Make this hol­i­day sea­son a safe one

Tools for par­ents as their young­sters look for­ward to par­ties at the year-end

The Witness - - FEATURES -

THE hol­i­day sea­son is nearly upon us. A grim re­minder of all the per­ils that are in­volved in what the gen­eral pop­u­lace call “the fes­tive sea­son”, was see­ing an in­creased po­lice pres­ence, and be­ing pulled over for a li­cence check twice within a 50 km stretch.

We have to be grate­ful to all those po­lice of­fi­cers, be­ing on duty and away from their fam­i­lies on a Sun­day, with tem­per­a­tures reach­ing an un­com­fort­able 38° Cel­sius. Well done, of­fi­cers, we re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate your ded­i­ca­tion and ef­forts. For the rest of us, the fes­tive sea­son has many pit­falls that we would be wise to recog­nise and avoid.

I am par­tic­u­larly con­cerned with the idea of Rage that takes place in Bal­lito, Umh­langa Rocks and the sur­round­ing ar­eas. While I sup­port the idea of fun and the re­leas­ing of all those pent-up emo­tions that ma­tric­u­lants go through, the whole event in­volves loud mu­sic, al­co­hol and pos­si­ble drug use and abuse that goes along with that. Judg­ing from me­dia clip­pings from last year, it looked more like the af­ter­math of an alien in­va­sion than civilised fun.

In to­day’s ar­ti­cle I put to­gether some ideas for par­ents to as­sist them in im­ple­ment­ing some pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sures to make the fes­tive sea­son safer, more en­joy­able, and with hope­fully less longterm dis­as­trous ef­fects.

Be­ing a par­ent is hard un­der the best of cir­cum­stances. Be­ing a par­ent of a teenager who is re­bel­lious, shows a mea­sure of anti-so­cial be­hav­iours and is ex­per­i­ment­ing or us­ing sub­stances, can make you feel like you’re all alone and have to jug­gle ev­ery­thing in your own life while at the same time be­ing your child’s sup­port. This stress can be enough to make you feel more than a lit­tle crazy, fran­tic, an­gry or so over­whelmed you just want to give up.

There is hope! There are skills that par­ents can use to help re­duce the dif­fi­culty and dis­tress as­so­ci­ated with par­ent­ing. These tools can help you help your chil­dren change what po­ten­tially is life-threat­en­ing as well as help you help your­self. While there are many skills to choose from, the fol­low­ing five are easy to im­ple­ment and can have an im­me­di­ate pos­i­tive im­pact on both you and your child.


The im­pulse for many, if not most par­ents who are deal­ing with a child strug­gling with be­hav­iour prob­lems that might in­clude sub­stance abuse, is to keep it all quiet. I have met numer­ous par­ents over the years whose think­ing has gone some­thing like this: “This is dif­fi­cult enough, do I re­ally want to in­volve more peo­ple, and add more ideas to this?” And, “I’m re­ally ashamed! Some­times, the best way to help is not to talk at all. Some­times, what’s needed is sim­ply to lis­ten to your child. What if they judge me? What if they judge my child? I’m bet­ter off deal­ing with this alone.”

This way of think­ing makes a lot of sense. Of­ten, when we bring up a prob­lem with other peo­ple, they try to solve it, even if they don’t know all the in­for­ma­tion, so it seems eas­ier to keep it to your­self. Or, if there doesn’t seem to be a so­lu­tion, shar­ing it can make you feel like you are bur­den­ing oth­ers.

The prob­lem with think­ing like this is that when you don’t dis­cuss what’s go­ing on, you be­come iso­lated and alone. And in this space many other prob­lems can take hold, like de­spair and de­pres­sion. I have seen pos­i­tive progress in both par­ents and their abil­ity to sort out much of the chaos, the mo­ment they found a sup­port group with peo­ple they could talk to. The mo­ment they felt like they had the sup­port and strength, they be­came ef­fec­tive helpers for their chil­dren.


The de­fault po­si­tion of most par­ents is to try to of­fer help and res­cue their chil­dren. We talk to give sug­ges­tions, ideas, thoughts and feed­back. The prob­lem is, some­times the best way to help is not to talk at all. Some­times, what’s needed is sim­ply to lis­ten to your child’s story.

