November 1, 2016 Claire Gardner

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.

What we were trying to do was to engage them in conversation. We were asking things like “How are you going to get home? Who’s going to be driving? How much have you had to drink? Do you understand the risks and the dangers?” et cetera. At the end of a festival we also provided free breath testing. Because it was a safe space, it was amazing the number of people that came up to get tested and ended up asking all sorts of questions to gain some knowledge or understanding.

Getting parents up to speed and starting a conversation

During my time studying social work and psychology at RMIT I did a placement at the Drug and Alcohol Service. This really opened my eyes. A lot of my placement was around working with kids in a school setting. I was amazed at the knowledge that these young people had. Speaking to Year 10 students, the amount of knowledge that they had at that time was so much more than what I had when I was in Year 10.

Drugs 101 Guide Cover

I was really encouraged that these young people were getting really up-to-date information and having the chance to make informed decisions about alcohol and other drugs.

Parents need up-to-date information too though and Drugs 101 has it.

Reading through the Drugs 101 guide, one thing that really stood out for me was the encouragement around starting a conversation. I think that’s really important and there’s no right or wrong way of doing it. I’m not going to sit here and write about how to talk to your kids about drugs, my experience tells me every child is different. But it is crucial for kids to have someone to talk to. Whether it’s you or a teacher, an auntie, an uncle, another adult in their life. Encourage that.

My other suggestion is, if you can’t quite figure out how you’re going to engage your kids in one-on-one conversation, putting a guide like Drugs 101 out on your coffee table is a great idea. My parents would put things on the coffee table that I wasn’t necessarily meant to read, but I’d just be watching TV and it would be something I’d pick up and have a look through. This is a perfect guide for a situation like that. It’s got great information and stories and it’s really engaging.

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