- Never underestimate the power of role modelling
- Authoritative parenting, incorporating rules and consequences bound in unconditional love, reduces the risk of future risky drinking
- Delay, delay, delay – try to delay your child’s first drink of alcohol for as long as possible
Saturday, 29 November 2014
5 simple things parents of primary school-aged children can do to help their kids make better choices around alcohol later in life
Friday, 28 November 2014
Saturday, 22 November 2014
Of course we need to talk about death as a possible outcome of ecstasy use, but focussing on death alone (which essentially is what we're doing currently) and hoping that it is somehow going to act as a deterrent is not going to be effective for some – it's not the norm and not their experience for most and, as a result, they reject it! Don't get me wrong, for some (most probably those who would never use the drug anyway), talking about death is going to work brilliantly but for those who are already using, or exposed to friends who are taking the drug and are considering taking it, it's highly likely to be regarded as such an extreme outcome that it will be rejected.
- feeling sick and vomiting - almost every ecstasy user will tell you that at some point they have taken a pill and become extremely nauseous, many actually vomit. Some users experience this over and over again, each time they take the drug and it is one of the most common reasons why people stop using
- 'comedown' and depression (mental health impacts) - this is without doubt the number one reason why most users stop taking ecstasy and it always surprises me that we don't use this more in our prevention work around the drug. We have a generation of young people who are very conscious of their mental health and we need to do far more about having discussions around the significant impact that an ecstasy comedown can have on school/university, relationships and/or employment
- legal implications – drug detection dogs, roadside drug testing, etc - ecstasy is an illegal drug and that isn't going to change anytime soon! Young people need to know the implications of getting caught with the drug, the difference between 'possession' and 'supply' and how new law enforcement strategies can impact upon their lives
Saturday, 15 November 2014
Choosing to film a drunk or drug-affected person instead of helping them: Why would someone do that?
"... we have a new playmate in town. The passive bystander, armed not with a conscience but a smartphone, filming all that real-time grief and watching Bartter's last gasps for life through a screen. By witness accounts, at least five of these "sick and twisted" male strangers were calculating and disconnected beyond comprehension and in position to perfectly capture those terrible moments. At what point, in the microsecond it takes to act on instinct, does someone reach for a phone instead of reaching for the hand of someone dying at their feet?"
"In the 1960s US psychologist Bibb Latane and a colleague coined the term "bystander apathy" for a number of east coast crimes chilling not only for their depravity but for the casual insouciance of neighbours and onlookers. One incident focused on the reported murder of a bar manager who was stalked and knifed while 38 people — obviously whoever counted these audience members was also a bystander — looked on as if watching a soap opera. Latane said it was the "diffusion of responsibility effect", a warped subconscious agreement between peers that someone else will help or already has helped."
This is not a new issue - in 2000 I wrote a piece on an incident that I was involved with after working at a major dance event and then deciding to go a nightclub with friends:
At the time I wrote the piece I commented that I hoped we hadn't got to the stage where we stop caring about people who are in trouble. I get it that no-one wants to have their night ruined by other peoples' alcohol and other drug choices but I know that if I was in a bad place I'd want someone to stop and check and see if I was okay. Wouldn't you?
- parents answered the door at their daughter's 15th birthday party to find three girls all expecting to enter the house. Behind them lying next to the driveway was their extremely intoxicated friend who had fallen out of the taxi they had just arrived in. When asked about their friend the girls told the parents that she had got too drunk at the 'pre-party' and had almost thrown up in the cab, had embarrassed them and they now wanted to have nothing to do with her ...
- a 16 year-old young man attending a party found an unconscious drunk guy he went to school with propped-up, hidden behind a tree at the back of the house. He found a couple of his friends and was told that they had warned him to not get too drunk this time as they had had enough of looking after him week after week - their nights being ruined by his drunkenness. They would pick him up at the end of the night and make sure he got home safely but they were not willing to look after him until then ...
- after being tipped off by neighbours, a mum hosting a 16th birthday party found an unconscious girl around the side of her house, positioned by the garbage bins. She was later told by her daughter that she had been put there by her friends who were concerned that her drunken state would mean that they wouldn't be admitted into the house ...
But Roberts added another dimension - the filming of the incident. I have now been involved with a couple of cases when young women have been sexually assaulted when they were drunk, not been aware of what happened due to their intoxication and only found out about it later when they were sent a video of the incident. You have no idea how completely destroyed these girls (and that's what they were - 15 year-old 'babies' who just didn't have the capacity to cope with this type of situation) were and it is difficult to imagine how they will ever recover from their terrible ordeal. The sexual assault is disturbing enough - but the fact that there was someone holding the smartphone and filming the crime is beyond belief!
