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Saturday, 21 April 2018

What do teens really think about parents and their parenting? What advice would they give them about appropriate rules and boundaries?

Every parent is going to 'parent' their child in a different way and, if there's one certainty in this area, it is most probably that if you try and parent all your children in the same way it's most probably not going to work particularly well. Parenting theories come and go and what was promoted heavily as the 'way to go' a decade ago may not be regarded in the same way today ...

But what do teens think about their parents' parenting practices? When a young person approaches me and discusses the issues they may be having with their Mum or Dad around alcohol and parties, usually complaining about the rules and boundaries that are being imposed, I always ask them why they think their parents are doing what they're doing ... The answer is nearly always the same - "They're trying to ruin my life!" Now, as I always say in response, I'm sure that is not true, but at that point in their life that is exactly how they are feeling. A whole pile of boundaries are being put into place that are stopping them from doing what they want to do and realistically it's pretty difficult to shift their thinking at this point. As far as they're concerned, you don't understand them, their lives are being wrecked and it's all your fault ...

A few years ago, The Guardian newspaper ran an online story from the UK titled 'Your child is going to experiment: what teenagers really think'. It's a great piece and well worth a read. Written by "Suzanne Moore and a load of kids" (you'll understand what that means in a moment), the journalist talks about how it feels to be a parent of a teenager (she was onto her third at the time of publication). But what makes this article really interesting are the pieces written by 10 young people (ranging in age from 13-17 years) at the end, where these UK teens are asked to comment on parenting practices and 'what works' and what doesn't ... If you've got a few minutes, read the full article but I thought I'd just highlight a couple of quotes from some of these teens

"Sometimes parents need to think about giving their teenagers a little bit more freedom and understanding. If we are trusted, then we feel more independent and grown-up, so we are going to come home happy, instead of sitting on the phone all night."

"Parents also need to realize that not all teenagers are rebels. But if we do make mistakes, that's how we are going to learn. My mum sees dangers where there aren't any. Even if you think a certain friend might not be good for us, we have to figure it out for ourselves sometimes."
Marima, 14

"When I go out, my mum worries far too much - she wants to know all the details, who is going to be there, exactly where we are going. Parents worry about us spending time with people they don't know, but I don't know all of their friends, so it's not weird that they don't know all of mine. My advice would be: ask kids for some details, make sure at least one person you know will be there and the time they are coming back, but then give some freedom."

"For me, the secret to having a happy teen is giving them space and freedom - without that, there is no fun and happiness. But you also need to find common ground - with my dad, I watch crime thrillers; with my mum, Downton Abbey. It's good to have a thing you can bond over."
Katie, 13

"Whenever I get told off by my mum, she gives me these really long lectures. Seriously, they are so long that by the end of them I can't even remember what we were talking about. When it comes to my dad, he's much more short and snappy ... Don't  send your kids to sleep with a lecture - if you shout, at least we will remember what it was about ... My advice for parents is, if you want something doing, don't constantly go on about it, just say it once. If you say it multiple times, we just won't feel like it."

"Sometimes parents try to engage with their kids and it goes wrong. One time my mum was texting me, using all this youth language. I was thinking, what's going on? Has someone stolen my mum's phone? I found it pretty weird."
Faris, 13

"When I'm going to a party, Mum wants me to call her when I get there, after an hour, when I leave. She says she wants me to have my independence, then takes it away by asking for the phone number of the place I'm going. They want you to get a job, but won't let you stay at a friend's house. Teenagers are hypocritical about this, too: our need for independence changes by the minute ... Parents worry about our independence. It's probably because they know that we are about to become adults and, in a way, they worry we're going to turn into them."
Olly, 16

"I can talk to my parents about anything to do with school. When I was bullied, I talked to my mum and dad, and it got resolved. I was scared that talking about it could make it worse, but when you've got someone reassuring you, you can clear your head and think straight. As you grow up, your friends become your second parents, but when things are getting out of hand, your parents have the final say."

