Ice rips apart Melbourne family

Lonely wait in hospital

ABC Radio Melbourne morning presenter Jon Faine accepted an invitation from a listener to sit down have a cup of tea and talk about what’s happened in his family. “Tony”, as he asked to be called, wanted his story to be heard by a wider audience.

JF: Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us, what happened?

Tony: I guess the best place to start would be, nearly on three years ago now my wife and I received two distressing calls from two of our oldest sons.

JF: You have how many children altogether?

Tony:Four. We’ve lived in our community for over thirty years. Like all parents we’ve always wanted to do the right things and we’re very connected in the community. A loving family, grandparents who adored the grandchildren but on this particular day we received two distressing calls separately. One to me and one to my wife. It was basically screaming coming over the phone. There was the mention of “He’s going to shoot me”. I grabbed my wife, we jumped in the car and we went to this place, which happened to be my parents house, about 10 minutes away. We got there and as we were rounding the corner there was over 30 police cars, there were helicopters. It was like a scene out of some sort of movie. There were the tapes they put across the road. Well, I disregarded the tapes and drove through them and I could see my younger of my two older boys lying on the ground.

JF: He’s how old?

Tony: At the time he was approximately 25. As with anything like that of course what you’re hoping for is to see some kind of movement. He was just lying there so we had no idea whether he was dead, alive or whatever.

JF: Were there police nearby?

Tony: There were over two-dozen police …

JF: No, no. Nearby him specifically? On the ground.

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Understanding cyberspace

Parents must learn the language and culture of young people online before having meaningful conversations with their children about it.

So says clinical psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, who told Firbank Grammar’s Social Media 101 information night that parents must help teenagers with immature brains navigate social media.

Dr Carr-Gregg talks about the impact of social media on teenage girls

Dr Carr-Gregg said a technology-free dinner time was the perfect way to talk and bond. Research showed that children who had this were more likely to do better at school and resist illicit drugs.

“The research is crystal clear and yet we have a decline in the number of families who are actually managing to do this,” he says.

While there was no firm evidence that their time online was affecting kids’ language skills or turning them into “sociopathic monsters”, Dr Carr-Gregg said it was important for parents to regulate use.

“Setting limits and boundaries is a beautiful thing,” he said. “Please, stick to the age restrictions for each individual platform of social media. They’re there for a reason and the age limits are sensible.’

“As a parent or guardian, if you think that your child’s behaviour online is having a negative impact on other aspects of their life, it’s too much time and you have to step in.

“Make sure that you’re setting those limits and boundaries and negotiate consequences.”

Another rule of thumb is to never post anything online that you wouldn’t want your parents, the police, a principal or predator to see.

“Young people are all online,” Dr Carr-Gregg says. “They need to learn the skills, the knowledge and the strategies to use the Internet in a safe, smart and responsible way.

“Please let it not be the case that we have to talk to you after a sudden disaster. Be proactive, have these conversations now.”

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg is one of Australia’s highest profile psychologists, author of 10 books, broadcaster and a specialist in parenting, children, adolescents and the use of technology for mental health.

Parents can’t always drag a young person to get help

YoDAA

Since YoDAA began we’ve had thousands of contacts. We often find parents have no idea what they need or want. They are overwhelmed and recognise they need something, but they don’t know what. They simply need to talk to someone. and it’s our job to listen, to provide information and strategies, and to refer parents on to other services when needed.

We help parents who are just finding out about experimentation with drugs right through to those who have children in a treatment service. We find there are particular types of information parents and carers want to know (compared to young people, schools or youth workers) when they contact YoDAA. ‘How would I know if someone in my home is using? How would I know if someone in my home is dealing?’ ‘I’ve just hacked my son or daughter’s Facebook page and found out they are using drugs – what do I do?’ ‘My son has been discharged from a treatment service, I don’t think he’s ready to come home’.

There’s something specific about the teenage years and moving from a period of complete dependence to being an independent adult, taking responsibility and making your own decisions. That middle stage is a transition.

We read a lot about the teenage brain, that young people haven’t got that executive function yet and so they rely more on emotions and impulses to make decisions. But young people need experiences to learn to be able to make decisions. So there’s a real tension in parenting adolescents to gradually give over responsibility and autonomy but still have safety nets.

Every bone in our body wants to make the immediate OK. So with drugs and alcohol it is horrific to consider letting a young person manage their own risk, because what if they go out tonight and something happens? The emotional want and need is to make tonight OK. So if your son or daughter is safely in their bedroom, you can sleep tonight. But we know that won’t produce a life-skilled 21-year-old.

Parents have a major impact on the environment around young people – they affect the safety and security in their house and the role modelling around how they problem solve and manage conflict and emotions. How willing they are to hear and support young people even when they don’t necessarily like or agree with their behaviour.

As parents you can set appropriate limits and consequences that make you feel you have some say over what happens in your house. But how do you ensure those limits and consequences don’t push your young person away? How do you raise the issue of drug use without getting their hackles up?

The difficulty is to negotiate when you know a young person has potentially started to dabble and experiment. How much do you allow them to manage themself? There’s no clear-cut answer – it’s something you and your child need to discuss.

