The teenage years
The teenage years can be upon parents suddenly and sometimes without warning. It can seem like overnight that the child who could be coaxed and guided is now asserting their independence and tossing out some of the rules you so easily imposed before.
It can be a shock for parents to find their teenage children wanting to make their own choices about clothes and friends. It is, however, just the next step in growing up, with a new set of challenges. Recognise firstly that it can be a confusing time for teenagers. Change is happening rapidly - physically, sexually, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Don’t ignore those changes. The most important single thing you can do (and keep doing, no matter what), is to keep in contact with your teenager by making time to talk about issues that affect them.
You may often be busy or not want to interfere in your teenager’s life, but you cannot afford to give up your responsibility as a parent. Teenagers are no longer children, but they are not yet adults. Talking to them regularly, even if they do not appear to want to talk, will keep you in touch with their needs and keep the communication lines open for when they might really need you. Listen to your teenager if you want them to listen to you.
It’s natural for teenagers to push the limits, testing the boundaries of your patience and your values. Accept that this is part of growing up, and don’t take it personally. However, make sure your teenager realises you still have limits. Discuss these limits and why you feel they are important for your teenagers well-being. Be consistent with them. Despite what they might want, you still have a responsibility as a parent to care for your teenager. You might also be responsible for, and liable for, their actions. You can teach your teenager how to make responsible decisions by making responsible decisions yourself.
Don’t be afraid to say no. Some teenagers need you to say no - the teenager afraid of going to a party because of the likelihood of trouble can sometimes avoid losing face with peers if a parent rules it out. Image is important to a teenager. How they perceive their friends to see them can be a powerful influence. Recognise that the clothes they wear are simply reflecting their wish to be independent. Of course, you might not like the clothes, but is it really hurting anyone (except, perhaps, your own sense of good taste!). You will need to have an open mind as the parent of a teenager. You might do well to reflect on your own teenage years and what you did then.
Pick your fights. Don’t battle with your teenager over everything you do not like. Work out what is important, set the rules and stick with it. If you are constantly arguing, it's more likely your teenager will turn to friends (who they think really understand) if they need help, when it should be you. Don’t be a prude. Sex education is discussed in explicit detail at school, so be prepared to tackle the issue in the same way at home.
Don’t leave sex education to the schools - your values and guidance are still the most important in your child's life. Admit your mistakes and apologise if you want your teenager to do the same. Trust your teenager and they might surprise you. Always look for the best in them, even if it is not always obvious.
Most teenagers lead happy - if sometimes complicated - lives and go on to make further valuable contributions to their family, community and society.
However, in a country that takes pride in the achievements of its teenage people, the saddest statistic must be the number of youth suicides. The suspected suicide rate for females between the age range 15 - 24 was 11.4 per 100,000 in 2021, the rate for males was 22.2. Why these people commit suicide is open to wide debate.
Is it the result of economic reform or simply bad parenting? Even the parents of young suicide victims are often at a loss to understand. Many victims appear to be leading normal, healthy lives - typical teenagers. Then suddenly, they are tragically gone.
The Ministry of Education and the National Health Committee suggest in Young People at Risk of Suicide: A Guide for Schools, that about 90 percent of young people dying by suicide or making suicide attempts will have had a mental health disorder at the time. The booklet says the three mental health disorders most commonly associated with suicidal behaviours are:
- Depressive disorders - present in almost three-quarters of those making suicide attempts.
- Alcohol, cannabis and other drug abuse - present in more than a third of those making suicide attempts.
- Significant behavioural problems (such as conduct disorders and antisocial behaviours) - present in a third of young people making suicide attempts.
Depression is a common illness that affects the whole person physically, mentally and emotionally. Everyone has changes in mood and gets down sometimes. But when the feeling of gloom persists, life might seem hopeless. There is no one single cause of depression. A variety of factors contribute to it.
Depression is more likely to occur where there is a family history of depression or other psychiatric disorders; with chemical imbalances in the brain which can upset behaviour, feelings and thoughts; with negative patterns of thinking and distortions; with alcohol and substance abuse; and with environmental factors such as loss, stress, adverse life events and chronic illness.
Depression can be treated by counselling that focuses on changing negative thought patterns, reviewing and understanding problems, improving self-esteem, learning stress management skills, strengthening communication within the family, improving social skills, or monitoring and decreasing the effects of unpleasant events.
Different kinds of medication can also be used to help treat depression. Medications may improve a depressed person’s mood and can effectively treat sleep and appetite problems. A combination of counselling and medication is often helpful. Lifestyle changes can also lead to a general improvement in health and wellbeing. A balanced diet, daily exercise, plenty of water, regular sleep and reduced alcohol and drug intake are all helpful.