"It's all about balance. You have to know your can talk to your parents about anything. Parents have to trust their teens to do the right thing, but if they don't, take a step back and still be there for them."
Matt, 17

"I've been doing exams. After the first one, my dad took me out for tea. It was great to have a bit of father-and-son time. I think parents should do that, even just asking how something went or if you need help ... Make time for them (teens) and listen. If your parents are interested, it gives you a real boost."
Craig, 15

"You should talk to teens casually, not all raging and exaggerating the issue. On things like drinking, everyone does it. It's not a new thing and it's just part of being a teen. Despite what the media says, teens aren't bad. We have goals and know about current affairs and how we can change things. We might not watch the news, but we find stuff out on the internet."

"My one piece of advice to parents would be to set boundaries with your teen, but also to let them do their own thing. Make sure they have awareness, rather than saying they can't do something. Don't be too strict, because then teens won't tell you anything. I know people who've gone down that route. Once it starts, you become more distant and then there's no way back."
Katt, 16

When you read these it becomes pretty clear that teens, no matter their age, have a couple of simple messages they want to convey to parents - we're not all bad, we're growing up and want a level of freedom and independence, but at the same time they acknowledge that parents need to balance that with fair and age-appropriate boundaries and maintain a positive 'connection' with them. If you want to simplify that down to a 'parenting style', that's good, old-fashioned 'authoritative parenting' - rules, consequences, bound in unconditional love. Of course, it's never going to be as simple as that - the theory is all well and good but when it comes down to the actual practicalities of negotiating what will and won't be happening on a Saturday night, it is likely never to be easy ... It's important for parents to be aware, however, that amidst all the shouting and slamming of doors and the proclamations of "I hate you!" and "You're the only one who does that!", somewhere deep down (often deep, deep, deep down!) your teen has at least a limited understanding of why you do the things you do!

Friday, 13 April 2018

'Vaping': What is it and is it 'safer' than smoking for our teens?

Recently I have received a number of messages from parents wanting to know more about 'vaping'. Each of them had recently found a device in their child's room and had little, or no idea, what it actually was, how it was used and whether it was harmful or not. Here is an edited version of one of the requests for information:

"Last weekend I found a strange-looking device in our son's room. When I asked him what it was he said it was a 'vape'. It looked like a long cigarette and when we asked him why he had it he told us that it was a 'bit of fun' and he and his mates occasionally used it when they got together. He insisted he only used it to do tricks and that these vapes were harmless. We confiscated it anyway and told him we wouldn't allow it in the house. Since then we found out that one of his friends is smoking cigarettes. Our son played it down and said his mate is actually using the device to try to give up smoking. Just last night I found another vape in my son's desk drawer as I was looking for something. I wasn't spying on him - he was in the room at the time. I confiscated it and again I got the same arguments - "Don't be ridiculous mum, these things are harmless" and "I only do tricks on them like blowing round circles!" So now I have two vapes confiscated. What should I do? Are they really harmless? I have got no clue what substance he has inside the vape."

So, what is a 'vape'? Essentially it's a street term for devices usually referred to as 'e-cigarettes'. So what exactly are these and how are they different from traditional cigarettes? More importantly, what are the harms associated with their use, particularly when it comes to young people?

Firstly, let me make it clear that I do not want to try to get into the middle of the debate that has been raging in the smoking cessation area for the past few years. There are some in the tobacco prevention area who believe that e-cigarettes could (and should) play a major role in assisting smokers quit in this country, while there are others who are staunchly opposed to their use and have campaigned (and for the most part been successful) to ensure there is a blanket ban of these devices. My only concern here is for young people and their parents and trying to sort out 'fact from fiction'.

An e-cigarette is a nicotine delivery device that simulates tobacco smoking by producing a vapour. Operated by a battery, it vaporizes a liquid solution (called 'e-liquid' or 'e-juice') which may contain nicotine (amongst other things, including a range of flavours from fruit through to chocolate and bubble-gum) and is promoted by manufacturers as being 'safer' than traditional smoking because it is a tobacco-free product that eliminates the burning process. When the liquid is turned into a vapour, this is inhaled or 'vaped'. Confusing the issue is that many of these e-liquids are nicotine free, with these devices simply releasing a flavoured vapour!

