Illegal drugs: how to get through to your kids

Where do young people get their drug information from and who do they trust? And as a parent or teacher, how can we best educate our kids about drugs?

Illegal drugs: how to get through to your kids

How did you first hear about drugs? Was it confusing conversations with friends at school?  Was it the whispered chatter between older relatives about the black sheep of the family? Perhaps the internet was your first source of drug info – or the newspaper with its stories about drug busts and arrests?

Regardless of how you learned, it’s likely you encountered both fact and fiction when it came to drug information and your early opinions and understanding was shaped by them both. A major challenge when it comes to preventing drug use is that many young people are not up-to-speed on the facts about how drugs can affect their physical and mental health, let alone other important areas such as relationships, career and criminal records.

As a parent or, where appropriate, in your professional life, starting a conversation about drugs can often be as awkward as approaching ‘the sex talk’, as you may feel ill-equipped, under-informed or just out of your depth. But having these conversations is vital – whether it is you who initiates them, or a third-party, trusted organisation. Effective drug education starts with arming yourself with as many of the facts as you can, and then considering things such as the young person’s unease with the topic, who they trust and who they will believe, and how you shape the messages and conversation. 

In 2015, NCPIC surveyed over 8,500 young Australians to find out who they trust and what they know when it comes to cannabis, with some interesting initial results. The findings from the survey are not only useful on a larger-scale to organisations aiming to build drug awareness, but to parents and teachers who play a key role in educating young people.

Where do young people get drug info from?

The vast majority of young people in Australia get information about drugs from their friends (67%) and the internet (55%). And while it’s great they have sources they feel they can access and trust, unfortunately the chances of being exposed to myths, blatant misinformation and viewpoints that only promote the “benefits” of drug use are extremely high via these channels.

The internet can be a great resource for information about drugs and many other subjects, but in order to get the most out of it, people need to have the skills to navigate the vast array of material out there and discern fact from fiction.

A large volume of drug-related material on the internet is produced by pro-drug advocates celebrating the freedom and culture of drug use, manufacturers of illicit substances such as synthetic cannabis trying to make a profit, and good-intentioned but inaccurate information that just does more to scare and confuse young people than educate them. 

When directing a young person to the internet to seek information and education about drugs (or when using it yourself), consider helping them find the least-biased sites possible, teach them to be able to recognise real and credible science and ultimately, encourage them to beware – to sample many sites and not to be swept up in the sometimes compelling narrative that comes from those who are passionately on one side or the other.

Who will young people listen to?

An interesting but not entirely surprising result from the survey is that young people have quite a clear hierarchy when it comes to which organisations they most trust to provide drug information. Reassuringly, they most trust institutions like universities and scientific organisations to provide accurate drug information. This shows a growing desire for the latest evidence based on scientific research. Young people also trusted medical professionals and hospitals, and youth organisations.

Of note, less than one-in-five of the young people surveyed identified their parents as a main source of drug information, believing conversations with parents are just too awkward, and others erring on the side of caution, believing a drug-related conversation will lead to their parents suspecting they use.

As a parent or teacher, this information is a real insight that can help to ensure your drug conversations have the most effect possible. Carefully selecting your sources and materials, and aligning yourself with the types of organisations trusted by young people, in addition to being open and honest, well-armed with information and encouraging of questions will result in a ‘drug talk’ that is a conversation as opposed to an awkward lecture.

How can we use this information in education?

At NCPIC, we believe one of the most important ways to educate young people is to give them credit where credit is due – they are smart, curious and interested – sometimes they just need a nudge to really think about how they feel about something. Our latest tool, ‘Chatterbox’ includes a range of materials designed to help them give greater consideration to what they know about themselves and what they value, in order to develop a strong decision making process. To really get them thinking about the effects of decisions, we’ve also got a great skill-tester game that will challenge their quick thinking, coordination, reaction time and memory. Check out Chatterbox here