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Saturday, 25 February 2017

What is GHB and why does it lead to so many overdoses? Sorting fact from fiction

Last weekend 22 people were hospitalized after overdosing at a dance event in Melbourne. According to a spokesperson for Ambulance Victoria, paramedics transported more than 30 people from a number of events across the city in that one evening, stating that it was it was "highest number of overdoses" they had seen "for some time". So what was the drug that caused all this chaos and is it a drug that parents should be overly concerned about?

The drug was believed to be GHB or gamma-hydroxybutyrate. This is certainly not a new drug and has been causing significant problems on the Australian dance/nightclub scene for over 20 years. The media rarely deals with drug stories particularly well, but this one they keep getting wrong and, as a result, there is a great deal of misinformation out there about the substance, what it is, how it is used and its harms.

Some of the statements made in the media last weekend included the following:

  • GHB is a new drug
  • the overdoses were due to a 'bad batch' of GHB
  • the overdoses were caused by a 'derivative' of GHB - GBL
  • GHB is also known as 'fantasy', 'liquid E', 'liquid ecstasy' or 'coma in a bottle'
  • it is a odourless, tasteless and clear liquid that is undetectable
  • GHB is a 'date-rape' drug often used in drink spiking

Some of these statements are just wrong (as already stated, GHB is certainly not a new drug), while others have some basis in truth. As with any drug issue, there is no 'black and white', instead there are lots of 'shades of grey' ... So, let's try and clear things up a little ...

Without a doubt, this drug singlehandedly changed the face of the dance/nightclub scene not only in Australia but around the world. Prior to G (how the drug is often referred to by users) being introduced to the scene, it was rare to ever see ambulances being called to nightclubs or dance events. Drug-related fatalities were extremely rare and although many people became unwell after using drugs at a dance festival or nightclub, for the most part, on-site medical staff could usually look after them without too many problems. That all changed when this liquid drug (the only drug bought and used in that form) started to be used by those on the dance scene. Suddenly people were passing out on dancefloors, their respiratory systems seemingly shutting down. If they were breathing it was only barely and then, to make matters worse, some of them would start to fit and convulse. We had no idea what was happening and some paramedics who arrived on the scene administered Narcan, believing they were seeing a heroin overdose. I remember working at one event in the late 90s where the medical team called almost 30 ambulances across a 3-hour period, often with the ambulance transporting 2 patients at a time!

GHB is a naturally-occurring neurotransmitter, as well as an illegal drug. GHB molecules exist in all of us and they are involved in the everyday functioning of the brain. One of the great problems with identifying if someone has died as a result of GHB is that the coroner has a difficult time in determining whether the GHB they find in the body was there to begin with or the person used the drug. It was first synthesized in the early 1960s and has been used in the treatment of schizophrenia, as an anaesthetic and even an aid to childbirth. For many years it could be bought over-the-counter in some parts of Europe and by prescription in others. 

When the drug first came onto the Australian scene back in the 90s (the first 'mass overdose' was outside a Gold Coast nightclub in 1996), users were actually using true GHB. This usually came in the form of a salty clear liquid but after the Gold Coast incident, governments across the country quickly made the drug illegal and we started to see another substance substituted - GBL or gamma butyrolactone. In fact, from what information we do have on the G available on the street, much of it is GBL and has been for some time.

Gamma butyrolactone (GBL), often used in products such as paint thinner, varnish and woodstripping products is mixed with other more easily obtainable substances to make GHB.  However, if GBL is taken into the body on its own, it metabolises into GHB, creating the same effects as GHB (although it can take a little longer to take effect, often leading to users thinking they haven't taken enough and then taking more and subsequently overdosing). It is an important solvent used in industry and, although it carries the same legal consequences as GHB if caught with it, it is easier to obtain (usually by contract burglaries or diversion from particular industries) and is also far more likely to be imported into the country illegally (there were 33 GHB detections by Customs in 2014-15, 133 GBL in the same time period). Although GHB is definitely preferred by users, it is more likely to be GBL they are being sold (why would dealers bother 'converting' the GBL if they don't need to?) ...