When we re­ally lis­ten, we can gather in­for­ma­tion that we would not other­wise have had ac­cess to. And, when we lis­ten ac­tively, mean­ing that we lis­ten with no other dis­trac­tions, and give vis­ual signs that we are lis­ten­ing (like nod­ding your head and mak­ing eye con­tact), we en­cour­age our ado­les­cents to share more. • FIND AL­TER­NATE BE­HAV­IOURS Let’s face it, sub­stance use and tru­ancy are re­in­force­able be­hav­iours. Maybe sub­stance abuse helps your chil­dren to feel re­laxed. Maybe it helps them have more fun, or be more so­cial. Per­haps it helps you by get­ting rid of things you don’t like, like anx­i­ety or sad­ness or fear. In any of these sit­u­a­tions, us­ing a sub­stance is re­in­forc­ing to the per­son who is us­ing it, which makes it harder for him or her to stop.

If you can use your lis­ten­ing skills to recog­nise what your child gets from us­ing sub­stances, then you can start to work on find­ing al­ter­na­tive ways of help­ing him or her get a sim­i­lar re­sult in other ways. So, if your chil­dren feel that sub­stances help them con­nect with friends more, see if you can find an al­ter­na­tive that will boost their so­cial con­fi­dence, such as go­ing to a game or invit­ing their friends over to hang at your house.


When a child is only get­ting at­ten­tion for mis­be­hav­ing, it can be a ma­jor drain on them, and on you; nega­tive at­ten­tion is bet­ter than no at­ten­tion. When they get at­ten­tion for be­ing good, every­one’s mood and spir­its lift. If you can shift your at­ten­tion to what they are do­ing well ver­sus what they are do­ing wrong, you can help change the script at home and in their lives.

For this one, you may have to start small and search hard for those mo­ments when they are do­ing some­thing well. Did they re­mem­ber to pick up their clothes off the floor? That counts!

Did they get their home­work in on time this week? Check!

Even if they are still slip­ping, but you can see them try­ing, point that out. Notic­ing that they are work­ing to­wards change and do­ing things well can help foster an en­vi­ron­ment that com­petes with sub­stance use and ad­verse be­hav­iour.

• BE KIND TO YOUR­SELF Be­hav­iour change is a slow process. Chang­ing sub­stance use be­hav­iours is es­pe­cially slow and it of­ten stag­nates or goes back­wards. And, as a par­ent you aren’t al­ways go­ing to get ev­ery­thing right. Be kind to your­self when you are strug­gling, and gen­er­ous to your­self when you’re feel­ing weak. Change takes time, and comes with many mis­steps along the way. If you can treat your­self the way you would treat a friend who is go­ing through some­thing sim­i­lar, with com­pas­sion, you can weather the long road ahead.

Re­mem­ber, be­ing a par­ent is dif­fi­cult. And, be­com­ing skil­ful can make the dif­fi­cult process of change for your child and your fam­ily a lot eas­ier.

On a dif­fer­ent note, the ar­ti­cle about the whoonga sit­u­a­tion that ap­peared on Novem­ber 26 refers. I re­ceived quite a few re­sponses, and I am sad­dened to hear the ig­no­rance of some peo­ple, their callous re­sponses and their self­ish and self-cen­tred views. One of them said to me that in his mind, all the whoonga ad­dicts should be put on Robben Is­land, given hard labour and if they die, not such a big loss.

I would like to re­it­er­ate that the peo­ple who are caught in whoonga ad­dic­tion or any other ad­dic­tion are not bad peo­ple; they are sick peo­ple who need to be treated with com­pas­sion and re­spect. I be­lieve that there are so­lu­tions to the prob­lems we are fac­ing, but these will only be ef­fec­tive if all sec­tors of the com­mu­nity unite and bring about the needed changes. If it doesn’t hap­pen soon, we are doomed.

“I’m re­ally ashamed! What if they judge me? What if they judge my child? I’m bet­ter off deal­ing with this alone.”

• Gad Avnon is founder and di­rec­tor of Har­mony Re­treat. He has a BTH.Hon and do­ing a masters de­gree in psy­chother­apy and coun­selling, ma­jor­ing in ad­dic­tion treat­ment. Reach him at [email protected]­mony re­ or 084 417 2227.

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