We have little up-to-date data on how many Australian teens are vaping. What we do have suggests that this is an issue that we need to monitor carefully. According to the latest Australian Secondary School Students Alcohol and Other Drugs (ASSAD) study conducted in 2014, 13% of 12-17-year-old students reported that they had ever used an e-cigarette. Use increased with age, from 5% of 12-year-olds to 22% of 17-year-olds, with young men being more likely to say that they had ever tried (one quarter (25.8%) of 17-year-old males), with 7.7% reporting use in the previous four weeks. It is unclear as to whether use has increased since that data was collected but from the anecdotal reports I am getting from schools and parents, it certainly seems as though this issue has not gone away ...

So are these devices legal? It is currently illegal in Australia for commercial retail outlets to sell nicotine e-cigarettes. Regulation of the sale of non-nicotine e-cigarettes continues to vary across Australian state and territory jurisdictions. While nicotine e-cigarettes or the nicotine vial refills may be purchased online for personal use, throughout Australia it is illegal to do this without a medical prescription for nicotine. As far as schools are concerned, most of those I have spoken to about this issue have elected to view these devices as tobacco products, whether or not they contain nicotine, and deal with them accordingly.

I have one major concern about these devices, regardless of whether they contain nicotine or not. We continue to have some of the lowest smoking rates in the world, particularly amongst school-based young people, due in no small part to making smoking be seen as anti-social. Even though e-cigarettes don't involve 'smoking' per se, they still simulate the practice and there is a very real danger that the 'anti-social' message could be eroded over time. This issue is compounded by the number of times you see these devices now being used on American TV programs, particularly comedy shows, where they are usually (but not always) using them to smoke cannabis. Now that cannabis has been legalised for recreational use in California, we are seeing more and more US comedy shows using the vaping (and smoking) of cannabis to get a laugh.

In the mother's message above she talks about her son telling her that he "only used it to do tricks". Type in 'vaping tricks' into YouTube and you will literally see hundreds of videos that have been uploaded by people from around the world. Some of you may remember some of the party tricks that smokers would do back in the days when smoking a cigarette was pretty cool - these vaping videos put all of those to shame! This compilation video of vaping tricks clearly shows why some young people are attracted to these devices. Ok, it's not smoking, but vaping's increased presence on TV shows and in other media certainly increase the visibility (and possibly perceived acceptability) of a behaviour that for a long time was seen in a very negative light, particularly by young people. Most worryingly, smoking (or something that looks a lot like smoking) becomes 'cool' again.

So does the evidence suggest that vaping by teens is a 'gateway' to smoking? As the mother discusses in her message, it would certainly appear that there are some young people who could be vaping in an attempt to quit smoking. The research evidence in this area is mixed and both sides of the e-cigarette debate often throw the same data around to support their particular stand, which makes it even more difficult to sort through! There have been studies that suggests vaping is actually 'replacing' rather than 'encouraging' tobacco smoking amongst young people, while others have found that those who do experiment with vaping are, in fact, actually more likely to become smokers. This is usually explained by the fact that teens who experiment with vaping are more likely to be sensation-seekers, who would be more inclined to try smoking later anyway. Regardless, adolescent vaping cannot be ignored and some parents are going to find themselves faced with having to deal with finding out their teen is using one of these devices.

The one thing that all those in tobacco prevention field agree on is that whatever policy is adopted in the e-cigarette area, it should include some kind of restrictions around vaping by young people. As an excellent article written for the New York Times by Lisa Damour titled 'How to Talk With Teenagers About Vaping' states - "Vaping is generally understood to be less risky than smoking. But not vaping is healthier than vaping". She then goes onto talk through some simple strategies that parents can use in this area. Even though most use by teens appears to be experimental and regular use is rare, what is abundantly clear is that trying to prevent young people vaping is a good idea!

