Thursday, 23 October 2014

'Sleepovers': 5 things your child won't want you to do that you should!

Anyone who has heard one of my talks or has read much of what I have written this year knows that one of my greatest concerns is the increasing lack of parental understanding about what teenage 'sleepovers' are becoming. I believe that in many cases the 'sleepover' is actually a secret teenage term for "I'm going out drinking but I'm not telling you!" ...

Now before anyone jumps down my throat and says that's not always the case and that there are sleepovers held all over the country every weekend that are completely innocent involving just a group of young people getting together and spending time with their friends, I completely agree. But from my perspective, however, these night-time get togethers are changing in many ways and because parents regard them as innocent and safe, they rarely question or challenge the information their child gives them and it isn't too long before a clever teen works out that this is a really easy way to get around rules and boundaries and experiment with alcohol, as well as other drugs ...

When I think of sleepovers I remember the ones I attended when I was in my early teens. They were incredibly innocent - I don't remember anymore than 3 or 4 of us over at somebody's house, we would watch TV, play some games, maybe go and see a late afternoon session at the movies if we were dropped off early enough (but that was a really big deal and would involve quite a lot of organisation and negotiation!) and that was about it. Lately I have been stunned as to what happens at some of these sleepovers and how some parents just accept that these things are ok ...
  • some sleepovers have both boys and girls attending - as an ex-teacher who had to supervise school camps I can tell you that this is a logistical nightmare when you have a team of trained people to supervise ... how could a parent do this adequately? One sleepover that I was told about a couple of weeks ago had twenty14 year-olds attend - 10 boys and 10 girls! That has disaster written all over it and what was the parent thinking?
  • the number of young people invited just seems to have got out of hand in some cases - I have heard of sleepovers where there were as many as 30 girls invited (isn't that a party, or is that a gathering?). How could anyone in their right mind want to look after that many girls and realistically is there anyway in the world they could really be able to supervise that many to ensure their safety?
  • there is no 'pick-up' time - in many cases, teens don't even get picked up by parents from sleepovers, instead they wander out of the house at some point and then just turn up at home sometime in the afternoon. I'm not talking just about 15 and 16 year-olds here - I was recently told by a mum that her 13 year-old daughter caught a train home from a sleepover (a 50 min ride) at Sunday lunchtime with 5 other girls. She had felt quite uncomfortable allowing it but had been told by her daughter that that was what everybody did!
  • some sleepovers are actually supervised by a babysitter specifically hired for the night - the parents are planning to go out for the evening and someone else is employed to ensure all goes as smoothly! When a parent told me about this I couldn't believe it and asked why in heavens she had actually agreed to let her daughter attend. When she told me that she hadn't been informed and even though she had called the mother and asked a whole pile of questions about the night, she neglected to inform her that she wouldn't be there - unbelievable!
So should you simply stop your child from going to sleepovers? Of course not, sleepovers and then parties and gatherings are an important part of growing up for most young people and they need to attend these events to learn how to socialise ... that said however, they should not be attending unless you know as much as possible about what is going to go on there and feel secure in the knowledge that they will be looked after appropriately and will be as safe as possible. You also want to know that they are really there and not wandering the streets (which is increasingly becoming the case for 13 and 14 year-old girls in particular) ...

Here are five simple things every parent should do if your child asks to go to a sleepover. You can bet that they won't want you to do any of them (always remember that if your child ever says "But you can't do that ...", it almost always means you should absolutely do it ....) but if you want to ensure your child's safety you really need to ...

Don't make a decision about letting them go or not immediately: Teens are great at finding just the right time to ask you questions they want a specific answer to ... they know that if they ask you just as you're walking out the door, a little bit flustered trying to get something done or concentrating on something else, if they throw a question in at that time and they add the statement "I really need to let them know now", you're much more likely to say 'yes' without thinking about it too much. Don't be bullied into making a decision without asking the questions you need to ask. It is also vital that both you and your partner are on the same page here - if your child can see even the slightest crack in one of you they will use that to their advantage.