Drugs and alcohol are a value-laden topic. So it’s harder for a young person to be honest and to say ‘it was a bit risky last night, mum. I had a bit of a smoke of marijuana and I had a bit of a drink – I was on my own. I should have been with my mates’. That’s not a topic we’re comfortable talking about.

And often parents have a sense of shame or guilt thinking ‘I haven’t been a good enough parent, I’ve failed’. Or they blame issues in the family – ‘my grandfather was an alcoholic so I should have known this was going to happen’. But the nature of drug and alcohol problems is very complex and multiple factors in a young person’s life – peers, school, family and community – have an effect.

You can’t always drag a young person to get help but you can unwittingly do things that create barriers to conversation and that make help seeking harder – some examples are demanding that help is sought, not noticing any gains a young person might make, not being able to have a conversation without it becoming a fight, being catastrophic around your conversations, and not negotiating consequences and limits.

There is so much a family can do to help a young person before they start using drugs or when problems are emerging. Parents know their young person more than anyone else, so get some support and advice but integrate that with your values and remember that you are an expert in your son and daughter’s life.

Dominic Ennis works at Youth Support + Advocacy Service (YSAS) and Youth Drug and Alcohol Advice (YoDDA).

YSAS, Mon – Fri (9am-8pm): 1800 458 685
YoDDA, 24-hour free line: 1800 458 685

Heath Ledger’s Dad: Mixing Prescription Drugs Killed My Son

Heath Ledger

Kim Ledger’s actor son, Heath, was killed by an accidental overdose of prescription medication.

Very few people have any idea of the extent of prescription pill addiction in Australia. It is a terrifying problem. We are losing more people through prescription medication misuse than through ice. The non-medical use of prescription drugs is 21 times more common than heroin, and one in 10 people on prescription medication will develop some kind of dependency.

When my son, Heath, was caught he was only using medication to try and treat a bad chest infection. He was part-way through filming Doctor Parnassus and was travelling a lot between Vancouver, London and New York. He needed to sleep better and had an Ambien or two to help achieve it – that mix of prescription medication caused Heath to sleep permanently. Read more

Kids are living in the sexting era, whether we like it or not

naked woman with smart phone

Some studies say two out of three young people between the ages of 16 and 18 have sexted.

Whatever the precise figures, sexting is very prevalent at an important time in a young person’s development when they are expressing their sexuality – and they are utilising technology to do that.

Sexting is part of being a young person. We are in the iPhone era. A young person has an iPhone or smartphone with them much of the time and it has become part of how they are developing their sexual identity. We’ve done it through generations with art, the press and by writing risqué things. Every time we have a new technology coming in to the sexual space we get worried. Read more

The social media apps and websites Aussie kids use the most

kids on phones in a car

Here is a brief overview of the most popular social media apps and websites used by kids in Australia. As a parent, some of these you have probably heard of but some you may not be familiar with. It’s important you keep pace with the social media landscape. Many have tools and functionality that can help parents restrict illicit and inappropriate content from being seen. Most importantly, your kids will be more likely to talk to you about their social media use if you understand the platforms they’re using. Read more

Kids are well informed, but parents need up-to-date information about drugs and alcohol too

TAC's Vanessa program

The Vanessa fleet of breath-testing vehicles.

I recently spent two years working with young people and young children who are in kinship care. I also love music. It’s one of my passions and one of my self-care skills within my work. As such, I often find myself at music festivals.

Something else I did while I was at university was to work with an initiative through the Transport Accident Commission. We would go to music festivals and other youth-orientated events in a huge orange bus called Vanessa and engage young people in conversations around the dangers of drink and drug driving.

It’s a high minimisation approach. We weren’t out there saying, “Do not drink and do not do drugs,” because that approach alienates people. Continually saying, “don’t do it” will only make a young person want to try, or push them away. Read more

The place for Australian parents to report online abuse and cyber bullying

iparent

What does the Australian community find acceptable for media to present to children? What might they be exposed to, and how can you help young people and their families manage the risks? Since my role as Australia’s acting eSafety Commissioner was introduced last year, we’ve created a number of projects and programs to act as a safety net for Australian children online.

I began my career working on documentary films and then moved to a position at the Australian Classification Board. There I saw a range of films, videos, computer games and police and customs seizures that told me a lot about what our society thought was acceptable – and what was not. Read more

Parents, Kids & Social Media: Find Your Digital Spine

Snapchat Spine

Photo: Parentguides.com.au

In 2004 I wrote a book on the Internet and I made somewhat of a prediction. Call me Nostradamus. In the book I said there was a new world and I called it rather pathetically, Siberia. I said your children were early settlers in this new land and that this was potentially problematic because a lot of parents were standing on a metaphorical dock, waving goodbye to their children as they explored it.

I also said that I didn’t think staying on the dock was a very good idea because in Siberia what looks like a bank can sometimes be a robber. What looks like a friend can be a predator, and what looks like a game could be a trap. These are the pitfalls of the Internet and social media. Read more

A Guide to Australian Cyber-Bullying & Sexting Laws

Girl Crying

Photo: Counselling / Pixabay

Cyber-bullying is illegal in Australia, but working out what aspects are covered and how can be a challenge. Sexting, cyber-bullying and their related offenses are covered by a range of state, territory and federal laws. Some jurisdictions have specific anti-bullying laws, while others use existing laws to prosecute cases. Read more

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