It’s the taboo topic that many parents hesitate to talk about. Young people’s parties and alcohol. It can be a challenge for school communities to positively encourage parents to engage in Alcohol & Other Drug (AOD) education with young people and one another.
Whilst some school communities do a great job to encourage parents to engage in AOD education, resulting in good attendance at parent information nights, unfortunately, the feedback we receive is that attendance at parent information nights across a range of topics can be poor.
There are obvious reasons for this: ‘I’d love to come but I just don’t have time with my family’s commitments eg. sport, music, tutoring etc.‘ However, I believe there are more reasons as to why parents don’t attend parent nights and are hesitant, in particular, about riskier topics such as young people and AOD use.
I believe shame and rejection are up there on the list. ‘Does attending make me look like my child is involved? Will I look like a bad parent? What if I’m the only parent providing alcohol to my child? What if I’m the only parent who says no to my child drinking?’ Acceptance amongst peers is valued at any age.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many confident parents who are more than willing to speak up about what they believe. They are proud of their parenting and happy to voice what works for them. But what about the other 95% in the room? How can we encourage parents to engage in AOD education, talk with one another, and share their great ideas and opinions? We know many parents are making great choices in regard to their young person’s use of alcohol but how do we encourage parents to engage in AOD education, and unite them to be strong leaders for their young people regarding alcohol use?
Here’s How We Encourage Parents to Engage in AOD Education
Provide supportive opportunities to discuss, share and align together
As an educator, I have sat through many parent information nights where the parents sit, listen, and leave. You rarely see parents engaging with the topic being presented or taking the opportunity to share. If anything, schools only encourage parents to engage in AOD education with a quick minute for questions at the end. Who wants to be a part of something that they’re not actively involved in? We want to encourage parents to engage in AOD education and partake in small groups for discussion where one person will then feedback to the entire group. Rather than one person having to be bold and share their personal view, this strategy allows parents to make a collective decision, bring their beliefs together, and feel part of a parent community. This reduces anxiety for those parents who may be worried that they’re the only one in the room with a certain point of view, so don’t want to share it.
While we believe face-to-face relationships are so important for parents, many parents are opting for online resources to find out everything they need to know about AOD. We’d encourage schools to direct parents to websites with factual information such as the Encounter Youth website for the latest information.
Normalise positive parenting
School staff need to be engaged with their parent community not only to encourage parents to engage in AOD education but also to know where parents are making great choices for their young people. One story of a party gone wrong can leave bad residue for years, but what about all the others that have been well managed and see young people have a great time? Encounter Youth brings together real-life scenarios from parties where key party strategies have worked, and shares those stories with other parents to promote positive change for protecting young people in these environments. This starts with the school staff, where the aim of bringing parents together is to equip and encourage them in positive parenting, rather than increasing their anxieties about concerns with young people today.
Educate about the facts and misconceptions
In our experience, many parents take what they hear in the media as fact. Consequently, the media think young people are always up to ‘no good’ and will sensationalise AOD use. Parents, as well as young people and school staff, need to be educated about the facts and misconceptions about drug use. The reality is, the majority of young people make great choices. We’re seeing more young people than ever before choosing not to drink or delaying their use of alcohol until a later age. The majority of young people do not use illicit drugs and look out for their mates if they believe they’re in trouble. These positive messages are what parents need to hear.
Parents also need to be informed about how important their role is in preventing their young person/people from AOD misuse. Recently when presenting one of our Encounter Youth Party Safe Education seminars for parents, we began our discussions about what parents believe a party should look like. One parent very abruptly raised his hand and said, ‘I don’t understand, we’re the parents and we’ll make the calls about what happens at the party.’ Why were we encouraging parents so strongly to make the final call about what a party looks like in their home? He was unaware of the big picture and what the rest of the parent population was doing. He was unaware of the pressures many parents face from their young person/people. He may not have known that 37.9% of current drinkers aged 12-17 years were supplied their last alcoholic drink by their parent This is because some parents are not making the final call but instead, their young person is. They’re controlled and manipulated to ‘do as I say’ from their young person. Could this be because the parents feel like ‘they’re the only one saying no’?
This is why all parents need to be educated with the facts and need to be having conversations with other parents who are making great choices. This is also why we should encourage parents to engage in AOD education at parent nights. There are many other factors why parents provide alcohol to their young person/people, and they need to be debunked eg. The Mediterranean model of providing alcohol early on. This model claims it will eliminate the novelty and excitement once they reach legal age. But we know that this is false. Parents who do this are uneducated about the impact of alcohol on the developing brain etc. This information is factual and parents need to be informed so they can come together as a parent community to create positive party environments for their young people.
So, if you’re a leader of wellbeing in your school or a teacher passionate about being able to encourage parents to engage in AOD education at your next parent information night, contact us at Encounter Youth. This might just be the change your parent nights need to bring your parent community together onto the same page about alcohol, parties, and young people. And it may encourage them to attend more parent nights in the future.