Contact the parent and find out as much as you can about the event: This is an absolute must and I get that it can be a difficult phone call but when it comes to your child's safety it has to be worth it! Call the parent, introduce yourself and then have questions prepared that you are going to ask. Make sure they are asked in a way that is not confrontational and accusatory. Some of the questions that you will most probably want answered will include the following: 
  • What time does it start and what time is it finishing?
  • Will there be adult supervision? Who are those adults?
  • How many young people will be attending? Is it a 'single-sex' event?
A mother recently told me of a situation that she found herself in that caused her all sorts of angst when she took her 14 year old daughter to a sleepover. She had not made the call, instead preferring to meet the parent on the night as she usually did. When she did she found out that there was indeed going to be a parent supervising but it was the father alone as the couple had recently separated. She did not feel at all comfortable with a man supervising a sleepover with a group of 14 year old girls and whether her concern was justified or not she found herself in an extremely awkward position - a position that would not have existed if she had simply made a call and asked the right questions.

It could also be a good idea to give your contact details over to them at this point. This can be done when you drop your child off on the night but things can get a bit hectic at that time so it is often better to hand it over when you call so they have it if anything changes.

Take your child, walk them to the door and meet the parent: No matter what your child says, if you have never met these parents (and even if you have, take the opportunity to say 'hi' again!), walk your child to the door and introduce yourself. If they ask you in and you have the time and the inclination, go for it! The main reason I say this is that I know of many examples where parents have lied to other parents when the call has been made - taking your child to the door and ensuring that what you have been told is true is vital.

Make contact with your child at least once through the night: This is a difficult one as you certainly don't want your child to think you don't trust them (even though you may not!) and you don't want to embarrass them but if you start this practice nice and early and sell it as a 'safety' strategy it shouldn't be as big a problem. Make it clear to them that you want to hear from them at least once through the evening to make sure they're safe - note, I said 'talk' not text! The main issue here is that parents are now relying on texts as a way of ensuring their child's safety (most particularly their whereabouts) when in fact, receiving a text from a 14 year old saying "Having a great time at John's. Speak in the morning" - could have been sent from anywhere and mean 'won't be able to speak until lunchtime - drunk too much!' My recommendation is that once in a while (and particularly if you have any doubts at all about the sleepover, the parents or your teen's friends) call the house using the landline (or the parent's mobile) and ask to speak to your child. Make sure you have a good excuse as you certainly don't want to embarrass your child in front of their friends (I always suggest say you've lost the remote for the TV or the like and they may know where it is), but you need to speak to them.

Pick them up the next morning by no later than 10am: From what I can gather from young people I speak to this is where one of the greatest problems lies and explains how some of them get away with drinking as much as they do and their parents remain completely unaware. When I speak to Year 10s who are the high-risk drinkers and ask them how they are able to drink as much as they do (sometimes up to half a bottle of vodka to themselves!) and not get caught by their parents, the answer is always the same - "I didn't see them until late Sunday afternoon"! Just because it is daytime, it doesn't mean that 'all is safe' - if you took your child to a sleepover, pick them up the next morning (no later than 10am) and ensure that they are safe and check that they didn't do something the night before that could have put them at risk (most importantly again, were they actually there for the evening?). This idea of letting them wander home by themselves, whenever they want is truly terrifying ...

Now the most important thing to remember here is that your child is growing up and you have to 'free the reins' a little as they get older, as well as reward good behaviour, but that doesn't mean you throw your hands up in the air and say 'go for it'! Should you be walking your 17 year-old son up to every 18th birthday party they are invited to and meet the parents? Of course not, but on the other hand do you really think it is safe to drop your 14 year-old child off to a sleepover at the end of a driveway and not even see who opens the door of where they are supposedly going? Should you be allowing your 15 year-old to just wander through the door sometime on Sunday afternoon and really have no idea where he actually was and what he did the night before? There has to be a solution somewhere in the middle, particularly for those really difficult years of 15-16 when they are going to be invited to parties and gatherings and there are going to be issues around safety.

