Tuesday 22 October 2019

Spend time with your children to keep them off drugs

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Caroline Crawford

Parental engagement, more structured leisure time and access to a range of activities are vital when it comes to preventing children falling into substance abuse, an international expert has advised.

Jón Sigfusson is director of Project Youth in Iceland, which saw the country go from having the highest level of adolescent substance use in Europe in 1998 to now having the lowest.

Speaking in Galway, he insisted that to tackle the problem countries had to teach society, not teach the children.

He said: "Children are not to blame for not reading a brochure that somebody gives them about drugs.

"They are not responsible for their own well-being, we are, the whole society."

Mr Sigfusson said the problem could not be tackled by Government alone and dismissed marketing limits and pricing hikes as measures to prevent alcohol abuse.

"I don't think penalising from a monetary perspective has an impact; if you want to get something you find a way. It is the same with harder drugs.

"So it's basically trying to make the environment such that it is not what they want to do," he said.

The Planet Youth model uses a series of community interventions that focus on changing the social environment for adolescents by reducing the amount of their unstructured, unsupervised leisure time and encouraging parents to consciously spend more time with their children.

"Today, all parents know they can be the biggest preventative factor in the lives of their children by spending time with them, by giving them support and caring and warmth.

"Children want their parents to know where they are in the evening, they don't want their parents to have no interest," said Mr Sigfusson.

Access to sports and leisure activities and increasing organised activities was also vital, he added.

The scheme gathers evidence from teenagers at a community level through a 90-question survey, which is then used to pinpoint risk factors and possible interventions.

It has been rolled out around the world with plans underway to introduce it as a pilot project in the west of Ireland with the aim of extending it countrywide.

Emmet Major, of the Western Region Drugs and Alcohol Task Force, said that if given the green light, the pilot would survey up to 7,000 16-year-olds this year before using this data as a starting point for interventions.

Irish Independent

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