GHB/GBL is a powerful depressant and is highly 'dose-dependent', i.e., the difference between a 'pleasurable' effect and finding yourself in hospital on life-support is minimal. Take too much (and we are talking a usual dose for an adult man being around 2-2.5mls) and the user loses consciousness and their respiratory system may start to shut down. Why so many people overdose on it is because the 'high' they get from this drug is intense and when that feeling starts to subside (usually after about 40 to 90 mins), not surprisingly, they want to feel like that again. Mistakenly believing that the drug has worn off, they take another dose, not realising that they still have a reasonable amount in their system and subsequently overdose. It is rare (although not impossible) for users to overdose on their first dose (most tend to be young women who know little about the drug, who take a similar dose to the males they are with). Typically you see ambulances called to events when G users start to take their second and third doses (doses are usually spaced at least 2 hours apart) and this explains the 'waves' of overdoses that are usually reported.

When GHB first appeared on the scene, it was thought that using it with alcohol appeared to be the major cause of fatal overdose. When mixed with other drugs that slow the central nervous system, including alcohol and sleeping pills, the depressant effects of GHB are increased. This continues to be an issue and is the greatest concern of paramedics and emergency department workers who have to deal with this issue.

GHB/GBL is usually referred to by users as 'G'. When the Gold Coast incident occurred in the late 90s the term 'fantasy' was used by the media but I have never heard a regular user of the drug use that word. 'Liquid ecstasy' or 'liquid E' were certainly street terms used by dealers in the early 2000s to market the drug, particularly to young people, after GHB started to get negative publicity but it is important to remember that this drug is not related to ecstasy in any way. Goodness knows where the term 'coma in a bottle' comes from (maybe paramedics or law enforcement have referred to it in that way for obvious reasons) and I can guarantee you that no user of the drug would call it that - but it makes a great headline and, no doubt, we'll see it repeated many times.

When GBL (a liquid product) is converted into GHB it forms white crystals (as shown) that are then diluted into a liquid. This product is then sold to users by the millilitre. Most regular users purchase the drug in larger quantities (10, 20 or 50ml lots, some even by the litre!) and then take measured doses to events in small vials or bottles. Soy-fish containers (shown below) are particularly popular due to their size and the plastic they are made from, making them difficult to detect if users are searched or patted-down by security or law enforcement.

The term 'bad batch' was used by a number of media outlets, once again implying that there are 'good batches'. We see the media, as well as police, often use this to describe ecstasy when we see a cluster of overdoses or a death - it is not helpful and it is often based on no hard data. If we keep warning people about potential 'bad batches' when we actually don't know what really happened and we run the risk of being seen as the 'boy who cried wolf'. G is always a potentially risky drug and although it is true that due to the dilution process described above when converting GBL to GHB, some 'batches' may be considerably more concentrated than others, the overdoses are more likely to be due to a na├»ve group of users than anything else. GHB overdoses occur every weekend, in almost every city across the country, they are not unusual. Yes, the number was highly unusual but it's important not to throw around terms like 'bad batches' without any toxicological information ...  

Neither GHB or GBL (or any of the other substances such as that can be substituted for G) are odourless and tasteless and undetectable. Certainly GHB was originally available as a clear liquid but due to be it mistaken for water in a few well-publicised cases, manufacturers and dealers usually add food colouring to the mix. The colour was also used as a marketing tool. True GHB is often coloured blue and for a time was sold as 'blue nitro'. GBL used in industry is also usually coloured - most often a green or brown colour. None of these products are odourless and tasteless. Any user will tell you that at the very least G has a salty taste and, at worst, a particularly nasty chemical taste. It is certainly not undetectable, with users usually putting it into a sugary drink to avoid the unpleasant taste. It would appear that the taste is the easiest way to work out whether you have true GHB or GBL. GHB is usually a salt and will have a salty taste and smell (often described as similar to diluted sea water), whereas the solvent GBL is just that, a solvent. It has a very distinctive chemical taste and smell and is certainly not undetectable.