In his book, Age of Opportunity (my new bible as far as adolescent behaviour and parenting is concerned), Laurence Steinberg says "the single most important thing parents can do to raise healthy, happy and successful kids is to practice authoritative parenting", i.e., provide rules and boundaries bound in unconditional love. He also adds that parents need to be 'supportive' and that they should "gradually relinquish control and try to permit - rather than protect - when you can". Of course, there will be times when you will decide to say 'no' to them, if that is the case, then you will need to explain why. Whether it be sleepovers in their early teens, or parties and gatherings later - there will be times when you will need to "gradually relinquish control", but there will be others when you will have to say 'no'!

As a parent you can only do what you think is right for your child. How other parents raise their children is their business and it really is not your place to become involved in their parenting decisions. It is important to remember that every family is different and that not every parent is going to have the same views as you but calling other mums and dads (many who feel just as confused and concerned about this topic as you do) and finding out what is actually going on is vital.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Medical cannabis: Getting lost in the smoke and forgetting that the drug can be highly problematic for some

Over the past year we have seen a very interesting change in the way we have been speaking about cannabis in Australia. The medical cannabis debate has hit the headlines and we have seen a major reframing of how we talk about this issue - all of a sudden it's all about children ... stories about very young children suffering greatly due to a range of conditions (but mostly epilepsy or conditions where seizures are involved) and how bureaucracies are preventing these very young people getting the 'medicine' they so urgently need. We have seen stories on all the tabloid current affairs shows, the News Ltd papers (usually very 'anti-drug') have covered this topic very aggressively and even Alan Jones has come out in support of making cannabis available for medical purposes ... You'd have to say that the airing of SBS's Insight program a couple of weeks ago really brought it all to a head, with the program going even one step further by asking viewers to take part in a poll asking whether cannabis should be legalised (85% of viewers believed it should be!).

The shift has been fascinating to watch and you have to give credit where credit is due, the medical cannabis lobby has been incredibly effective at shifting public opinion on the topic in a very short time, simply by focussing attention on one very small group of people who would appear to benefit greatly from medicinal cannabis being made available ... Now I'm not here to debate whether or not medical cannabis should be made available - I have made my views clear on that issue a number of times but I am concerned that if we do go down that path we need to be aware that there are things that need to be considered as far as young people and education and information provision are concerned.

Like any drug, cannabis can cause significant problems for some people. Many people who use cannabis will do so a few times, or even regularly over many years, and experience no major problems - that certainly needs to be acknowledged. There are some, however, who should never use the drug, particularly those who have a predisposition to mental health problems. We also know that the earlier you start using cannabis, the greater the risk of future problems, so preventing use for as long as possible is important. There are also others who will try the drug once and have a terrifying experience ... Here is an email I received from a student that illustrates this perfectly ...

"When I was in year 11 I went to a party. I had been drinking, as 16/17 year old girls do, when I saw some older kids sitting around smoking and I drunkenly wandered over and asked them if they were smoking weed. They said yes and asked if I wanted some... I told them I was probably too drunk and shouldn't but the girl, who I had previously looked up to, said "YOLO" (literally) and in my drunken state I agreed and smoked some. Before I knew it my world started whirling around me and the last thing I remember was the older kids looking at each other and saying "shit" before walking away. I curled up in a ball and passed out. 
 