What's my advice for parents in this area and what did I say to the mother who sent me through the message? Firstly, I recommend parents follow how most schools are dealing with these devices - treat them just like you would any tobacco product, regardless of whether they contain nicotine or not. In most cases, parents would have outlined their expectations and values around tobacco smoking and if they then subsequently found their child with a pack of cigarettes, most would confiscate the product and roll out a consequence. You have to make the decision for yourself but as far as young people are concerned, it is most probably best to regard experimenting with smoking or vaping in the same light.

What happened in this mother's case is that she found the product, confiscated it and then made it clear to her son that such a device was not allowed in the house and then he openly defied her. Strike one! He also successfully bamboozled her with information about a product she knew nothing about and left her floundering. She was completely left on the back foot! Strike two! As I always say to parents who contact me when they have found some strange product, device or substance in their child's room, don't react before trying to find out exactly what you're dealing with! By all means remove it if you feel you need to but then do your best to try to find out all you can about what it is as quickly as possible (and don't just rely on what your teen tells you!). The best place to go in the first place is the Alcohol and Drug Information Service in your state and territory (you can find the number for where you live on the DARTA website). This is an anonymous and confidential telephone helpline manned by trained counsellors who should be able to provide you with some advice and information on whatever you may have found.

Vaping is not going to go away anytime soon and parents need to be prepared. Although smoking rates amongst young people are still at an all time low, parents continue to have discussions with their children about this issue. A friend of mine recently told me about a conversation she had with her 5-year-old daughter after she saw a 'no-smoking' sign and wanted to know what it was. When she told her, her child responded with "What's smoking?" It's a wonderful story and shows exactly how far we've come in this area. My advice is to add e-cigarettes to any discussion you may have around smoking - don't force the issue, let it come naturally - but raise it and let your child know exactly where you stand on young people and vaping.
Damour, L. (2018). How to talk with teenagers about vaping. New York Times, February 14.
accessed 13 April, 2018.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

If you give your teen two drinks to take to a party, is that all they're likely to drink? A group of 16-year-olds tell it from their perspective ...

Last week I got into a fairly heated discussion with some Year 11 students at a school I was visiting about a blog entry I had written about parents providing alcohol to teens to take to a party. Apparently when one of them had asked their parents to give them a couple of bottles to take to a friend's gathering (as they had a number of times before), they were told they were not going to be given any alcohol. They were then shown what I had written and told something along the lines of "Paul Dillon said ..." Now, as I've said many times before, I don't believe anyone can tell a parent what to do with their child in this area - you've got to make the decision for yourself. But when you've made that decision, whatever it is, own it! Firstly, to change your rules (i.e., provide alcohol for parties and then stop doing so for no real reason - this young man had not done anything wrong) is unfair and will undoubtedly lead to conflict. But most importantly, from my perspective, to put it all on me is totally inappropriate. By all means, use what you may have recently learnt to update how you parent and let them know where (or who) you got that information from, but too often I hear from parents who are so worried about being 'disliked' that they are unwilling to own the tough decisions ... 'Blaming' someone else for your decision is not appropriate and ends up undermining your authority!

Understandably, these students were not impressed! Considering what had gone down, they were incredibly respectful and polite. They could have gone on the attack but instead they just wanted to express their frustration and make it very clear to me that what I had written had affected their lives. The article they were referring to was one in which I discussed new Australian research that found that proving alcohol to young people is not protective and the best option for parents is 'delay, delay, delay'. The section that riled these students up was the claim the researchers made that "parental supply is associated with increased risk of other supply, not the reverse", i.e., if you give them alcohol, they're more likely to go and find more! They were adamant that in their case, this was simply not true - what they were given is what they drank, no more, no less!

Now I can only go by my experience over the years and what I have been told by teens about their drinking behaviour and when these research findings were released I wanted to shout the results from the rooftops! Finally we had some hard evidence that this idea of giving a 15-year-old a couple of drinks will result in them only drinking that much and could actually be 'protective' in the long-term was not true. Of course, there are always going to be some young people who do the 'right thing' and only drink what is provided but, we're dealing with teenagers and developing brains - even though they may have the best of intentions, bad decisions are likely to be made when surrounded by their peers in a party environment ... So when this group of five 16-year-olds (three young men and two young women) wanted to challenge me (and the research findings) I grabbed the opportunity to find out what they thought about this issue and what was actually happening amongst their peers.