When GHB overdoses occur, the 'date-rape' death of an Australian woman on a cruise in 2002 and the drug's apparent use in drink spiking is also usually raised by the media in their reports. That was once again the case last weekend. Drink spiking is an area that people have very strong opinions on, particularly if they or someone they know believes they have been a victim of this crime. Although research shows that alcohol is most likely to be used in drink spiking crimes, many victims and their families, for a variety of reasons, refuse to accept that this is their case in their instance.

A number of drugs (including Rohypnol) are put forward as possible drugs that could be used but research has shown over and over again that, although routinely checked for, these drugs are rarely identified when someone is tested after an alleged spiking. The reason why GHB is often put forward as a likely drug to be used by perpetrators of this crime is due to the difficulty in identifying the drug in the system, i.e., if nothing else is found, it must be GHB.

There are, however, a number of issues with GHB being used in drink spiking. Firstly, it is a particularly dangerous drug to drop into someone's alcoholic drink or if the potential victim has been drinking. As appears to have been the case with the woman on the cruise, the mix can be lethal. Remember, this drug is highly dose-dependent. The spiker would have to be extremely careful with the dose they used and also have a general awareness of how much alcohol has already been consumed. But more importantly, as already discussed, anyone who has ever taken G knows that it is hardly tasteless and odourless – at the very least it is salty, at worst, extremely chemical tasting. This is hardly a drug you would not notice, unless you were pretty intoxicated. Could it be used in drink spiking? Absolutely! Is it likely to be used by perpetrators of this crime? Highly doubtful ...

We are going to continue to see issues with GHB/GBL - it has been around for over 20 years and won't be going anywhere, anytime soon. It is a particularly risky drug due to it being so dose-dependent and will continue to cause great problems for nightclub owners and promoters of dance events (who I can tell you, absolutely hate the drug!). The strain it puts on the ambulance service and emergency departments can be frightening. It does seem to have a bit of a resurgence in recent times however and that could be due to a number of factors:
  • it is relatively cheap - nowhere as cheap as it once was (it was once $1 per ml!), but certainly in terms of 'bang for the buck', users see the cost as well worth it
  • the quality is consistent - G really came into its own during a period when the quality of ecstasy was at an all time low. MDMA was difficult to find and people started to call ecstasy 'pills' - you didn't know what you were getting. G would always provide the required effect
  • users believe that it is not one of the drugs that can be detected by drug detection dogs - little information is publicly available on what substances the dogs are trained to detect but ecstasy/MDMA and amphetamines are regularly found

As far as I am concerned, it is the drug dog issue, combined, of course, with the fact that users enjoy the effects of the drug, that have ensured its growing popularity amongst a particular subset of partygoers. There is absolutely no evidence that drug detection dogs have had any impact on reducing illicit drug use but we do know that this law enforcement strategy has changed how some people take their drugs. I believe that they have also contributed to some users changing the drugs they use, causing them to start using potentially more risky drugs such as GHB.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

The 'evil princess' or 'mean girl' group and their impact on other girls and their drinking behaviour

I've raised this issue before in a previous blog entry but recently I spoke to a Year 10 girl who almost broke my heart, as a result, I thought it was timely to talk about it one more time. After my presentation, a wonderful young woman (let's call her Clare) approached me to tell me that she wasn't one of the 'cool' girls, she wasn't being invited to parties and she didn't think she ever would be. She didn't drink alcohol and had heard me say that I didn't - she wanted to know if I thought she would ever be accepted by those girls who did. Clare wanted to know if I had been invited to parties when I was a teen and did it ever get any better? As I said, heartbreaking ...

Most of us remember that 'popular' group of girls at school that often made other girls' lives an absolute misery! This group usually regarded themselves as the prettiest, the smartest and the 'coolest', but in reality all they were were the meanest! With those sort of characteristics it is hard to believe that they were perceived as the 'popular group' but in reality they were often the girls who matured very early, were the first to have boyfriends and no matter how mean they were, most of the other girls in the class would have done anything to be in with them! I like to call them the 'evil princess' group but they're also referred to by many as the 'mean girls', a term made even more popular by the movie of the same name. They're usually extremely easy to pick in a year group because they are quite attractive and often dressed as close to bending the school rules on dress code as possible, but apart from their obvious physical attributes, it is often their attitude towards others in the group that make them stand out for all the wrong reasons.