Teenage people need your love and attention and their own space. Spend some time with them at least once a week. This could be watching a video or TV programme, going shopping, joining in sports activities, talking about school and studies or sharing a meal with just the two of you. The causes, according to a study of suicide, the Canterbury Suicide Project, can be many. The main ones are:
- Childhood difficulties, such as family conflict or sexual abuse.
- Drug use disorders.
- Anti-social behaviour.
- The triggering of the suicide attempt by some life crisis such as the breakup of a relationship or trouble with the law.
- Psychiatric problems, such as depression.
- Parental problems.
Any one, or several of these, can bring about a suicide attempt. As parents, we have the challenge of making sure it doesn’t happen to our children. Probably the best thing we can do is do our best - right from the start. Following some of the advice from this and other parenting resources, learning about parenting and children, listening and talking to our children, and valuing their contribution to our families, are all going to help.
Teenagers especially are finding their way in the world; trying to work out how they fit in. It’s important to keep lines of communication open, to support and encourage teenage people and learn to recognise when they need help. Most young people who die because of suicide may have been depressed, but this does not mean that most people who are depressed will attempt suicide.
A small number of those who attempt suicide may show inappropriate anger or violence, or show no signs at all. If you are worried that your child is suicidal, look out for the following signs and if some of these signs persist, depression may be the cause:
- Sad, anxious or bored mood.
- Changes in sleep pattern, such as insomnia or oversleeping
- Irritability, tearfulness.
- Feeling worthless.
- Poor concentration.
- Decreased energy, feeling tired
- Obsessive behaviour, for example preoccupation with music, stories and games that have a death theme; withdrawal from social contact and activities.
- Saying life's not worth living or indicating thoughts of suicide.
- Increased use of alcohol, drugs and substance abuse.
- Threats of suicide.
- Previous attempts at suicide.
- Talking about death and wanting to die.
- Making final arrangements - giving away treasured possessions.
- Changes in mood, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, not caring about appearance.
- Withdrawal from relationships and activities; isolation from others.
- Statements of hopelessness, helplessness or worthlessness.
- Reduction in academic or work performance.
- High-risk behaviour (drug taking, dangerous driving)
- Urgency of action and the speeding up of activities.
- Sudden lift of spirits after a period of depression.
If a young person you care about shows any of these signs of depression, there are many ways you can help. Some ways to start a conversation with a young person showing signs of depression are:
- I'd like you to tell me what you are afraid of.
- Please tell me what is worrying you and I will listen to what you say.
- I know I sometimes get angry, but it's because I care.
- I will stay here with you and we will work it out.
- It is obvious things are not OK at the moment, but they could get better.
- It is important to have faith in yourself and with support, this will help you work through the good as well as the bad times.
- Would it help if I came with you to see the doctor?
- I can find someone for you to talk with, and I'll make an appointment for you.
If you think your teenage child is showing these signs, you can do several things to check if your gut feeling is right. Check out your view of the young person with others if you're feeling uncertain, for example, friends of the young person, teachers and relatives. Talk to your teenager and LISTEN calmly.
Ask directly if they have considered harming themselves and do not be shocked by their response. Encourage them to think of choices open to them.
Do not offer simple advice. A person who is thinking about suicide is often overwhelmed by their problems and will not necessarily believe they can be solved. Show you are ready to support them and help them get the support they need. Avoid telling them what to do, lecturing them on the rights and wrongs of self-destruction, saying that suicide is the easy way out or telling them they are seeking attention.
Don't try to deal with this on your own. Seek advice from a health professional. If possible, help the teenager to see a doctor or counsellor. If a young person exhibits the following - they should not be left alone:
- Saying they or you would be better off if they were dead.
- Has just made an attempt at suicide.
- Has decided on a method they can carry out and has set a time.
- Has left a final written note.
If this is the case you need to:
- Make sure someone stays with them.
- Take precautions by locking away all drugs, guns, alcohol, car keys and any other dangerous objects.
- Involve others and try not to handle it alone.
- Contact a doctor, your local hospital or an emergency service (ambulance, police, fire). Let them know the situation is urgent.
- Insist on getting assistance - don't promise to keep it secret or confidential.
If we do our best to let them know they are valued, there may be less likelihood of them undervaluing themselves. We cannot live our lives as parents constantly worrying about whether our children will commit suicide. The statistics are grim, but the reality is that youth suicide is still rare. However, we must always be alert to the danger signs. They might be verbal, behavioural or situational.
Danger signs - verbal
It has been suggested that up to 90 percent of people who consider suicide tell someone about it. That means we have advance warning - and we can do something about it, as long as we are listening. Whether you are a parent, friend, teacher or neighbour, if someone discusses the issue of taking their own life, even if they appear to joke about it, take it seriously.