As far as they were concerned, there were a few key points they believed that parents needed to be made aware of in terms of parental provision of alcohol. After I had taken those on board and agreed with them on most of what they said, I raised other issues and asked them to think about themselves and their peers and tell me their thoughts. To their credit they were incredibly honest and were willing to accept almost all of what I said ... I told them that I would be writing another article on the topic based on our discussion and wanted to come up with a series of key statements that they believed could assist parents to make a decision about whether or not to provide alcohol to their teen. Here are those statements, placed in order of importance according to those five young people:
  • All young people are different and trying to come up with rules for teenagers as a group is unfair and is not going to work.  They felt strongly that they were often lumped into a group with kids who they felt 'did the wrong thing' and, as a consequence, their social lives were affected. A number of them felt that rules within one family could be different in some cases, with one boy believing that he and his older brother should have dramatically different rules. His brother drank to get drunk, whereas he only drank a little to socialize - the rules his parents imposed should reflect that 
  • If parents want teenagers to develop into responsible adults, they need to trust them to do the right thing, particularly around alcohol.  They talked a lot about trust and how important it was that their parents trust them to make good choices. When I asked them whether they had ever lied to their parents about anything to do with alcohol and parties, it took a while but eventually all five of them said that they had ... Did they think they would lie again? All of them said they most probably would, mainly to protect their parents from knowing something that could upset them ...
  • When parents do provide alcohol to teens to take to a party, some of them only drink what has been given to them, others do not. They were willing to accept that many of their friends certainly did drink far more than their parents had provided but this did not happen all of the time. It apparently depended on a range of things, including what type of party they were going to, if the teen was going to have to go home after the party or not and what other alcohol was available
  • Some young people intend only to drink what has been given to them but when put into a social situation with peers can end up drinking far more. This was most probably the one statement I had difficulty getting them to agree with because all of them, particularly the young man who had initiated the conversation, insisted that they had never drunk more than had been provided. After a lot of discussion, all of them finally agreed that they had actually drunk more at least once, with a couple of them admitting to becoming quite ill as a result. The important thing they wanted to highlight was that this was not their intention (i.e., they had not meant to break their parents' trust) but it had to do with where they were and the social pressure of being around peers who were having a good time drinking more ... One girl also admitted that if she drank the two drinks she was given too quickly, she was much more likely to drink more due to her feeling a little more disinhibited
  • In some cases, when parents provide low-alcohol drinks to their children, these are traded to younger teens and stronger alternatives are obtained, usually bottles of spirits.  The young men wanted to make it clear that when parents insisted on providing low-alcohol beers to 16-year-olds, they were rarely, if ever actually drunk. The girls said that it was a similar story for young women with low-alcohol pre-mixed spirits. Amongst those groups of teens who drank spirits, alcohol provided by parents was usually on-sold or traded to younger partygoers
The one thing I could not get agreement on was around the 'messages' that teenagers were likely to pick-up from their parents should they decide to provide them with alcohol. As far as these young people were concerned, the message they would be getting was that their parents trusted them enough to give them a couple of drinks. The problem was that they all admitted that they had broken that trust at some time or another and were likely to do it again. As much as trust is incredibly important in a parent-teen relationship, so is safety. Research evidence suggests that when we follow-up teens who are given alcohol by their parents the only real message that they takeaway from the experience is 'my parents gave me alcohol'. They don't report that it made for a more trusting relationship with their parent or that it taught them to drink more responsibly.

Most importantly, when these five young people were asked what other information their parents had ever given them when the alcohol was handed over to them on a Saturday night, there was almost no response. Most agreed that one or both of their parents had probably said something like "Be careful" or "Now you know that we trust you" as they got out of the car or left the house, alcohol in hand, but not one of them could remember an actual example of that type of conversation. All of these teens had, at one time or another, been provided alcohol by their parent and not one of them could think of one safety message that had ever been discussed ...

At some point you are going to have to trust your teen to do the 'right thing' around alcohol, but are you actually able to trust them to always make good choices and not make mistakes - of course not! Trust is vital in a positive parent-teen relationship but when it comes to your child's safety, it's not just that simple ...