To sit back sometimes and watch how these 'Queen Bees' (there's always a Queen of the evil princesses!) rule the roost in a year group can be quite disturbing. In many cases, they don't even have to say anything to have an effect. Simply giving a look can move entire groups of girls from one part of the room to the other and the power they have to make others feel bad about their choices, including around alcohol, is frightening!

I had a terrible time in high school as far as bullying was concerned - certain people made my life an absolute misery and, as a result, if I see any obvious bullying (no matter what form) I will say something. The part of my presentation to Year 10s when this group usually rears its ugly head is when I start talking about choosing not to drink and the growing number of non-drinkers we are seeing amongst this age group. Although not always as obvious and pointing or turning around and laughing at those they know who don't drink (although that can certainly happen), more subtle forms of bullying are just as damaging and you can literally feel how uncomfortable some of those non-drinking girls are beginning to feel because of the power this group has, almost wanting the earth to swallow them up so they don't have to deal with their judgement ... It is at this point that I sometimes bring up my thoughts on the 'evil princess' group and how sad it would be if a group of girls like that existed amongst the young ladies in front of me ...

I've shared this email from a Year 10 girl with readers before, but it's a great reminder of just how powerful this 'evil princess' group can be and how important it is to challenge them and their views whenever we can:

"In my year there is that distinct group you called the "evil princesses" or along those lines ... These girls have been making me feel terrible that I didn't go out and get drunk or hook up with random people at festivals for years. I had been trying unsuccessfully for years to look beyond the "cool factor" but your presentation really helped me to finally see how pathetic those scenarios were.

I will be forever thankful towards you for helping me realise this before I felt pressured into doing something I would regret for the rest of my life. I do not have any stories like the ones you told us, and now hopefully I never will.

However, there is something else I think should be brought to your attention. These girls didn't start drinking or experimenting with boys/drugs this year, the year before or the year before that. Within my year, all these girls started partying in Yr 7 and I have seen so many friends who were top of their class turn into something skanky, dumb and are now the most vicious people I know. While these girls may be a small percentage, they do more than enough to have an impact on the majority."

My mentioning of this group led to a positive outcome in this case but you do have to be careful that highlighting an issue, whatever it may be, may actually 'fan the flames' and make the situation worse. If any teacher had highlighted the fact that I was being bullied in front of my class, I would have wanted to die! It was much easier for me to sit back and try not to attract attention, hoping the bullies wouldn't notice me and leave me alone. If I see bullying take place (and that's what making a judgement about someone because they choose not to drink is!) I will certainly make a general statement about unacceptable behaviour in the group but to pinpoint a particular incident and bring attention to the person being bullied can be devastating. After making my views on bad behaviour clearly known, once I have finished presenting I make a point of approaching anyone I felt had been judged by others and simply ask them what they thought of the talk - trying to connect with them one-on-one in some way rather than potentially making them feel even more embarrassment or shame by specifically mentioning the bullying incident.

Although extremely difficult, it is important for us to try and 'take back the power' that this group have amassed over time (unfortunately it starts very early and it is often learned behaviour from 'evil princess' mothers! I'm sure many of you know exactly who I'm talking about there!), and at the same time empower others in the class to feel good about themselves and the choices they make, whether others like them or not!

Now some of you may be wondering why I am focussing on the girls and not discussing the social pressure and bullying young men experience in school around alcohol and other issues (because it's certainly there and can be just as damaging). Of course, this shouldn't be ignored but in my experience it is this small, core group of girls that start to drink alcohol extremely early (much earlier than their male counterparts - mainly because they are hanging out with older boys), drink a great deal on a regular basis and are incredibly powerful and influential in a school that are particularly problematic. Put simply, the boys want to go out with them and many of the girls want to be just like them! Even though the other girls may not necessarily like their behaviour, this group appear to be attractive to young men (often for all the wrong reasons) and have great power - it's not really surprising that at this stage in their development, many crave to be a part of this 'inner circle'.