If you think they might be considering suicide, ask. A direct question is likely to get a direct answer. If they say ‘no’, but you still suspect something is amiss, seek clues by asking if there has been a recent significant event that might have depressed them. If they do admit to thinking about suicide, ask when.
If they have a specific time in mind, you will know how quickly you need to act. Ask how they intend to take their life, and whether they have the means of doing it (ie a gun). Do they have a plan? The more organised the person is, the more likely they are to be serious.
Danger signs - behavioural
A young person considering suicide might take an unusual interest in ‘dark’ themes - drawing pictures involving death, listening to music with death themes or taking an interest in people who have taken their own life. They might suddenly begin to put their affairs in order by giving away treasured possessions, showing sudden improvement from a bout of depression, or apologising for things they have done to people. They might begin to mutilate themselves in a minor way.
Danger signs - situational
A range of specific events and experiences may contribute to a teenage person feeling depressed. These could include:
- Abuse: physical, emotional, sexual.
- Loss: of a loved one, a close friend or pet, through a relationship breakup, through unresolved grief from a death, by moving to a new city or country.
- Relationships: difficulty making friends, pressure from friends to behave in a certain way, tension in family relationships.
- Sexual development: confused sexual feelings, possible attraction to same-sex, coping with being LGBT and the responses of others or body image.
- General: academic pressures, fear of failure, employment concerns, chronic physical illness, conflict between cultural misunderstandings, sense of identity and place in the world, bullying, constant put-downs and criticism, dependence on alcohol, substance abuse.
These can sometimes heighten suicidal thoughts and actions. If the previously mentioned signals are also evident or have been in the past, be particularly alert at this time. If you see the signs, talk to the person. Let them unload their problems by talking to you about them.
About 80 percent of suicides are prevented by non-professionals - ordinary people. If they have immediate plans to commit suicide, ring the Police. Otherwise, organise for them to talk to someone who is qualified to help - try Youthline, Samaritans or one of the other agencies.
Along with therapy and sometimes medication, there's a lot you can do on your own to fight back. Changing your behavior -- your physical activity, lifestyle, and even your way of thinking -- are all natural depression treatments.
Things you can do to start feeling better right now.
- Get in a routine. If you’re depressed, you need a routine. Depression can strip away the structure from your life. One day melts into the next. Setting a gentle daily schedule can help you get back on track.
- Set goals. When you're depressed, you may feel like you can't accomplish anything. That makes you feel worse about yourself. To push back, set daily goals for yourself. Make your goal something that you can succeed at, like doing the dishes every other day." As you start to feel better, you can add more challenging daily goals.
- Exercise. It temporarily boosts feel-good chemicals called endorphins. It may also have long-term benefits for people with depression. Regular exercise seems to encourage the brain to rewire itself in positive ways. You don’t need to run marathons to get a benefit. Just walking a few times a week can help.
- Challenge negative thoughts. In your fight against depression, a lot of the work is mental -- changing how you think. When you're depressed, you leap to the worst possible conclusions. The next time you're feeling terrible about yourself, use logic as a natural depression treatment. You might feel like no one likes you, but is there real evidence for that? It takes practice, but in time you can beat back those negative thoughts before they get out of control.
- Do something new. When you’re depressed, you’re in a rut. Push yourself to do something different. Go to a museum. Pick up a used book and read it on a park bench. Take a language class. When we challenge ourselves to do something different, there are chemical changes in the brain. Trying something new alters the levels of the brain chemical dopamine, which is associated with pleasure, enjoyment, and learning.
- Avoid alcohol and other drugs. Substance misuse is common in people who have depression. You may be more likely to turn to alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs to deal with the symptoms of your depression. It’s unclear if drinking and using drugs causes depression. But long-term drug use could change the way your brain works and worsen or lead to mental health problems.
- Try meditation. Meditation can have a range of beneficial effects such as lowering stress levels and helping people to become more aware of their thoughts and reactions.
There are many different types of meditation, but you can get started with a simple meditative exercise with these steps:
- Sit comfortably.
- Close your eyes.
- Breathe naturally.
- Focus on how your body feels while you breathe.
- When your mind wanders, redirect your attention back to your breathing.
Herbs for depression
Depression is a mental health condition that affects thousands of teenagers across New Zealand. Although depression is typically treated with medication and therapy, some people may want to try other safe methods like dietary modifications or supplements to reduce their symptoms.
The herbs and supplements in this article have been studied for their potential to reduce depressive symptoms and may be appropriate for some people with depression. However, more research is needed to draw robust conclusions about their effect on depression.
It’s essential to discuss any supplement with your doctor to ensure that it’s safe for you and fits your needs.
Rhodiola is an herb linked to a variety of potential health benefits when taken in supplement form. These include reduced depressive symptoms and an improved stress response, which can help your body adapt to stressful situations.