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Why do parents lie to other parents? How can you keep your teen safe when those you trust to look after them don't always tell the truth?

You would expect that when you contact a parent hosting a party and ask specific questions about what will and won't be happening at that event that you would get an honest answer. As I am often told, this just simply isn't always the case!

I've talked about this issue a number of times before but since the beginning of the year I have heard from a number of Mums and Dads who allowed their teen to go to a party based on information they received from the host parents, only to find out later that what they had been told was completely untrue. Now, it is important to acknowledge that as far as alcohol is concerned, if young people want to get it into a party they are usually going to find a way, no matter what parents try to do. So if you have been told that the hosts are going to not allow alcohol at an event and then find out that one or more of the invitees has got drunk, it's important to remember that parents can only do their best ... That said, if you have been told that there will be bag searches or active supervision at a party, that is exactly what should happen. There is simply no excuse for hosts of a teen party telling an outright lie to parents of invitees. I have written about the following case in the past but it is well worth revisiting ...

A number of years ago I received an email from a distressed mother (let's call her Jane) who felt as though she had nowhere else to turn and simply wanted someone to tell her that what she was feeling was valid and absolutely warranted. The message has been edited down but the gist of the story is as she sent it through ...

"I have a 15 year-old daughter who is wonderful. She is now being regularly asked to attend parties and gatherings and having heard you speak a number of times at parent nights I allow her to go as long as I contact the host parents and make sure that I feel she is going to be safe ... Up to a month ago I have never had any problems - my daughter certainly doesn't like me calling but she knows that is the only way she is going to go so she is willing to put up with it. She was recently invited to a 16th birthday party at a friend's house (a friend I had never really heard her mention before - that should have set alarm bells ringing!) and I did my regular 'Mum thing' and asked for a phone number to call. When I finally got a number (the day before the party) I made the call and asked the questions. Will you be at the party? Will there be alcohol available? What time does it start and finish? All the usual stuff to which I got all the right answers, although thinking back on it, the mother did sound very stand-offish and didn't thank me for calling, which I nearly always get when I make contact.

I dropped my daughter off outside the house and watched her go inside and then drove off feeling pretty confident that I had done all the right things. Two hours later I had a phone call from her. She was in quite a state and wanted to be picked up (with a number of her friends) because the party had gotten completely out of control. I raced over and collected them, a number of them in tears, and found out that although I had asked specifically if the parents were going to be at the house and monitoring the party, they weren't. Instead they had left the party in the hands of their 19-year-old son who had invited a whole pile of his friends over. Alcohol was flowing (even though, once again, I had asked if alcohol was going to be available) and the police had been called. My daughter and her friends were terrified.

A couple of days later, after I had calmed down, I called the mother who I had spoken to before the party to let her know how upset I was that she had lied to me. I was told by her to "loosen up" and that there was no harm done and that she was the one who should be angry as it was her house that was trashed! She then hung up on me. Although the school was supportive when I called them they said there was nothing they could do - what happens on a Saturday night is not their issue. And even though my daughter's friends' parents were as angry as I was when I dropped them off on the night, they have told me just to let it go. I even contacted the local police and asked if there was anything they could do and although they didn't say it in so many words, once again, I was made to feel as though I was over-reacting and that this type of thing was 'normal'.

Is this normal and am I over-reacting? Is it truly okay for a parent to lie to me when I call to find out what a party will be like? I want my daughter to have fun and party with her friends but at 15 I need to know she is safe and my trust in people has now been well and truly destroyed. What do you think?"

Of course Jane was not over-reacting - if this had happened to me I would have been furious! As I said to Jane in my response, thank god she had a daughter who felt confident enough to make the phone call to ask to be picked up. Who would ever think it was appropriate to leave a 19-year-old young man to look after a girl's 16th birthday party? So many things could have gone wrong - there's issues around an ability to supervise appropriately, alcohol supply and all the risks associated with that and then of course the possibility of sexual assault.