I need to say that there was no obvious 'evil princess' group in Clare's year group. Yes, there was a very clear drinking group but I saw no overt bullying, no snide looks when I spoke about the 'non-drinkers'. But, nevertheless, for this young woman, going through that very difficult time of life called adolescence, because she didn't drink alcohol she felt she did not fit in. She wasn't being accepted by the popular group, wasn't being invited to parties and felt isolated. That can be tough! When she said to me "Does it get any better?", all the horrors of my high school life flooded back and I just wanted to scream - "It gets so much better!!!"

Whether you're a parent of a child who doesn't always fit in, or your teen is at the centre of the popular group, you can play a huge role here ...
  • for those who have teens who may be on the outer, for whatever reason, it is vital that you keep connected and support them. You can't make your child popular (and neither can the school), some children are not going to be invited to every social event and you can't buy, force or coerce peer acceptance. Of course, bullying in any form is not acceptable, but there's a big difference between not being popular and being bullied - sometimes parents find it difficult to distinguish between the two. It's certainly not going to be pleasant watching your child struggle in this area but with lots of love and support, as well as doing your best to talk through with them how they're feeling (without embarrassing them, always remembering that not having lots of popular friends can be seen as being a failure by some teens), most get through. Admittedly, they're often a little battered by the experience, but they'll survive ...
  • for parents of popular teens you have a huge role in making sure that your child understands that with popularity comes great responsibility. Too often, these parents see that their children fit in, have an active social life and, more often than not, are doing well at school and, as a result, believe they've done a great job and then sit back and relax. If your child is popular it is vital that you discuss issues around appropriate behaviour, social exclusion and bullying. It is important to pull them up if you hear them talking about excluding or judging others in their class. Even if your child is not doing anything wrong, they may be turning a blind eye to others and their behaviour - they need to learn that not saying anything is often just as bad as actually doing it! It takes a tough teen to pull up members of their social group for bad behaviour but it demonstrates great character and shows that you have instilled good values in your child. The real problem is, as I've already said, when it comes to the 'evil princess' group, they've usually inherited all their unpleasant traits from their 'evil princess' mothers - who are just as nasty as their daughters! The same can be said for boys who are bullies - take a look at their father and they're cut from exactly the same cloth!
Of course it is also extremely important to acknowledge that at some schools the 'popular' group of girls (or boys for that matter) are great leaders and are powerful and influential in all the right ways but that is not always the case. As such, it is important that schools and parents work in a partnership to keep our kids as safe as possible, encouraging them to be critical thinkers and individuals who can make their own choices and not be affected by others who may have different views and values. Increasingly we are seeing greater numbers of school-based young people make the choice not to drink alcohol, or at the very least, not drink to excess - we must be doing something right!

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Sleepovers, parties and gatherings: What should parents expect when it comes to 'adult supervision' of these events?

I've written many times about the importance of finding out as much as you can about an event your teen is invited to before you make a decision as to whether they can attend or not. To do that, you need to collect a range of information about what will be happening when your child gets there. One of the key questions that every parent needs to ask is around 'adult supervision'. Whether your child is going to their first sleepover, a small gathering on a Friday night at a friend's house or a 16th birthday extravaganza, it's important to find out whether adults will be there and what level of supervision will be taking place.

What amazes me is that all parents expect their child's school to provide high quality adult supervision at all times - if this wasn't happening they would be up there pretty quickly to express their concern and demand that something be done. But when it comes to a Saturday night, this expectation of appropriate adult supervision often goes out the window! In reality, many parents never put the effort into finding out how those hosting these events plan to look after their children, relying instead on their teen telling them not to worry and not making a simple call under threat of 'shaming their child forever'! 