Saffron is a brightly colored spice that’s packed with antioxidant compounds, including the carotenoids crocin and crocetin. Interestingly, saffron has shown promise as a natural treatment for depression.
Supplements for depression
Omega-3 fats are essential fats, meaning you need to get them from your diet. Some studies show that omega-3 supplements may help treat depression.
NAC is a precursor to the amino acids L-cysteine and glutathione. Glutathione is considered one of the most important antioxidants in your body and is critical for regulating inflammation and protecting cells against oxidative damage.
Vitamin D is a critical nutrient that plays numerous essential roles in your body. Unfortunately, many people don’t have sufficient vitamin D levels, including people with depression.
B vitamins play important roles in neurological function and mood regulation. B vitamins, including folate, B12, and B6, are needed for the production and regulation of neurotransmitters like serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and dopamine.
Zinc is a mineral that’s critical to brain health and the regulation of neurotransmitter pathways. It also boasts antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Zinc deficiency is strongly linked to an increased risk of depression and depression symptom severity.
SAMe is a sulphur-containing compound that’s shown promise in the treatment of depression. It’s found naturally in your body and plays important roles in brain functioning.
St. John’s Wort is a popular herb that has shown promise in reducing symptoms in people with depression. A 2016 review of 35 studies found that treatment with St. John’s Wort reduced symptoms in people with mild to moderate depression.
Magnesium is an important mineral that may benefit those with depression. Magnesium deficiency is common among people with depression, and research shows that supplementing with it may reduce depressive symptoms.
Support systems at school
When you're going through a difficult time, it's easy to feel isolated. Most schools will provide some form of institutional support, such as teachers, counsellors, or administrators; however, there are also less formal forms of support, such as friends, classmates, mentors, or student groups. Identifying who you can turn to and for what will make it easier to seek help when you need it.
Here are some pointers to keep in mind when deciding where to seek help:
- Friends are the people most likely to know about and witness any abuse you're experiencing, making them valuable sources of support at school. However, confronting the realities of abuse can lead to people assuming they know what's best for you without fully understanding the situation. Choose people who are likely to support you in your decision-making regardless of their prefered outcomes.
- Meaningful support is built on trust, so be cautious about who you open up to, remembering that you can only control your own actions, not those of others. Make it very clear what information is private, and make it clear that breaking your trust could put you in danger.
- The people you open up to will differ depending on the type of support you require, and it is critical to consider who is best equipped to provide it. People at school can help you by assisting you in developing and adhering to a safety plan and making sure you have rides when you need them.
- Others in your community, such as mentors or faith leaders, may be able to offer perspectives that align with your values or guidance on how to process your emotions, and they may also have greater discretion in reporting abuse that occurs. There is no limit to the number of ways you can get help: what matters is that you listen to yourself to figure out what you need and who can help you.
- It can be overwhelming to learn that someone you care about is being abused, and people you tell about your situation may react in a way that makes you feel like they're upset with you. They're upset because they care about you and don't want you to be mistreated.
It's fine to tell them that such behaviours hurt you and aren't beneficial to you.
After an attempt
Maybe you've just gotten home from the hospital, or you're trying to figure out what prompted you to consider suicide. The "why" of suicide is complex, and answers may be difficult to come by.
Your healing journey is one that many others have taken and survived. Your life is important.
How did I get here
It's okay if you don't understand all of the thoughts and feelings that led you to consider suicide.
Many people who are suicidal are suffering from a mental health problem that can be treated. You may have also been going through stressful life events, finding it difficult to express your feelings, or feeling isolated from others.
While you may still face difficulties, many people who survive a suicide attempt begin to see those difficulties in a new light and realise that there are people who can help them.
You don't have to have all of the answers to be able to move on from this experience. There is a way out.
Interacting with friends and family
Following a suicide attempt, people are often at a loss for words. They may be scared, confused, or angry, and they may say things that are detrimental to your recovery. They might also avoid talking about it with you.
They may require some time to process what has occurred. Their journey, however, is not your journey, and you are not responsible for how they choose to work through their emotions.
If people ask you about your attempt, tell them what you are comfortable telling them or that you need time. Look for a therapist or other mental health professional, as well as a support group. If necessary, enlist the assistance of family and friends with day-to-day responsibilities.
Things to support recovery
You have had a significant health event, and you will require time, reflection, and support from others during your recovery, just as you would with any other health concern.
- Be gentle with yourself. You have just survived a potentially fatal health crisis, and you deserve to take the time you require.
- Take good care of yourself. Exercising, eating healthily, getting enough sleep, and spending time with healthy people can all have a significant impact on your health and mood.
- Seek the advice of a mental health professional. A good therapist or doctor can assist you in putting this experience into context. They can also assist you in developing a safety plan and identifying ways to deal with life stressors.
