I recently attended a talk about teens and drugs. It was terrifying. The speaker was Mr Trent Southworth, a former NSW police officer who specialises in youth liaison and now runs the Teens Strategies Group. By the time he’d finished I was ready to go home and lock my kids in the house and register us all for a crash course in home schooling. My kids don’t need peers and friendship groups do they? Surely they’ll be happy hanging out with just family till they’re eighteen?
According to the Australian Drug Foundation, approximately one in three teens will use illicit drugs before they are nineteen. For 80% of these teens, marijuana will be their drug of choice. No matter what your feelings on marijuana use in general, this is concerning for a number of reasons.
Marijuana is much more dangerous today than in the past. One hundred per cent of all marijuana grown in Australia is now hydroponic. That means that it is stronger than ever before, and contains the chemicals used to replace the process of photosynthesis. Even more concerning, says Mr Southworth, is that: “Between 25 – 30% of marijuana sold in NSW is now laced with ice.” He explained that Ice is easy and cheap to make. It’s also incredibly addictive. Dealers are adding ice to pot to hook users and increase their market and profits.
Teens who use this marijuana are becoming ice addicts. The use of ice (unknowing or not) increases your heart rate, makes you very agitated, sleepless and creates anxiety. In some cases it can cause psychosis. Because of its highly addictive nature and destructive power, it has become a huge problem in communities all over the world.
Using marijuana, even on its own, is much worse for teens than it is for adults. This is because the teenage brain is still developing. According to the U.S Institute on Drug Abuse, “When people begin using as teenagers, the drug may reduce thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions.” It can create breathing problems and is linked to a number of psychological problems such as paranoia, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and suicidal thoughts. With teenage anxiety, depression and suicide on the rise, drug use only exacerbates these problems.
One of the great ironies of parenthood is that you can spend so many years trying hard to feed your kids well, and keeping them safe, only to have them grow up and undo all your hard work by willingly taking dangerous drugs and alcohol.
So, why do they do this? Why must they torture us so and can we prevent it? How do we make sure that our kids are in that elusive group of teens who won’t take drugs during adolescence?
I’ve scoured the net, spoken to other parents (who have raised drug free kids) interviewed Trent Southworth, and have come up with several preventative strategies (fingers crossed):
1. Consensus seems to be that it is very important to create open and honest communication with children. This should begin from the time they are young. A strong bond is crucial. Children who feel attached to their parents are less likely to turn to substances to fill voids or distract themselves from their problems.
2. It’s also important to make clear rules and reinforce them consistently. Children, and even teens, actually want boundaries. They need to feel like they know where they stand. I remember at my own school we had a survey of the student population on how the school could improve. The number one answer from the teenage students was that they wanted more discipline. Go figure.
3. No one said this job was going to be easy. We have to model good behaviour. It’s hard not turning to that glass of wine at the end of the day and clutching it like it’s a life vest you’ve just pulled off the sinking remnants of the Titanic, but try hard. We need to demonstrate how to solve problems without turning to drugs and alcohol. Kids can smell hypocrisy a mile away.
4. Talk to your kids about drugs. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, “When parents talk to their kids early and often about substance abuse, kids are less likely to try drugs.” This means that it’s important to educate ourselves first. Kids need to know the effects of drugs and the reasons why we would prefer they didn’t take them. This should be part of an ongoing conversation rather than a preachy lecture.
5. Trent Southworth recommends keeping teens engaged with sport, hobbies, after school jobs and schoolwork. Not only do these activities help keep kids occupied, but they can be used as a gauge to monitor their behaviour. If a once enthusiastic sportsperson is suddenly unmotivated and disengaged, it can be a signal that there may be a problem.
6. He also stresses the importance of peer groups. “I’m yet to see a kid in a group using drugs who is able to stay away from them. It’s really important for parents to know who their kids are hanging out with.”
For more information on alcohol and drugs please visit druginfo.adf.org.au
I’m off to barricade the doors and lecture my kids!
The Teen Strategies Group : www.teenstrategiesgroup.com.au
Better Health Victoria: www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au
Partnership for Drug-Free Kids www.drugfree.org
National Institute on Drug Abuse www.drugabuse.gov
National Crime Prevention Council www.ncpc.org