I think one of the main reasons that parents don't do their homework here is that they tend to believe that others hold the same values as they do, i.e., this is such an important area that those hosting are bound to 'do the right thing'. Unfortunately, that is not always the case and I have met many parents over the years who have been totally floored by the lack of (or totally inappropriate) supervision that occurs at some of these events. Some examples that parents have shared with me over the past 12 months include the following:
  • a sleepover for a group of 14-year-old girls where the parents went out for the evening arriving home intoxicated to find an ambulance (along with a group of angry Mums and Dads) after one of the girls had fallen and split her head open 
  • a 15th birthday party for 150 teens that ended up being supervised by the birthday girl's 18- and 19-year-old brother and sister (when confronted by upset parents, the mother supposedly hosting defended her actions by saying that no-one wanted a couple of 'old fogies' to be there!)
  • a gathering of 15-year-old boys where the father bought a carton of beers to drink with those present to make sure they were drinking safely!  
It seems it just isn't enough to ask the question - "Will there be adult supervision?" You need to be far more specific and ask "Will you be there for the evening?" (my god, you'd think that would be a given if they're actually putting an event on at their home wouldn't you?) and "Will you be actively supervising?" Please note the word 'actively' - I believe this is now a key part of this question and plays an important role in parents making an informed decision on whether or not their teen attends a sleepover, party or gathering.

You would think that when you asked a parent whether they were supervising a party and got a "Yes" in response that your child would actually be supervised in some way - well, surprise, surprise - that's not always the case! I shared this story a couple of years ago with readers, but it is well worth revisiting. Here is an edited version of an email I received back then from a mum telling me about her experience in this area ....

"I always call people whose home she is going to stay at, call before parties, drop-off and pick-up etc and I am constantly alarmed at how many parents don't do that. However I just want to tell you about a recent party she went to. This was a girl I didn't know well and I had never met the parents. I said she could go providing I spoke with the parents first. I called and spoke with the mother - she sounded very nice, told me that her and her husband would be home, that it was a small gathering of just a few kids from school, there'd be no alcohol and she was glad I'd called as her daughter told her that she was the only one that ever did that. Okay, good - I felt a bit better about her going. My husband and I dropped her off and went in to meet the parents as they were sitting out on the front verandah of the house. When we picked her up later that night from the party I asked how it was. She told us there was someone there with a bottle of vodka, some others smoking dope and a bunch of uninvited guests came in over the back fence!! I asked where the parents were when this was going on. They, apparently were sitting on the front verandah making sure there were no gatecrashers!"

So what is active supervising? Well before we look at what it should involve, let's look at what it isn't. Put simply and very bluntly, active supervision is not:
  • simply being at home - you and your partner bunkered down in the lounge room and the teens out the back doing god knows what!
  • having a couple of adult friends over to assist with potential gatecrashers - and while they're there, well you all may as well have a couple of drinks in the kitchen
  • asking your older children to make sure they're at home to mingle with the partygoers - it's surprising how many parents have told me that they do believe that is appropriate supervising. Their justification is that they see their older children as closer to the kids' ages and they'll have a better idea of what to look for and will be able to respond more appropriately than some 'fuddy-duddy' parents. When you look at the research on where many teens actually get their alcohol from (if it's not their parents), it's often older siblings - this is just plain dumb. Of course, have them there to assist you if you wish, but don't leave it all to them
  • hiring a security company to deal with alcohol and gatecrasher issues - that way, you're covered and you can go out and have dinner and a few drinks and no problems. Speak to any security company that works in the teen party area and they will tell you the fights they have with some parents around their insistence that they be present at the event, with some wanting to simply pay the money and then hand the responsibility over to someone else
  • partying with the teens - your son or daughter is your best friend and why miss out on a good time?
So what do we mean by active supervision and what should parents expect when it comes to adult supervision of the sleepovers, parties and gatherings their teen is invited to?

I believe that active supervision at these events should be conducted in a similar way as to that of playground duty at a school. I know that sounds very formal and 'heavy-handed' but hear me out ... There is no way that a school can let a group of young people, even teenagers, come together and not supervise them in some way. Teachers need to be on the look-out for problems and issues but at the same time not interfere with the important socialising that is taking place. Playground duty is not about teachers meddling in the students' appropriate interactions with each other - no teacher should want to be a teen's best friend. You certainly should never see a teacher sit down with teens and start gossiping about who is dating who, but it can be a time where teachers are able to have different type of conversations than they do in the classroom and build up positive and appropriate relationships as they're walking around the school yard, at the same always being on the look-out for trouble. Sleepovers, parties and gatherings offer the same opportunities to parents hosting these events.