- Discover how to use your health insurance. Deciphering health insurance bills after surviving a life-threatening health crisis can be difficult. Speak to your health insurance provider to learn about this.
- Consider joining a support group. There are various types of support groups, such as those for people suffering from depression or other mental illnesses, as well as those who have survived a suicide attempt. A support group can help you realise you are not alone.
- Speak with those you trust. When you're ready, tell them what happened and that you want them to assist you in staying safe.
Making a safety plan
A safety plan is a prioritised written list of coping strategies and sources of support people can use. These strategies can be used before or during a suicide crisis.
Use our printable safety plan template to the right to create your own safety plan.
The reality of modern life is that teenagers are sooner or later confronted with alcohol and drugs. It is not only how your teenagers handle the issue, but also how you, as a parent, react that is important. Keeping communication lines open is critical.
It’s not always easy and they might not want to listen, but if you talk openly and avoid criticism, you will earn their respect. Tell them that if they are not coping with something in their life, they can talk to you or someone they trust - alcohol or drugs will not provide the answer.
Make sure you know where your teenager is at all times. If you don’t know where they are, you won’t know what they are doing. You need to know that they are safe.
Make sure your teenager knows your rules about alcohol and drugs. Take a reasonable stance. Banning any alcohol consumption might not work, but if you allow them to drink moderate amounts at home where you can supervise, they might be less likely to overindulge away from home. Explain the risks they take with their health, with the law and with you (the consequences if they break the rules).
Be consistent and if the rules are broken, show them that you mean what you say. And don’t be a hypocrite by drinking too much or taking illegal drugs yourself. Your teenager will be quick to point out that if it is good enough for you, it is good enough for them. The Alcohol Advisory Council says young people tend to drink more when their parents are not around.
However, you have a responsibility to protect them from harm, so you sometimes need to enlist the help of other adults to ensure teenagers are supervised at parties. The Council says there is no ‘right time’ to introduce young people to alcohol. Young people under the age of 15 are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking alcohol and not drinking for them is especially important. For those aged 15 to 17 years, the safest option is to delay drinking for as long as possible. Be guided by your own child’s interest in alcohol. Don’t push it. When they go to parties, discuss your concerns and agree to some conditions. Take account of their age and maturity.
Talk to the host’s parents to see how the party will be supervised, what alcohol will be available and how people will get home. Tell them that if things get out of control, you can always pick them up. Talk about the possibility of the person driving them home being drunk, violence or drugs at the party, or of your teenager feeling threatened or frightened. Discuss a plan for them to leave if they need to without losing face. The Alcohol & Your Kids leaflet suggests:
- Tell them they can phone you at any time and you will pick them up.
- Make sure their cellphone is charged and has enough money on it to call or text you if they need to.
- Give them some emergency money so they can get a taxi or uber home.
- Organise a carpool with the parents of your teenager’s friends.
- Discuss in advance what should happen when they get home. For example, many parents want to know that their teenager is safely home before going off to sleep. You might arrange for them to let you know that they are home.
If you are hosting a party, work out:
- Who is coming, including how many.
- How they will be invited.
- Will alcohol be provided? If so, how much and what kind?
- What other drinks/food will be available?
- How will you deal with alcohol brought by guests?
- Who will serve the drinks?
- What time will the party finish?
- How will guests get home?
- Will some guests stay over?
- Adult supervision - how will this be done and by whom?
- How will gatecrashers be handled?
Be aware that teenagers are likely to at least try drinking alcohol and might get drunk. Being a good role model will help, and discussing alcohol rationally at a quiet moment (not when they’re drunk) will help. If you do find a teen rolling drunk and unconscious, call 111 for an ambulance.
If they’re vomiting all the time, don’t leave them alone. Lie them on their side in the recovery position, monitor their breathing and heart rate and make sure their mouth is empty. Keep them warm. If there’s no improvement, dial 111 for an ambulance.
If they take your alcohol, treat it just like any other stealing in the family. Discuss what happened and follow through with reasonable consequences.
If they become violent when drunk, don’t put up with it. If you can’t control the situation, call someone who can come quickly, like a friend or the police.
Signs of alcohol abuse
Signs that a teenager might be drinking excessively include:
- Repeated health complaints like vomiting.
- Changes in sleep patterns.
- Mood changes, especially irritability.
- Starting arguments, withdrawing from the family or breaking family rules.
- Failing exams, missing assignments, frequent school absences or discipline problems at school.
- Changes in social activities and social groups or friends.
- Coming home drunk.
- Smell of alcohol on their clothes, breath, skin, etc.
- Missing sport, school, family events, etc.
- Changes in behaviour – not being where they say they are going to be, etc.
These signs don’t necessarily indicate a drink problem, so consider discussing your concerns with your GP to rule out other causes. If you need more help, ring the Alcohol Drug Helpline.