What followed was honestly the most terrible experience I've ever had. I had moments when I felt as if my body was being brutally shaken around, and I remember, after some time of nothing and blackness, my mind telling itself that it can't survive anymore, that I had to "give up" and get taken to hospital in order to be saved. I am normally known as a studious girl who is sensible but social, you know the type, and all of a sudden my mind was a mess and yelling at itself that it shouldn't be me that this is happening to. On top of that, the complete embarassment that I caused to myself was ridiculous. People were slapping me to try and wake me up, and I was apparently using the most disgusting language whenever I gained consciousness before becoming unconscious again. An ambulance was eventually called and I had begun gaining consciousness once they arrived so they just stayed and tried to keep me awake for a while. My parents were away that weekend and had to come home early from a holiday once they heard the news. They dealt with it really well - I called up all the parents who had been slapping me and apologised for my deplorable language and what had happened and went out to the house of the party to personally apologise to the birthday boy and his parents. I lost the respect of so many people and honestly just the memory makes me feel sick."

Of course, there will be people who will say that the reason this girl had this effect was because she was drunk and I agree that the alcohol probably made the whole experience much worse. But let's not forget that cannabis is a drug and things can go wrong, sometimes horribly wrong.

What concerns me is that young people across the country are currently getting a very strong message that 'cannabis is a medicine' (really little children are being given it - regardless of whether it is cannabis oil or whatever, the only thing school students are picking up is that it is cannabis) and that means that it is okay and are messing around with something that in some cases can cause great harm (at the very least it's illegal - even if medical cannabis is introduced, there is no way that I can see it being legalized in this country in the foreseeable future). Before someone throws in that pharmaceutical products are toxic and can cause far greater harm - I agree completely and that is certainly a message that I push very hard with kids (medicines come in boxes with instructions because if they are used inappropriately they can be extremely dangerous, and even when used correctly they are by no means 'safe') and that's certainly a message that is provided to students from a very early age in their health education programs. The problem with the current message about very young children being given cannabis as a medicine is that there is no other information being provided at the same time and Australian young people are getting a very skewed message about the drug that minimises the risks associated with cannabis (arguably just as skewed as the one that governments have pushed about the drug for decades). There must be a middle-ground somewhere!

If any Australian jurisdiction decides to go ahead with a medical cannabis trial I just hope that they think it through carefully and at the same time as funding the research, they also put some money into some sort of information campaign that informs and educates the community about what 'cannabis as a medicine' actually means. Hopefully this doesn't turn into a scare campaign, trying to make out that cannabis will rot your brain and turn everybody who uses it into a dribbling mess, but rather provide up-to-date and credible information that will support parents and anyone who works with young people in their discussions around this extremely complex issue.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

When does school supervision stop and parenting begin?

Over the years I have had many strange requests from parents when it comes to alcohol, parties and gatherings. I've been asked to do private consultations with the entire family (I'm not a counsellor or a psychologist so that's not going to happen), provide an intervention of some description (ditto!) and increasingly, speak to the school ... I have used the following email I received from a parent in a previous blog, but it's too good not to use again and clearly illustrates the growing trend of 'parents not wanting to be parents' and the blurring of lines between school supervision (or intervention) and parenting.

You visited my daughter's school a few weeks ago and I attended your Parent Evening. Thank you for the information you presented - it certainly caused lots of discussion at home. She is in Year 10 and we are having a few problems at the moment, particularly with regard to parties. I was wondering if you could do me a favour as we have a bit of an issue with a party that is coming up in a couple of weeks. I really don't want my daughter to go and I really don't know how to handle it. If you have the time could you possibly call the principal and get him to contact the parents who are hosting the party and try to have it cancelled? I'm pretty sure there will be alcohol provided at the event and I do not feel comfortable with my daughter going ....

Can you believe this? The mother had two options, she could either simply turn to her 15 year old daughter and say "no", or, as she actually chose to do, contact a complete stranger to ask them to call a school principal and get them to cancel a party put on by other parents! Are you kidding? What happens on a Saturday night has nothing to do with the school - that is where the line is pretty clear - that's where good parenting comes in. Schools are being increasingly asked to do more and more parenting and that's not their job! Unfortunately, it really has got to the stage where the only thing the school doesn't do is give birth to children, and sadly I don't think that is too far away!