With that in mind, I believe that active supervision should involve the following: 
  • being there, right in the thick of it - this doesn't mean you plonk yourself in the middle of a group of teens and just stand there! As I've said before, think of yourself like a teacher on playground duty - walk around, smile and be on the look-out for problems. Find reasons for being there - carry food around, make sure they have a drink (non-alcoholic of course!) ... Always consider your teen here as well - do this in an oppressive way and he or she will be mortified and rightly so. It can be a very fine line between 'being there' and 'lurking' - try not to cross it!
  • moving around - teens aren't stupid, if they want to break the rules they're highly likely to find a place where they are going to be able to do so without being caught. Most probably the biggest mistake parents make in this area is to position themselves in one place, justifying their decision by stating that the kids will know where to find them if something goes wrong. Sitting in the kitchen or the lounge room while the kids are in another area of the house is not supervising - get off your bum and find all those nooks and crannies around the house that you remember from your teenage years! Once again, this should be done respectfully - don't walk around with a torch and a stern face yanking cupboard doors open! Having adults regularly moving through the space also ensures that all those attending be a little more careful about what they are doing 
  • talking to those attending - the best way to know what is going on at the sleepover, party or gathering is to talk to as many teens as possible. This should not be intrusive and don't try to be cool - kids can see through that in seconds! Be yourself - ask them how they're going, if they're having a good time and the like. Not only does this help you to get to know your child's friends a little better but it also helps you gauge how the party is going and, if alcohol and other drugs are being used, help you to identify signs of intoxication nice and early ...
  • trying to be at the front door to meet those attending and their parents - a key to good supervision is knowing who is coming into your house. Watching them enter (meeting their parents if they turn up), monitoring what they bring in with them and saying a few words of welcome is going to be helpful later if something goes amiss. They now know who you are (if they didn't before) and you have a better idea of who they are
The reality is that there is no way that you can know with absolute certainty that the parents you are entrusting your teen with on a Saturday night are going to actively supervise. You should, of course, do your 'due diligence' and try to find out all you can about the sleepover, party or gathering they want to attend, but even then there are no guarantees. When it really boils down to it, it is your teen who is going to have to make choices at the event that will really make the difference. If there is inadequate or inappropriate supervision your child may have to make decisions about taking part in risky activities and, if it all goes well, it is then that all the hard work you have put into instilling positive values can really pay off.

Almost all of the examples of inappropriate supervision that I have mentioned above been discovered by parents because their teens had shared their experiences with them. Some called their parents on the night to ask to be picked up because they felt unsafe, while others told them about what had happened after the event. All these parents wrote to me not only to share their concern about what was going on, but also to express their pride in their teen and the positive decisions they made on the night. As always, connection and communication are the key words here ...

I truly believe that the vast majority of parents have the basic expectation that if their teen is invited to someone's house to attend a sleepover, party or gathering, that there will be adult supervision. Of course, this needs to be age-appropriate, but whether your child is 13 and having a sleepover with 5 friends, or your son is celebrating his 18th at your home with 100 mates - there has to be some form of adult supervision to make sure it all runs smoothly. If you do contact the host parents and ask questions around supervision (and I really believe you should so you can make an informed decision) make sure you always remember that their definition of supervision may be very different to yours! 

About Me

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Paul Dillon has been working in the area of drug education for the past 25 years. Through his own business, Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA) he has been contracted by many organisations to give regular updates on current drug trends. He has also worked with many school communities to ensure that they have access to good quality information and best practice drug education. His book 'Teenagers, Alcohol and Drugs' was released nationally in February 2009. With a broad knowledge of a range of content areas, Paul regularly appears in the media and is regarded as a key social commentator, with interviews on television programs such as Sunrise, TODAY and The Project.