Peer pressure in the teenage years
All teenagers need friends. Peers are an important part of teenagers’ lives. They can shape attitudes and behaviour, can get teenagers into (and out of) trouble. Parents need to see that peer pressure is not necessarily a negative influence. Parents who are involved in their teenagers’ activities have a greater chance of seeing the influence of peers being positive.
It doesn’t mean you have to go with them everywhere they go or choose their friends, but if you take time to show an interest in what your teenager is doing, where they are doing it and with whom, you stand a better chance of curbing any activities that can get them in trouble. If your teenager is getting into trouble and you think they’re in with ‘the wrong crowd’, consider involving the teenager in activities or with other teenagers that can have a positive influence.
Find out about local sports and leisure activities, cultural groups and youth clubs, where their contribution will be valued. Look for your teenager’s strengths - sport, art, music etc - and encourage them into activities and with people that will boost their self-esteem. Recognise also that negative peer pressure might just as likely be negative situation pressure.
Your teenager and friends might well act very differently at the beach with a car full of alcohol than they would at home. Consider changing the situation. Rather than trying to stop such activity outright, it might be better to have your teenager having a drink at home with friends where it can be controlled and supervised (see the previous section on alcohol). Listen to other adults who are involved in your teenager’s activities.
Don’t ignore teachers, sports administrators, youth workers etc who talk to you about your teenager. Take seriously any discussions about bullying, drug-taking or other negative activity by your teenager - and talk about ways of doing something about it.
NZ Youth’s attitude towards drinking
The Way We Drink, a survey commissioned by the Alcohol Advisory Council, explored the attitudes and behaviour of New Zealanders aged 12 and over towards drinking alcohol. The survey was conducted late in 2003 and presented in March 2004.
The survey found that New Zealand is a society in which many people are tolerant of drunkenness.
“Not quite half of all people aged 12+ (46%) agree with the statement, ‘It’s never OK to get drunk’, (conversely, 49% of all people aged 12+ disagree).”
More than two-fifths of people aged 12+ (41%) agreed with the statement, “It’s OK to get drunk as long as it’s not every day”. Almost one-in-10 drinkers aged 12+ (9%) admitted they “drink to get drunk”.
“As a result, it is a society in which many current drinkers appear to exercise little self-control,” the survey report said.
One-quarter of drinkers aged 12+ (26%) disagreed with the statement, “I try not to drink so much I forget what I was doing or what happened”. Almost one-quarter of drinkers aged 12+ (24%) disagreed with the statement, “I limit the amount of alcohol I drink so that I don’t wake up with a hangover”.
“(New Zealand is) also a society in which many adults who currently drink don’t appear to be concerned about their physical or mental well-being because of their drinking,” the survey report said.
More than one-third of drinkers aged 18+ (38%) disagreed with the statement, “I am concerned about the long-term effects of alcohol on my physical wellbeing”.
More than two-fifths of drinkers aged 18+ (42%) disagreed with the statement, “I am concerned about the long-term effects of alcohol on my mental wellbeing”.
The reported noted that New Zealand was “a society in which many parents don’t know about their children’s drinking . . . ".
“Although two-thirds of parents (63%) report they set strict rules about (their) children drinking alcohol, 21% admit that they do not. However, only one half (52%) agree they know when their children drink.”
New Zealand was a society in which the “benefits” of alcohol as a “social lubricant” and “relaxant” were recognised.
“Over two-fifths of all current drinkers aged 12+ (42%) agreed with the statement, ‘When I drink alcohol it is easier to meet and get to know people’. Two-thirds of drinkers aged 12+ (67%) agree with the statement, ‘Alcohol helps me wind down and relax’.”
The survey report says that the overwhelming conclusion is that young people who drink are more likely than adults to agree with the statements about the benefits of drinking alcohol, and more likely than adults to disagree with statements relating to the factors that inhibit drinking.
“Their state of mind is best summed up in the number that condone drunkenness (59% of all young people aged 12–17 agree with the statement, ‘It’s OK to get drunk as long as it’s not every day’).” 25% of young people who currently drink also admit they do so “to get drunk.”
Drugs and alcohol are now freely available to teenagers and even younger children in New Zealand. The question then is, what makes some children take up drug or alcohol habits when others avoid these substances? Unfortunately, despite the extensive research, there is no ready answer.
However, parents can take many positive steps to ensure their children are aware of the risks and consequences. Parents’ contribution can help reinforce the messages coming from schools and the Police.
21 tips for parents
American research suggests children who learn from their parents or caregivers about the risks of drugs are 36% less likely to smoke marijuana than children who don’t, 50% less likely to use inhalants, 56% less likely to use cocaine, and 65% less likely to use LSD.