Of course schools have a role, but they do not operate in a vacuum - there must be a partnership with parents and, unfortunately, I just don't think that that partnership is as strong as it once was. Certainly when I was a teacher (many years ago), I would get almost a 100% parent turn-out at a Parent-Teacher Evening, I'm now talking to teachers who have never seen the majority of their students' parents at these events. I go to a number of schools, wonderful schools, where they do not have a P&C (Parents and Friends, whatever you want to call it ...) and haven't had one for many years, simply because they cannot get sufficient numbers of parents to attend and engage with the school. Those that do get involved are amazing - they attend every event that is put on by the school, assist in fundraising and do whatever they can to be a part of their child's education - totally getting that the higher level of engagement and involvement, the stronger the partnership between the family and the school, the greater likelihood of better educational outcomes for the child ...

From my perspective fewer parents are actively engaged with schools in the past and that makes it extremely difficult to put forward a unified front on issues such as alcohol and parties (people I know who work in the cybersafety area say the same thing - schools can put all the right things in place but if you don't get the support from home, what's the point?). I get that parenting can be difficult, but if you work with the school and work together on any issues that may arise, it may make things a little easier. Essentially, I believe there are a couple of issues here:
  • fewer parents are actively parenting than in the past - I've talked about this many times - it's not that they don't love their kids, it's just that it can be really hard! I break these parents who are not actively parenting down into three groups:
    • the ones that really try for a period of time and they just get worn down by their teens and it all becomes too difficult and they thrown their hands up in the air and give up
    • those that are simply frightened of not being liked or fear the conflict that inevitably goes with parenting a teenager (i.e., they would rather be seen as a friend than a parent)
    • the final group who are simply being bullied by either their children or other parents into doing things that they just don't feel comfortable about
  • some parents believe that they have 'paid the fees' - now the school has to fix the problem! They hand the child and all the parenting over to the school and expect (in some cases, even demand) a well-rounded, happy adolescent to pop-out at the end of Year 12
  • others are simply 'time-poor' and they don't see the need to engage - they work hard to do the best for their family, they have great kids and they appear to be doing well at school - why do they need to go up to the school and speak to teachers?
  • schools provide too much - I think we also have to say that schools are a little to blame here as well! Sometimes it's just a case of overkill - I go to some schools where I am with a teacher from 8.00am (when I arrive to deliver my first presentation) all the way through to 9.30pm, at the end of my Parent Information Evening. Sometimes this will be the third night in a row for this teacher - now it can be the same for me but I get paid well for my time! Teachers get no overtime and are asked to do this night after night after night! That would be fine if there were good results for their efforts but the problem is there are diminishing returns as far as parent numbers are concerned ... the parents are exhausted! I have been to one school where they only have one parent night a year - both times I presented there I had audiences of over 500! What this shows is that parents will engage if the request on their time is limited to some extent ...
Schools are being asked to do more and more all the time. There is already a crowded curriculum and the pressure on schools to perform (in so many ways, not just academically) is immense. Earlier this year when the then Premier of NSW, Barry O'Farrell announced a range of measures his government was introducing in an attempt to curb alcohol-related violence, he said that schools needed to do more in this area. Really? Teachers are already asked to deal with cybersafety, sex education, mental health issues, bullying, eating disorders and the list goes on an on. Certainly there is no better place to provide information to young people on a range of issues - they are a captive audience in a school setting, but so many of the problems associated with these issues could be so better dealt with if parents got out there and actually parented, or at the very least, worked in partnership with the school to try and make a difference!

Just to illustrate how sometimes parents actively undermine the school here is an example of something that happened to me at a school a couple of months ago. I had a break in between presentations at an elite independent girls' school and was sitting outside the auditorium behind a wall where no-one could see me. I heard someone come in behind me and make a phone call - it was a Year 10 student who had just heard that she would be attending my session in the next period (around 11am). She was speaking to her mother and the conversation was truly bizarre - it went something like this ...