There is so much about social media that I don't understand - I am from a completely different generation and the idea of photographing a drunk friend, videoing a sexual assault or the like and then sharing this with others is beyond me. I must say that I get a lot of young people who say they have videoed their friend when they have been intoxicated to show back to them when they have sobered up in an effort to get them to change their behaviour - sounds great in principle but I'm not sure that 'shaming' people in this way is necessarily effective and could be devastating should the video get into the wrong hands ...
Capturing every moment on film, good, bad or in between, is just what we do today. When it comes to filming people in trouble maybe it is the 'diffusion of responsibility effect', as Roberts described, and these people really do believe that someone else will help or already has helped. I hope so - wouldn't it be terrible if it wasn't and in fact, it was just that we have become so desensitized to these type of events that we have simply stopped caring? Drunk or drug-affected people can be scary, even if you're an adult, particularly if alcohol and other drugs are not really part of your world. At the very least, there is always the fear that you could get hurt in some way - I get that and putting yourself into danger to help others is not advised but if you do nothing else, all it really takes is to take a few steps back from the person, pull out a mobile and call 000.
One of the key messages we push to our young people at every opportunity is 'look after your friends'. For the most part teens grab this message with both hand and run with it - they are always looking for new strategies to help them look after others effectively. I hope we don't lose that - however, I think we also need to make clear to them that if a friend is repeatedly getting into trouble (e.g., regularly getting drunk or getting 'messy' on drugs) and they are finding this too difficult to deal with, there are things they can do rather than just simply 'dump them on the side of the road and forget them'! Not only do we need to develop and give them messages on how to safely pass them onto others but also ensure that they know who to pass them onto and when.
As for filming drunk or drug-affected people, you only have to look at many 15-16 year-olds' Facebook pages to see that this is common practice for some. YouTube also provides thousands of videos of young (and not so young) intoxicated people, many of whom look as though they could be in real trouble. Does it desensitize young people to the real risks associated with intoxication? I'm sure it does but it is not going to go away so we need to quickly try to work out how best to deal with the issue ...
Monday, 10 November 2014
Why does an ecstasy pill cause the death of one person while others do not seem to be affected at all?
I'm often asked by students why it is that when such a death occurs, why we don't see a whole pile of young people dying at the same event. There were apparently 5000 partygoers at the event on Saturday - you can bet that there were a reasonable proportion of those who had taken a drug of some description, some of them using exactly the same substances as the girl who died. Why did it go so terribly wrong for this one young woman? If it really is due to a 'bad batch' or the like, why don't more people die, or at the very least get very sick? Too often we try to look for simple answers to extremely complex problems. In the papers today, there is discussion that the young woman's death could possibly be due to the fact that she had allergies, once again, we're trying to find a simple reason or explanation for this incredibly sad event and this may not be possible.
Some of you may be aware that I have a blog for young people where I answer their questions called 'The Real Deal on Drugs'. I have taken one of these blog entries that tries to explain ecstasy-related deaths and included it below (with a few adaptions). The question I was asked was as follows:
Why would someone die after taking an ecstasy pill and the others in their group who took exactly the same pill not even get sick? If there is something poisonous in a batch of pills, why wouldn't everyone who took those pills get sick? Is it that there was something wrong with the person who died in the first place?
Here was my response:
Ecstasy deaths are unusual but they do happen and when they do they attract a great deal of media attention. When they happen the story is splashed over the front pages of newspapers and there is always a great deal of speculation about what could have caused the death. Often authorities talk about a 'bad batch' of ecstasy, i.e., that the drug could have contained some particularly dangerous substance, but this is not always based on any real evidence. Unfortunately, it can take a very long time to work out what caused the death and by the time the actual cause has been confirmed, the media has forgotten about the death and moved onto another story and the public never finds out what really happened.
There have been many high-profile cases where someone has died after taking a pill or capsule that appeared, on the face of it, to be exactly the same as the one their friends took, i.e., it was bought at the same time, from the same dealer, having a similar design, apparently coming from the same 'batch', and nothing happened to them. In many cases, their friends didn't even get sick. So why would different people have such different effects after taking what seems to be the same drug?
