Mr Andrew Hawkins – Deputy Headmaster – Head of Senior School
Adolescence is a worrying time for parents as some young people engage in risky, thrill-seeking behaviour and for some teens this may involve alcohol or other drugs. There is also the motivation of curiosity. Lives Lived Well Community Services Manager Suzi Morris says experimentation and wanting to fit in, the ‘sense of belonging’ to your peers the Headmaster often refers to, is normal teenage behaviour.
Suzi believes that teens with strong families and social connections will usually leave drugs and alcohol alone after some possible ‘experimentation’. When there is continued use of substance the pattern of behaviour over-time includes heightened emotions and mood swings, being unable to sit still, loss of appetite, avoiding eye contact, struggling at school or becoming secretive. These behaviours are all symptomatic of the growing brain changing in response to alcohol or drug use. Some of the damage to the developing brain may be irreversible. As Angela Foulds-Cook mentioned in her talk brain plasticity creates a precarious time for teens and that drugs and alcohol in early adolescence permanently affect the brains reward system. For this reason, Steinberg recommends keeping teenagers away from all drugs and alcohol especially when younger than 15.
I am a big believer in parents needing to trust their intuition surrounding these issues and being prepared to talk about these issues when and if they arise. Headspace outlines ways parents can help including setting a good example for your kids by not normalising alcohol or drug use through your own habits. Parents also need to be conscious that most alcohol is purchased through friends or acquaintances (50%) followed by parents (30%). According to Headspace, keeping the lines of communication open is vital, along with setting clear boundaries and monitoring their behaviour are keys. Suzi also adds “It takes time, so patience is the key, and communication, and not just communication but consistency.”
The point above that touches on setting the right example at home is an important topic that Paul Dillon from Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia touched on in his research. While there are important individual characteristics and effects on cognitive functions with drug and alcohol use, the effect of the drinking environment is crucial. If we are to change the recent statistics on the relationship between alcohol and violence, schools and parents must work hard at changing behaviours. Last year there were 70 000 victims of alcohol related violence and 14 000 hospitalisations of which 3451 were brain injuries. Unfortunately, the death of Cole Miller on January 4, 2016 after massive brain trauma from a punch he received while celebrating the new year is all too common. While Cole is an extreme example of the issues surrounding drug and alcohol use our community must work hard to keep our boys safe and ensure their health and well-being is their priority as they develop in to fine young men.
Please click on this link to be directed to information on parenting strategies from Positive Choices.
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