a medical emergency (read through the DARTA fact sheet for full details) but the most important points include who they will be talking to (an emergency operator and then the ambulance operator - many teens are completely unaware that they will be talking to two people) and what information they will be asked for (location, mobile number and what is the problem).
  • Make sure they know that it is not them (or you) that pays for an ambulance if they make the call - it is the person being transported! A real barrier to teens calling for help for a friend is that they are frightened there will received a bill for the ambulance.
  • If you have ambulance cover, make sure they know that - I am absolutely gobsmacked that parents don't tell their kids this. They need to know that if they have to be transported, for whatever reason, you have medical insurance. If you live in Queensland or Tasmania they should be told that their ambulance costs are covered - once again, I am so surprised that more teens don't know this in those states.
  • Most importantly, ensure that they know that they have your complete support should they ever have to call an ambulance. I would suggest the following - "If you need an ambulance, you call one straight away. I totally support you. Then you call me - straight afterwards". Making that call can be traumatic - many young people will need their parents' support after they have done it, particularly if they went out on their own and had to fight others to do so ...
Our kids are truly incredible - they constantly amaze me with the things they are able to do and the decisions they make. Of course, some are going to do stupid things and make mistakes, but on the whole I believe the vast majority really want and try to do the right thing for the most part. Calling an ambulance due to a medical emergency, particularly if it relates to someone they care about, is one of the most traumatic things an adult can do, let alone a teenager. It is vital that parents have a conversation with their child about this topic as early as they can and then keep reinforcing the message of support as often as possible - believe me, it never gets old!

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Who do teens believe is the 'weakest link'? Which of their parents is more likely to say 'yes'?

At my parent sessions, when I talk about how easily teens are able to identify the 'weakest link', as far parenting is concerned, there are usually one of two responses from the couples in the room. Either one of them turns and stares accusingly, whilst the other tries as hard as they can to keep looking forward hoping it will all end quickly, or you simply see a room full of grown men and women swinging around to each other pointing fingers furiously! Not surprisingly, most parents are well aware who the 'weakest link' is in their family, i.e., the one that their child is more likely to go to in an attempt to get what they want, particularly in relation to alcohol and parties ... but what do young people think about this phenomenon and how are they most likely to use it to their advantage?

Once again, I'm going to be using the results of the questionnaire that I conducted through the year to look at this fascinating area. Of the more than 500 Year 10s and 11s who completed the brief survey, did they think it was their Mum or their Dad who was more likely to 'cave-in' and was their a gender preference, i.e., were daughters more likely to go to their Dads to get what they wanted? Once again, I don't think there are any real surprises when you look at the findings but it really is interesting to read some of the comments from these young people around this issue and, once again, see how cleverly they can manipulate their parents when it comes to getting what they want ...

The questions that were asked were as follows:

"Who is more likely to say "yes" if you asked them if you could go to a party - Mum or Dad?"
"Who is more likely to say "yes" if you ask for permission to drink alcohol at a party or gathering - Mum or Dad?"

Of the more than 300 responses (the questionnaire changed over time and so this question was not always included), it's official - sorry Mums, you are the weakest link! It must be said though that that it was pretty close and there were some interesting age and gender differences! Mums came out on top for both questions, although it was much closer as far as the provision of alcohol was concerned, with Dads increasingly being seen as the 'easy touch' as far as the Year 11 young men were concerned. So here is a brief summary of what the young people reported:
  • The majority (68%) of Year 10 and 11 students (male and female) believed that their Mum was more likely to say "yes" when asked if they could go to a party. There was no difference across the year groups but slightly higher numbers of young females were more likely to report that their mother would say "yes" than their male counterparts
  • Just over half (55%) of Year 10 and 11 students reported that Mum was more likely to say "yes" if they asked if they could drink alcohol at a party. There was a big gender difference as they got older, however, with 68% of Year 11 boys and only 48% of Year 11 girls more likely to ask Dad, with the numbers being much closer for the Year 10s
Few students provided a written comment for this question but here are a selection of some of their responses that provide some insight on why they chose the parent they did:
  • "Mum trusts me more than my Dad and she also knows more of my friends so I know she'll say yes when I ask about a party" (Year 10 female)
  • "Mum can't say no to me about anything" (Year 10 female)
  • "Dad always lets me do what I want in the end" (Year 11 female)
  • "I know that my Dad was drinking and going to parties at my age and so I always ask him. Mum will say no but my Dad can always make her change her mind" (Year 11 male)
  • "I don't ask either of them. I know both will say no" (Year 11 female)
When you looked at just those teens who reported that they did not drink alcohol, however, something really interesting popped up. I only provided two responses for the student to choose from for each of the question - Mum or Dad. For the question about parties some of those who completed the survey decided to tick both boxes (even though that wasn't an option), indicating that they felt that either of their parents could be approached in this area. Only a couple responded in a similar way for the question around alcohol (i.e., marking both boxes), however, of those young people who reported that they did not drink, almost one quarter of them indicated that neither of them would give permission. Does this mean that if your child knows that you won't give permission for them to drink alcohol then they are more inclined to make a healthier choice? That's certainly what the literature says and it seems to be the case here but this survey is certainly not scientific and you can't draw too many conclusions from it - but I think it's really interesting ...

I also think it's fascinating that as they get older young men are more likely to ask their fathers for alcohol. Could it be, as the young man commented above, that their sons are more likely to approach them from the 'hypocrisy' angle (an old favourite with teens) and try the line "I'm just doing what you did" and hope for a positive response? Or is it that they're simply trying it from a 'mateship' perspective, i.e., "Come on Dad, that's just what we young Aussie guys do!"

So how do you solve the 'weakest link' issue? Teens are experts at identifying which parent is more likely to give them what they want, isolate or 'silo' them, set one up against the other (e.g., "But Dad said I could if you said it was alright") and then bombard them until they get the answer they were after. It's never going to be easy but I suggest the following strategy to parents to prevent being set-up in this way around alcohol and parties:
  • Most importantly, there must be a 'united front' - you and your partner must be on the same page on this issue. This can be particularly difficult for split families but if you agree on nothing else, try to come to a compromise on this ... and decide on where you stand before you have any discussion with your teen. No matter what the family situation you're never going to get both parents completely on the same page in this area but do your best to meet each other halfway and always remember, it's about keeping your child safe, not being their best friend!
  • Sit down with your teen and tell them that you don't make any decision in this area and your partner doesn't make any decision - any decision made around alcohol and parties will be made by both of you. It must be made clear that coming to one of you and asking for something is not going to work - both of you, in consultation with your child, have to be involved in the decision-making process, no matter how urgent the request is ...
  • This is not going to work unless a specific time is designated each week or couple of days to allow your teen to ask both of you for permission and discuss their requests. If you tell them they have to ask both of you, it is imperative that you give them a time when they are able to do this - if you can't find this time don't even attempt this as you're simply not being fair and you'll just get a lot of resentment and anger
Whoever the weakest link in your family is (and if it's you, you know who you are!), they need support from their partner. I've looked everywhere for scientific research in this area and have been unsuccessful (if you know of any, please let me know). As already said, a united front in the area of alcohol and parties is crucial during the teen years and having one parent who simply can't say 'no', for whatever reason, is going to be problematic. Clearly stating that any decision in this area is never going to be made by one of you, no matter what the circumstances may be and then following through with this to the best of your ability will ensure that you and your partner make good, well thought through decisions about your teen's safety.