The most important thing to remember for anyone considering using any drug (legal, illegal or pharmaceutical), is that different drugs, affect different people in different ways. More importantly, each time a person uses any substance, they are likely to get a different effect. This effect depends on so many things, including where they take the drug, what they've eaten and even their mood or the time of the day they take it! It must also be remembered that ecstasy is not a safe drug - things can and do go wrong when people take it. Even if the user takes a pill that contains MDMA (the drug users want when they take ecstasy), this does not mean that it is safe - people have died from MDMA poisoning or overdose.
If we look at the information we have on ecstasy-related deaths, apart from those that are caused by poisoning, they can be the result of overheating (usually resulting in respiratory collapse), 'water intoxication' (water is retained, flooding to the brain) or heart failure.Why this may happen to some and not others is not always clear but in some cases they could certainly be the result of an undiagnosed medical condition. However, the death could also be due something as simple as a tragic set of circumstances and the user being 'unlucky'.
Certainly we can't ignore that some ecstasy deaths are caused by poisoning, whether that be due to MDMA itself or another particularly toxic substance that was in the pill or capsule.In Australia, as in other countries, we have had a number of ecstasy deaths that have been PMA-related. What is difficult to explain to ecstasy users is if PMA is so toxic, why don't more people die when a batch of PMA-adulterated ecstasy pills come onto the market? Pills are not manufactured in lots of 10 or 20. When people produce ecstasy, tens of thousands may be made at a time, so if PMA is in the mix there is a real good chance that it will be found in many, if not all of the batch. One explanation that some have put forward is that because ecstasy and other drugs are not manufactured to pharmaceutical standards there is the possibility that substances are not evenly distributed across all pills, i.e., there could be more PMA in some pills than others. Once again, however, many of these poisonings could possibly come down to individual difference (e.g., some unique reaction to a substance in the pill) or plain and simple 'bad luck'.
So there's no easy answer here. Ecstasy deaths are rare but they do happen and unfortunately they're not always simple to explain. But it's important to remember that using any illicit drug, including ecstasy, is a little like playing Russian Roulette - you never really know what you're taking and what effect you're going to get.
Friday, 7 November 2014
Giving parents permission to say 'no' (but reminding them to always look for opportunities where they can say 'yes')!
Recently she had been facing great pressure from other parents to 'loosen up' and give her daughter a little more space. There was a party coming up and it was to be hosted by the same parents who had put on an event the previous year that had got out of hand and she did not want her daughter to attend. Unfortunately she had been convinced by others that to say 'no' and not let her 15 year-old go was tantamount to child abuse and, although it went against everything she felt was right, she was willing to follow the other parents. My talk had really resonated with this woman and she felt empowered to finally follow her heart and tell her daughter that she would not be attending - she just didn't feel comfortable letting her go!
A number of years ago there was a belief amongst some parenting experts that saying 'no' could somehow 'damage' a child. I remember going to an information session where the speaker presented some very dodgy research that suggested that saying 'no' could somehow stifle a child's creativity! If you're just going to say 'no' to everything and not explain why you're doing the things you do, of course that isn't going to be helpful, but the word 'no' is one of the most important words that a parent can use if it's used appropriately.
Parents need to remember the following rationale behind saying 'no', as well as be absolutely clear about what may happen next and how best to respond ...
- adolescence is a time when young people work out where they fit in the world. It is also a time where they are more likely to take risks
- parents need to set limits for teens to push against, as well as to keep them safe as possible
- 'no' provides limits and sets boundaries
- you cannot control how your child feels about these limits or how they react to them so don't even bother to try
- you are only able to control yourself and your behaviour
- remember that the only reason you have rules is because you love them - make that clear and then walk away
No child likes being told that they can't do or have something they want. This gets worse when they become adolescents as in their minds they are now far more grown up and should be able to take part in adult activity that they observe all around them. Parties (or 'gatherings') are where they learn how to socialize and it is no surprise that some teens want to take part in this activity as most adults do, i.e., with alcohol. Most parents who have a problem with saying 'no' talk of their dread as to how their child may react, i.e., screaming, name-calling, throwing things or the like. Others just give up and end up saying 'yes' because of the constant badgering, with their teen following them around begging and pleading or cleverly setting up one parent against another.
As I have already said, just saying 'no' for the sake of it is just as damaging as letting your teen run off and do whatever they want. As Laurence Steinberg says in his book Age of Opportunity (everyone's going to get so sick and tired of me quoting that man!), parents should "gradually relinquish control and try to permit - rather than protect - when you can." Every opportunity you get to allow them to extend themselves a little, which you believe to be as safe as possible, and doesn't compromise your values and beliefs, grab it with both hands!