You are the most powerful influence in your child’s daily life. The following 21 tips can help you turn your child away from the influence of drugs and alcohol that seem almost inevitable nowadays.
Kids who are close to their parents are least likely to engage in risky behaviours. The more involved you are in your children’s lives, the more valued they’ll feel, and the more likely they’ll be to respond to you.
- Establish 'together time', a regular weekly routine for doing something special with your child - even something as simple as going out for ice cream.
- Don’t be afraid to ask where your kids are going, who they’ll be with and what they’ll be doing. Get to know your kid’s friends - and their parents - so you’re familiar with their activities.
- Try to be there after school when your child gets home. The ‘danger zone’ for drug use is between 4pm and 6pm, when no one’s around. Arrange flexible time at work if you possibly can. If your child will be with friends, ideally they have adult supervision - not just an older sibling.
- Eat together as often as you can. Meals are a great opportunity to talk about the day’s events, to unwind, reinforce, bond. Studies show that kids whose families eat together at least five times a week are less likely to be involved with drugs or alcohol.
Learn to communicate.
Do you know your kid’s favourite music group? What’s cool at school? The more you communicate, the more at ease your child will feel about discussing drugs and other sensitive issues with you.
- Be absolutely clear with your kids that you don’t want them using drugs. Ever. Anywhere. Don’t leave room for interpretation. And talk often about the dangers and results of drug and alcohol abuse. Once or twice a year won’t do it.
- Be a better listener. Ask questions - and encourage them. Paraphrase what your child says to you. Ask for their input about family decisions. Showing your willingness to listen will make your child feel more comfortable about opening up to you.
- Give honest answers. Don’t makeup what you don’t know; offer to find out. If asked whether you’ve ever taken drugs, let them know what’s important: that you don’t want them using drugs.
- Use TV reports, anti-drug commercials, news or school discussions about drugs to help you introduce the subject in a natural, unforced way.
- Don’t react in a way that will cut off further discussion. If your child makes statements that challenge or shock you, turn them into a calm discussion of why your child thinks people use drugs, or whether the effect is worth the risk.
- Role play with your child and practise ways to refuse drugs and alcohol in different situations. Acknowledge how tough these moments can be.
Walk the walk.
- Be a living, day-to-day example of your value system. Show the compassion, honesty, generosity and openness you want your child to have.
- Know that there is no such thing as ‘do as I say, not as I do’ when it comes to drugs. If you take drugs, you can’t expect your child to take your advice. Seek professional help if necessary.
- Examine your own behaviour. If you abuse drugs or alcohol, know that your kids are inevitably going to pick up on it. Or if you laugh uproariously at a movie when someone is drunk or stoned, what message does that send to your child? Be a role model; the person you want your kid to be. What stronger anti-drug message is there? Lay down the law. Kids between 11-13 are highly at risk for drug experimentation and are becoming increasingly independent. Despite their protests, they still crave structure and guidance; they want you to show them you care enough to set limits.
- Create rules - and discuss in advance the consequences of breaking them. Make your expectations clear. Don’t make empty threats or let the rule-breaker off the hook. Don’t impose harsh or unexpected new punishments.
- Set a curfew. And enforce it strictly. Be prepared to negotiate for special occasions.
- Have kids check in at regular times. Give them a cell phone, a phone card, change or even a pager, with clear rules for using it. (Remember, pagers and cellphones are not allowed in some schools.)
- Call parents whose home is to be used for a party. On party night, don’t be afraid to stop in to say hello (and make sure that adult supervision is in place).
- Make it easy to leave a party where drugs are being used. Discuss in advance how you or another designated adult will come to pick your child up the moment he or she feels uncomfortable. Later, be prepared to talk about what happened.
- Listen to your instincts. Don’t be afraid to intervene if your gut reaction tells you that something is wrong.
- Praise good behavior consistently and immediately. Expressions of love, appreciation and thanks go a long way. Even kids who think themselves too old for hugs will appreciate a pat on the back.
- Accentuate the positive. Emphasise the things your kid does right. Restrain the urge to be critical. Affection and respect - making your child feel good about himself - will reinforce good (and change bad) behaviour far more successfully than embarrassment or uneasiness. What encourages a kid more than his or her parents’ approval? The right word at the right time can strengthen the bond that helps keep your child away from drugs.
Parents have rights
As parents you have rights. It is important to emphasise that.
You have a right to know what is going on in your teenagers' lives. You have a right to know how they are getting their drugs, because, for example, they might be engaging in petty crime to pay for their habit. And you have a right and a responsibility to look after their welfare.
Drug use does not always mean addiction. Only a few teenagers who use drugs will get addicted to them. It is important for parents to think about why teenagers might want to use drugs. Mainly it's because they are curious. They continue because it makes them feel good for a while.
