Earlier this term, our extended High School Wellbeing team hosted our first Parent Alliance Meeting. We were delighted with the support received from parents across the school and we appreciated the frank conversations that resulted. One of the recurring themes that very much worried us was the prevalence of reports of alcohol use amongst underage students and, in particular, children arriving drunk at parties. Drinking at pre-parties, and in parks and other places creates significant difficulties for hosts who are trying to do the right thing.
Many strategies to deal with the issue emerged in the discussion. Many centred on opening up lines of communication between parents and between parents and their children. Dr Michael Carr-Gregg highlights just how much parenting has changed in the last 20 years. While he acknowledges that there are many more risk factors for students, he affirms the belief expressed by many at the Parent Alliance meeting, that our children need firm boundaries and limits. He believes that fundamentally the best form of monitoring is good communication.
Carr-Gregg points out that the teenage brain is well short of maturity, with the female brain not completing development until the age of 23 and the latest research from Cambridge University determining that the frontal cortex of the average male brain does not reach maturity until 30 years of age. This means that teenagers are unable to predict the consequences of their actions. They are susceptible to peer pressure, unable to read the emotions of others and not good at calming themselves down or putting breaks on their behaviour. They weigh ‘risk versus reward’ differently to adults.
Consumption of alcohol exacerbates poor decision making and impulse control and heavy drinking during adolescence may affect brain function as an adult. Research has shown that drinking alcohol during adolescence can inhibit the growth of neurones and decrease the myelination needed to strengthen neural pathways. In addition, studies have shown a reduction of up to 10 percent in the size of the hippocampus, thereby reducing memory and learning capacity.
Carr-Gregg believes that this generation of children is too indulged and that parents need to learn to say ‘No’ more often. He expresses this as a deficit in ‘Vitamin N’ or an inability to say no to our children. While we all want our children to be happy, without clear boundaries, our students will never learn resilience, empathy, and kindness. They need to learn that they are not the centre of the universe and that instant gratification cannot be the norm.
As we approach the long summer holidays, I would like to appeal to our parent body to set clear limits for our students. Please know where they are, who they are with and what their plans are on a daily basis. Share contact details with the parents of your children’s friends. Discuss exit strategies with your children. Let them know that you will pick them up whenever they need you.
There are many useful resources available that provide great checklists for safe partying. Please see the following:
- From NSW Police https://www.police.nsw.gov.au/online_services/party_safety/safe_party_tips
- From the Alcohol and Drug Foundation: https://adf.org.au/talking-about-drugs/parenting/talking-young-people/safe-partying/hosting-teenage-party/
Please see below for an overview of the key themes emerging from the first Parent Alliance meeting.
Feedback from the October 2019 meeting of the Parent Alliance
Earlier in the term, we asked for expressions of interest from parents who would like to participate in a parent working committee, to partner with the College in mobilising our entire parent body to stand up against drugs, alcohol and vaping at our school.
In this initial meeting, we were able to identify the main areas of concern for parents across all year groups. The following were the main issues that were common to most year groups:
Peer pressure: older students are a source of influence for younger students – and encourage alcohol use by assisting in the supply of alcohol.
Behavioural Consequences: clearer rules and consequences need to be communicated to students and parents as a deterrent and enforced consistently by the school.
Communication between parents: a system is needed to allow communication amongst parents, enabling parents hosting social events and parties to be reached easily. Host parents would also then be able to reach students’ parents should they need to do so for emergency reasons.
Education: ongoing and continual education in school around drugs and alcohol is needed for students and their parents, including exposure to consequences of substance use.
Pre-drinking/arriving intoxicated to parties: commonly students are arriving and leaving parties intoxicated. This needs to be addressed by the parents hosting the party and supported by parents in the year group.
In 2020, we intend to host further parent alliance forums and encourage all parents to join to help us to address the issue of substance use in a collaborative manner.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jan Hart is the Head of High School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.