"Mum, we have this alcohol talk next period and I was wondering whether you could call the school and tell them that I don't need to attend. I don't really have anything else on this afternoon, just maths and you know that I hate maths and it doesn't really matter if I go or not. You know that I don't drink and really the talk will just be a waste of time. If you could call and then I can get a pass and I will get a bus home ... That's great - thanks! I'll most probably have to go into town on the way home and so you won't see me until about 4 ... Thanks!"

I immediately went and found the Year 10 co-ordinator and told her about the call and she contacted the parent and made sure that the girl did not leave the school. When I spoke to the teacher this was a girl who certainly needed to hear my talk and she was known for having her mother wrapped around her little finger!

What I found absolutely amazing was the lack of effort it took for the girl to talk her mother around to not only getting out of my talk, but not attending a maths lesson, but most importantly for her to wander into town completely unsupervised and come home when she saw fit! Unbelievable! This is a classic case of a parent totally undermining the school's efforts to do the best they can for their child. I fully understand if there are religious or moral reasons for excluding students from specific activities, but for a teen to turn around a make a decision on whether they will attend or not, simply because they don't want to, and then get their parents to support them without question is unacceptable and clearly illustrates the total lack of partnership!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Why I don't (and won't) speak to Year 9s ...

As most people know, I have a very specific way of speaking to young people when I visit a school. I could make a lot of money and make my life a lot easier by agreeing to just speak to students, but based on what we know works, I will only speak at a school if they agree to let me speak to all three sections of the school community - students (Years 10, 11 and 12), staff and the parents. The evidence around bringing outside speakers into a school to talk on alcohol and other drugs (or any issue to be perfectly truthful) is not good. So-called 'one-off' talks have not been found to be effective and there is even some evidence to suggest that they can cause more harm than good in some cases.

I cannot walk into a school and 'fix' a problem. I see my role as value-adding to the drug education that the school already provides and that my talks are part of an overall strategy. If I think for a second that a school is using me to 'tick-a-box' and say, "well that's drugs done", I will not go back! I am not arrogant enough to think that giving a group of young people a 90 mins talk is going to stop them drinking alcohol or taking illicit drugs. I hope that at the very least I am able to visit a school and 'stir the pot', i.e., get them to really think about the issue and what they're doing about it. I want to start a dialogue, get a conversation happening between students, between students and their teachers and of course, get kids talking to their parents. At best, I would like to think that some of those listening to my presentations will have learned some basic strategies around how to keep themselves and their friends a little safer in this area (i.e., they are better informed). Do I believe that my talks prevent or reduce drinking or illicit drug use? I'd love to say that there was evidence that this was the case but there's not ... one of the things that concerns me about the growing reliance on so-called 'outside experts' (and I'm including myself in this group) is that getting them into a school can involve a huge cost but we have no proof that they're worth the investment!