It's worth remembering that as far as alcohol and parties are concerned, there are a few certainties when it comes to saying 'no' to your teen - these are as follows:
- they're not going to like it
- you're in for a fight, or at the very least the 'cold shoulder' for a while
- you will be accused of being the 'worst parent ever'
- they're going to go behind your back and try to find someone else to say 'yes'
- no matter what they say, they still love you!
And of course, there are going to be some teens who will just go off and try to do it anyway - that's where parental monitoring comes in! If they break the rules you have set, there have to be consequences.
Most teens who hear 'no' from their parents won't like it very much, will respond in an emotional way and, as a result, it won't be very pleasant around the house for a day or two. There are cases, however, where it gets much worse - adolescents running away to a party on a Saturday night and not returning home, physical violence and a range of other unacceptable behaviour. It is vital that parents understand that if this sort of behaviour occurs they must seek professional help as soon as they possibly can. Don't try to deal with this by yourself.
Wednesday, 5 November 2014
"If you don't give me alcohol to take to a party, I'll get my own and drink in a park!": How should parents respond to emotional blackmail?
Here is an email I recently received from a mother who is grappling with this issue (I have made a few changes to make sure she is not identified and I have added a couple of sentences reflecting some of the concerns from the other parent I spoke to this week) ...
"Our son has been to parties where 15 and 16 year olds were drinking. He always told us that he didn’t drink and that he keeps an eye on his friends. We have always picked him up from the parties and never smelt any alcohol on him ... Last weekend my son said to me that his friend has told his parents that he had been drinking and they said they want him to come to them if he gets himself into trouble. Our son said that he wouldn’t be able to come to us because we are so strict and inflexible and won't allow him to drink and he knows that there will be consequences should we catch him drinking. Now I am at a complete loss how to respond to this because we certainly want him to know that he can come to us with problems but how can we uphold our rules without him totally rebelling?"
When a parent finds themselves in this situation I always get them to answer a number of questions as honestly as they can - once they have they usually are able to work out what to do next ...
- What exactly is your child asking you for? In the situation above the young man sounds like he is asking for a couple of things - he is certainly asking for more flexibility around the rules around alcohol and parties and is most probably asking for permission to drink when he attends these events
- Do you feel comfortable with allowing that to happen? This is where you have to 'follow your heart'. Do you feel ok with easing the rules a little around parties and do you feel comfortable with giving him permission to drink alcohol at 16 years of age? No-one can answer that question but you and your partner - no-one!
- If you don't feel comfortable, why not? This is incredibly important to think through and actually be able to articulate clearly. It really doesn't matter what the reasons are, as long as you have them clearly laid out (maybe even written down) and you can explain them to others (not just your child) should you be asked - not that you have to justify your parenting decisions to others, but it's always useful to have them on hand, just in case
- Have you explained your reasons clearly to your child? I always say in my presentations to parents that really the only reason you ever have to give to your child is "because I love you!", but really that's the answer you give when they don't like the rules you've laid out and you don't want to enter into a screaming match with them! When you are explaining the rules you certainly should be making it very clear why you've made the rules you have - simply saying "because I said so ..." is just not going to cut it!
- Are you being inflexible? This is a really difficult one for some parents - a 15 or 16 year-old is growing up and there does need to be some flexibility with rules. That doesn't mean you cave-in and give them what they want, basically you start to reward good behaviour ... If they have been going to parties regularly for 12 months and things have been going well, sit down with them and say something like ... "You've been wonderful. We're so proud of the way you've been behaving at parties, it's time to take another look at our rules". This is where curfews come in so handy, give them an extra 30 mins before you pick them up from a party. Never be frightened of asking them what changes they would like to the rules and see which of those you're happy to go with ...
- Most importantly, do you really believe that your child would actually do what they are threatening? Look, when it comes down to it the kids that are going to get into real trouble are certainly not usually going to ask their parents for permission to do any of this stuff - they'll just go and do it behind their backs! If they're talking to you and asking for rule changes, that can be a really good sign. Don't ever believe that all that great work you've done over the past 15 or so years with your child is now worthless. If you have a positive relationship with your child (you've been an authoritative parent - rules, consequences bound in unconditional love), that's not going to change because of something like this - they may not like you very much but they'll still love you. However, if you are being inflexible and not listening to your teen's concerns things could go pear-shaped - but as I said before, that doesn't mean you give them what they want, it just means you may have to do a better job of explaining your actions!