The Youth Advisors have been working hard over the last few weeks on focus group research. They devised a set of questions to try and capture information from other young Londoners about the role of parents in prevention. The next step was to meet with their peers across the capital and discover their views. To date, over 70 young people have taken part.
We have had fantastic responses which have allowed the LYIP develop some recommendations. What’s been especially fascinating is the level of consistency in responses. An overview of what we’ve discovered so far will give you a sense of how well the group has been doing.
There was an overwhelming belief amongst young Londoners we spoke to that parents do have a role in educating their children about drugs and alcohol.
Their children have the right to know that their parents are […] looking out for it. […] The fact that they do say something about it sort of shows that they do take responsibility.
Young people believe that parents’ responsibility for drug education should be seen as one aspect of a well-rounded approach which includes school and the wider community, “from schools to government to extra-curricular activities to parents”.
There are, however, a number of ‘buts’. Many young people report not talking to their parents about drugs and alcohol and they offered a number of suggestions as to why this is the case.
Lack of knowledge:
My parents don’t know about drugs and alcohol.
They don’t want to say anything just in case they say something wrong and mess it up.
[Parents from some cultures], shy away from it or don’t mention it at all, ‘cause you’re taught it’s wrong. Full stop.
You just know – culture-wise […] I’ve never had that conversation, but it’s just one of those things you don’t.
An unwillingness to acknowledge drugs and alcohol may ever be an issue for their children:
Maybe they know, but they just don’t wanna believe it, ‘No, my child’s not taking drugs’ sort of thing. They just don’t want to talk about it because they do think it’s an awkward situation.
The uncomfortable nature of holding a conversation about drugs and alcohol:
Not a lot of parents feel comfortable to actually talk about it
It depends on what kind of parents people have. Some people are comfortable talking to their parents and some people are not
Parental knowledge around drugs and alcohol was discussed in depth. There was not an expectation amongst young people we spoke to that parents should have a comprehensive knowledge of drugs and alcohol. However, the majority of young people did believe that they should have at least a basic knowledge and were clear that simply saying ‘no’ was not enough. Young people want to know why.
Being youth, you’re more intrigued to know about everything.
If they’re actually educated enough that they know all the risks and all the perks as well, then they’ll be able to weigh it up themselves.
They can say, ‘Oh yeah, it’s not good,’ but then kids will probably go on and think, ‘Oh, that’s all they know, they haven’t really told me enough information so obviously they don’t know enough and nor do I’.
Some young people spoke of a contradiction between a non-negotiable ‘no’ message coupled with scare tactics from parents and the experiences they saw for themselves at parties or with friends. Without a more rounded discussion, this may make children more likely overlook a parent’s message given the wide gulf between what they hear from them and what they have actually seen.
Young people were also concerned that without enough knowledge, parents may give them wrong information:
I […] do not believe that parents always have the right advice because they might not always be, like, fluent in the sort of stuff.
It could go the wrong way […] if parents don’t know how to handle it.
Basic knowledge, together with clear messages about decision-making, were considered important by many of the young people we spoke to.
Young people were also clear that talking about drugs and alcohol to your children should start early. The majority of participants suggested that conversations should begin before children become teenagers, either at the end of primary school or the beginning of secondary school. Young people clarified that conversations often only occur too late or “after the event” and believed parents have a role in pre-empting this.
I think sometimes, the younger age, people tend not to think about it […] but by the time they do decide that they’re going to talk about it, there’s been a lot of outside influences.
Overwhelmingly, focus group participants said that conversations should be open, relaxed and recurrent. ‘Sit down’ talks were considered awkward.
It should just be an open dialogue. It shouldn’t be a sit down conversation that’s going to be really awkward. It should just be […] brought up casually and not really made a big deal ‘cause otherwise it will just […] feel really weird afterwards.
There was a sense that this would be much easier for some parents than for others. Those who had open relationships with their children anyway should carry that openness into conversations around drugs and alcohol. Young people also spoke at using stimuli in order to begin conversations, in particular responding to news stories, documentaries or other television programmes.
Parents who adopted an authoritative as opposed to authoritarian parenting style were thought by many young people to be in a good position to help prevent young people from using drugs and alcohol. Young people were not opposed to boundaries being put in place by their parents, but they did want them to be reasonable and to be open to discussion.
I understand why they give you a curfew and at this point I don’t really mind.
We live in London – they’re looking out for me [by setting a curfew].
If you don’t set boundaries then you have no boundaries.
Parents need to be understanding of their children. They can’t just expect them to be perfect all the time […] work with them.
There was a strong theme of overly-strict parenting leading to rebellion.
They’re more sneaky if their parents are more strict.
They’re more likely to rebound due to those boundaries because they feel […] suppressed.
They [children] might find it bullying sometimes maybe and intimidating, that they’re saying, like, they don’t trust their children that much and they [the children] just, like, want to revenge or something.
The group met on Saturday 1st December to look through their research findings and have developed a set of draft recommendations.
- Parents must play a part in educating their children about drugs and alcohol.
- Parents should have opportunities to improve their knowledge about drugs and alcohol. This could be in a school setting and should offer the opportunity for parents to work together on determining their roles and responsibilities.
- Parents should ensure that conversations about drugs are recurrent, relaxed and open.
- Conversations about drugs and alcohol should begin before children become teenagers.
- Children are less likely to rebel and more likely to talk to their parents if they adopt an authoritative as opposed to authoritarian style of parenting.