If you suspect drug use, listen to what your teenager has to say. By listening you can determine if they are using at all, experimenting or doing it to solve a problem. Trust your intuition. If you feel something's not quite right, have a frank and open discussion about drugs and the young person's opinion about drugs in our society.
It is important to stay calm and show a willingness to listen regardless of how concerned you might be feeling. If you are confrontational the young person is likely to clam up, say nothing, and turn more towards their peers and drugs for comfort.
Try to be honest about your own drug use. If you drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, acknowledge that these are also drugs. Denying your own drug use will only make you seem hypocritical and you will lose credibility in the eyes of your teenager.
Some of the signs and symptoms mentioned here are normal behaviour for young people and need not be related to drug use. Experts working in the drug field say that parents and caregivers should be concerned if a young person shows a sudden change to uncharacteristic behaviour or moods.
As parents, we can do much to influence our children’s behaviour. Are we good role models? If we’re using illicit drugs around our kids, they’ll believe it’s OK.
The conversation about drugs should start early. It doesn’t need to be a big deal, but one that acknowledges they will be exposed to drug use at some point in their life. Helping them to understand how they should handle it, without making any judgements, is important.
Be aware that your kids might already be using drugs, but don’t assume it’s the case. You’ll quickly lose your child’s confidence if you accuse them of something illegal. If you have any suspicions, the Foundation for Alcohol and Drug Education (www.fade.org.nz) says that if your child exhibits several of the signs listed below, then they might be using drugs:
- Cannabis, in particular, can cause the eyes to become reddened, watery and puffy. Dilated or pinpoint pupils.
- Cannabis and alcohol both have distinctive smells. Cannabis smoke has a strong sweet smell that’s very different from tobacco smoke.
- Slurred and slow speech.
- Poor coordination – staggering or stumbling.
- Lack of pride in personal appearance and poor hygiene.
- Chronic coughing.
- Changes in appetite.
- Sudden change in weight.
- Lack of energy and general lethargy.
- Disturbed sleep patterns.
- Occasional memory loss.
- A decrease in sport or hobby involvement.
- Personality changes (mood swings, bursts of anger, withdrawal)
- Increasingly withdrawn from family and some friends.
- Unusual or suspicious requests for money.
- Sudden changes in school interest and achievement, skipping school.
- Different friends appear on the scene combined with a reluctance to introduce these friends.
- Frequent unexplained phone calls.
- More irritable.
- Less affectionate.
- Not worried about the consequences of their actions.
- Reluctance to do household chores.
- Persistent lying, evasion or secretive behaviour.
- Cash or valuable items going missing.
- A complete change in appearance.
- Late coming home at night and late getting ready for school.
- Changes in sleeping behaviour (sleeping too much, having trouble sleeping)
- Becomes argumentative or hostile when the negative effects of drug use are discussed.
- Blames other people for their behaviour, for example, parents, teachers and siblings.
- Using incense or air fresheners in the bedroom.
Teenagers who gain a new sense of independence in a car, whether as a new driver or as a passenger in a friend's car, experience a thrilling period in their adolescence. For parents, this is a time that can be both liberating and frightening. The good news is that our research confirms that parents can make a difference by discussing their expectations with their teens and establishing some rules and boundaries. Teens tell us that their parents are the best source of education and driving instruction for them. Spend as much time as possible with your new driver to help them fine-tune their skills.
A driver aged between 15 and 19 is about 87 times more likely to crash when at the legal drink-driving limit for an adult (a blood-alcohol concentration of 80mg/100ml) compared to a sober adult aged at least 30. By comparison, a driver aged 40 who has reached the legal drink-driving limit for an adult is about 16 times as likely to crash as if they had no alcohol in their blood.
How to keep them safe:
- It's never too late to set a positive example for your children. Since they were small, your child has been studying what you do in cars and will model their good and bad behaviour after what they see you do. Be critical of how you drive and start doing the right thing today, even if you've made mistakes in the past.
- Set expectations about your family rules in a legal agreement with your teen driver. Discuss several circumstances that your new driver might face, as well as what scares you about them. Define your zero-tolerance driving policies, including speeding, drinking, and using a phone.
- Make sure your teen obtains at least 50 hours of practice in a variety of road situations with an experienced driver, but don't stop there if your youngster requires extra time.
- Educate your child on passenger restrictions at different driving licence classes.
- Encourage your child to speak up if they feel threatened by a motorist of any age who is not driving properly. Just in case, give them a backup plan for getting home.
- Every ride, every time, buckle up.
- Even when you think they're not, kids and teenagers are always watching. As a result, set a good example. Avoid distractions by not talking on the phone or texting while driving. Use your teen to read maps and assist you in locating locations.
- When carpooling, make sure your teen understands that there are enough seats and booster seats for every child in your car, and that children enter and exit curbside.