Most worrying is the growing trend to ask outside speakers to speak to younger and younger students. Increasingly I am being asked to present to Year 9s, although sometimes even Year 8s. The pressure that some schools are putting on me to do this is becoming ridiculous and so I thought I'd 'put pen to paper' and explain one more time why I don't (and won't) speak to students younger than Year 10s. I could go on and on about this (gee, I've done it enough times when I visit schools!) but I'll try to give just a few of the key reasons ...
  • I do not give 'prevention' talks - my message is about safety and targeted at groups of young people who are either drinking themselves or likely to be exposed to that behaviour. I would like to think that some of them pick-up a 'don't drink' message but that's not the major thrust of the talk. The majority of Year 9s should still be receiving strong prevention messages and evidence suggests their classroom teacher is the best person to deliver these messages - it's not what I do!
  • Year 10 is when we start to see a 'critical mass' of students drinking - I keep being told by schools that their Year 9s are out-of-control and alcohol and parties are a 'huge problem'. When I ask them for any evidence they have absolutely nothing apart from talk in the schoolyard and parental concern. There is no data to support this idea that most Year 9s are drinking. Even at schools where they have been convinced that they have a major issue, when they do the research they usually find most students believe there is more drinking than there actually is. Yes, there is usually a core group of Year 9s who are taking part in very risky activity - everyone knows who they are, they're loud and obvious, and they're influential - but there are so many better ways of dealing with them than bringing in an outside speaker to talk to the whole year group. 
  • You run the risk of normalising this behaviour when you bring an outside speaker in to talk about the issue - most young people in an audience of Year 9s are not drinking and this should be reinforced in classroom activities led by teachers. Bringing in a speaker to talk about a topic could potentially make those who don't drink question their own behaviour, i.e., if it's that big an issue, why aren't I doing it?
  • My talks are confronting and can upset some - not a week goes by without at least a couple of students leaving a presentation because they have found the content distressing. Every time it happens it upsets me - as much as some parents ask me to scare their kids with my talk, that is not my intent. Scare tactics don't work for most young people, particularly those entrenched in the drinking culture. If Year 10s and 11s are getting upset, I can't imagine how distressed some Year 9s would be ...
  • There is no way of me knowing what messages the students take away with them - I usually speak to an entire year group (anywhere from 80-350 students) and when I finish and they walk away, I have no idea what they took away with them. I deal with a controversial and complex issue - those who attend my presentations need to have a certain level of maturity and have the opportunity to talk through what they picked up with their teachers and/or parents to ensure the accuracy of those messages. Sometimes I have a particularly immature group of Year 10s in the audience and watching them terrifies me - what messages are they going to walk away with? I simply don't believe that most Year 9s are mature enough to work in the 'whole year group presentation' format - there are better ways ...
  • Young people learn best through interactive 'hands-on' activities and discussion - because I work with year groups it is almost impossible to follow best practice here and it is a huge ask for even Year 10s to sit and listen to a presentation for 90 mins. Activities led by a classroom teacher who knows them is far more likely to be effective in this area.
  • Do we really want to have a world where Year 9s need to know how to look after a drunk friend? I'll say it one more time - I do not deliver a prevention talk - in my Year 10 presentation I give them messages about looking after themselves and others when they are exposed to drinking behaviour. Do people really believe that 14 year-olds need this type of information? When I say this, I sometimes get asked why I don't simply adjust my talk to suit a younger group - well, I don't because they are already getting that information through their school-based drug education. If I was to do this, it would mean a huge shift in my messaging and what I do in schools and realistically, research shows that the classroom teacher is most probably the best person to deliver this type of information.
Most importantly though, if there are Year 9s (14 year-olds for the most part) going to parties and gatherings and drinking alcohol, it is not the young people that need the education - it is the parents! I really have got to the point where I have thrown away the filter where this is concerned ... when a parent says to me that their Year 9 son or daughter really needs to hear my talk and I ask why, I usually get the answer - "She's going to parties where young people are drinking!" Let's get serious here, the simple answer to that problem is - don't let them go to those parties! But for some reason some of these mums and dads don't want to say 'no' to their child, they'd much rather live in 'la-la' land and think that Paul Dillon (or someone else) will come in and somehow solve the problem for them. How in heaven does getting me to come in and speak to a group of 14 year-olds in anyway go towards preventing their child drinking at a party on Saturday night? What is much more likely to work is not letting them attend the event, or at the very least, take them to the party and then pick them up ... but no, that's too hard and could result in conflict and that's something that many try to avoid at all costs!

By all means, let's make sure our kids are as informed as possible. Give them age-appropriate messages around alcohol and other drugs so that they will hopefully make good choices. Classroom teachers that have a relationship with the students are the best people to deliver prevention messages through school-based drug education and I have no problem with value-adding to this at the appropriate time. But realistically it is the parents who can make the most difference here - having rules and boundaries in place that help prevent teens from getting themselves into dangerous situations is the best way to protect young people. No-one is saying that saying 'no' will be easy, it's going to be hard work - but if you're relying on a talk from me to in any way solve a problem you're having with your Year 9 son or daughter I can pretty well guarantee you're going to be disappointed!