Making that call to host parents in an attempt to find out what will be happening at a party can be extremely difficult. Your teen doesn't want you to do it ("You'll shame me forever!"), it's never easy to 'cold-call' someone you don't know and ask them questions that may seem to them as though you're questioning their parenting practices and, let's be honest, do you really have the time and energy in your busy life? It boils down to safety though - if you want to do your best to make sure your child is as safe as possible - you need to make the call! If you're going to 'bite the bullet' and do this, I believe you should never ask anymore than three questions (you don't want to turn it into the Spanish Inquisition!), plan and write them down and ensure you let your teen know what you are going to ask (there should be no surprises for them!). My suggestions for questions are as follows:

  • What time does it start and what time does it finish?
  • Will you be there and will you be actively supervising?
  • How will you be handling the alcohol issue?

Jane did just that and she was lied to ... that's appalling behaviour on the other mother's part! It's sad but I continue to hear stories like this one from around the country where parents try to do the right thing and make the call and then get lied to ... Why would a parent lie to another about a party they are hosting? Is it that they simply want to appease the person on the other end of the phone and truly believe that nothing bad is going to happen and the parent calling will never find out about the lie? If they thought that what they were doing was right, why wouldn't they just tell the truth, justify their decisions and then allow a parent to choose whether to allow their child to attend or not? Or do they so desperately want to be their child's friend that they're willing to lie to others to ensure that as many people turn up as possible and damn the consequences? I'd love to know the psychology behind such behaviour because once you know the reason why they do it, maybe we could address it more effectively.

As already said, the only reason you are trying to access this information is to ensure you can make an informed decision about your child's safety. The good news is that as appalling as some parents' behaviour can be, many of our teens (like Jane's daughter) are able to identify when things are not right and respond appropriately, i.e., 'this is not a 'safe space', I need to call my Mum and get out of here'. As always, it comes down to the type of relationship you have with your child. Is it open and honest and do you have the type of 'connection' that ensures they feel comfortable enough to make that call when faced with this type of situation?

I totally get Jane's frustration - she was angry because even though she did everything she could, her daughter was put into a situation that was potentially dangerous and she can't find anyone to take responsibility for that. She trusted another mother to tell her the truth and then she was lied to - that's  hard to deal with. Sadly for her daughter, it most probably took a very long time before she was able to trust another parent again. The most important thing a parent can do in this type of situation is be thankful that nothing terrible happened - as I said to Jane, no-one was hurt. Grab that fact and hold it very close - so many things could have gone wrong but didn't.

Unfortunately, parents such as the one that Jane encountered are often 'serial offenders' they do this kind of thing again and again. This is shameful behaviour - they are not only putting their own children at risk but other people's as well ...

Saturday, 24 March 2018

What about France? Don't European parents provide alcohol to teens? They don't have problems with underage drinking ... or do they?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a UNSW study that found no evidence to support that parental supply of alcohol to children will 'teach them to drink responsibly' or be protective in any way. Instead, it found that this was actually "associated with subsequent binge drinking, alcohol-related harm(s) and symptoms of alcohol use disorder". Not surprisingly, some parents had huge issues with this and I received a number of emails and messages from Mums and Dads who refused to accept the findings. Now, as I wrote at the time, what you do with your child is your business and if you believe that it is appropriate to give your child a glass of wine with a meal then go ahead ... all I am trying to do is make it clear that if you are doing that because you believe there is evidence to say that this practice is likely to make your son or daughter a more responsible drinker in the future, there isn't!

A number of people who wrote to me raised the issue of France in their argument, usually going along the lines of that in that country there were few, if any, laws around underage drinking. There didn't need to be as the French had a very 'mature' attitude towards alcohol, i.e., it was often introduced in the home from a very early age, was almost always only consumed with a meal and the French did not 'drink to get drunk'. So is that actually the case? Do the French not have laws around underage drinking and has their 'laissez-faire' attitude towards alcohol protected them from the problems we have seen in countries like Australia?

