Make this holiday season a safe one
Tools for parents as their youngsters look forward to parties at the year-end
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.
• TALK ABOUT IT
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.
• PRACTISE LISTENING
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.
• CATCH THEM BEING GOOD
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 retreat.co.za or 084 417 2227.