In actual fact, France does have a legal drinking age, raising it from 16 to 18 years in 2009. It was raised, as the government at the time were quoted as saying, "to reduce a dangerous addiction among youths", with both drinking and purchasing ages being brought into line with most European countries. In the early 2000s, the French still viewed binge drinking as a phenomenon largely limited to those from the UK and northern Europe, particularly some of the Scandinavian countries. Then the situation began to change with the term 'le binge drinking' increasingly being used to describe the behaviour of French young people. Between 2004 and 2008 France saw the number of children under 15 admitted to hospital for drunkenness increase by 50% and alcohol-related hospital admissions for those under 24 rose by 50%.

In 2015, a study found that France's alcohol consumption had halved in the past 20 years, with just 18% of French men and 6% of women drinking on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the news was not so good for parents with 11.2% of 17-year-olds reporting drinking alcohol more than 10 times every month. Another study conducted in 2014 found that 59% of 11 to 12-year-olds had consumed alcohol, whilst 60% of 15 to 17-year-olds had been drunk at least once, and 79% of 16-year-olds claimed to have consumed alcohol within the last month. In addition, according to the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD), a study of over 96,000 students across the European Union member states, spirits had become the favoured drink of French students.

To many French people this simply does not make sense - they have always had a sense of pride regarding their 'mature and sophisticated' relationship with alcohol. Many have chosen to blame the influence of visitors from other countries, particularly the UK, as causing this cultural change and that certainly may have something to do with it, but experts tend to believe that global factors such as the increasing influence of alcohol advertising and the growing link between alcohol and sport are also important things to consider.

If it isn't France that people bring up, it's Italy or Greece! What they are usually referring to is the 'Mediterranean Model', i.e., introducing alcohol to a child in a family setting with a meal. In 2009, Time Magazine wrote an article on the changing face of underage drinking in Italy. It reported that Milan had recently imposed a strict new local law that, for the first time in Italy, meant that parents of anyone underage caught drinking and anyone who supplied someone under 16 with alcohol would face punishment, with a fine of up to $700. This was as a result of a study that had found 34% of 11-year-olds have "problems with alcohol". Another national study had also found that 63% of underage youths get drunk on weekends, with boys consuming an average of four drinks per drinking session and girls consuming six.

When it comes to Greece, the ESPAD provides some frightening data regarding the alcohol use of young people from that country. In Greece, the study found that teens drink their first bottle of beer or wine at 12-13, before quickly moving to spirits (vodka, tequila, whisky) by the age of 14-15. In addition, around 9% of teenage boys and 5% of teenage girls get drunk for the first time at 13-years-old. The introduction of a glass of wine with a meal doesn't seem to be being too protective there!

Although many find it hard to accept, it is important to acknowledge that even in countries where the 'Mediterranean Model' once appeared to have been successful there are growing issues when it comes to underage drinking. Now do these countries have as significant a problem as others, including Australia? Maybe not, but to throw France, Greece and Italy into someone's face and say "these countries have got the whole underage drinking issue in hand" is just plain stupid!

Now some of you maybe asking yourself, but doesn't this guy usually go on about the growing numbers of non-drinkers amongst our young people? What about them? Well, they're certainly there - in fact, across the world we are seeing growing numbers of young people who choose not to drink, however, if they are drinkers, they are often highly problematic drinkers. They start earlier, drink a lot when they drink, which is often regularly and they are more likely to choose high-strength alcohol products such as spirits. What the research seems to be saying is that providing young people alcohol, even in cultures that traditionally were protective, does not seem to always have the desired effect ... What we are learning is that although family influence is incredibly important, there are so many other external pressures that bombard our kids from a very early age, most of which are almost impossible to control, that the potentially positive messages you are trying to send can become confused. It would appear that although you may be attempting to teach them to drink responsibly by providing them sips or a drink with a meal, what they are actually picking up from your actions (even in countries like France!) is simply 'Mum and Dad give me alcohol and they support my drinking ...' - most probably not the message you intended!

EMCDDA/ESPAD (2016). ESPAD Report 2015 — Results from the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs. Lisbon.

Israely, J. (2009). Italy Starts Cracking Down on Underage Drinking, Time, July 29,,8599,1913176,00.html

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.