Talking to Kids About Drugs

The topic of illicit drugs is a difficult one for families to deal with. John Rogerson, the CEO of the Australian Drug Foundation talks about how parents can use the discussion about AFL players fighting drugs to start their own conversation.

For more information visit the Australian Drug Foundation website at How can I use the discussion about AFL players fighting illicit drug use to talk with my children and reinforce the message that drugs cause huge problems? 

JOHN ROGERSON: Parents can use the publicity surrounding the AFLís illicit drug policy as a chance to talk to their children about issues to do with drugs. Itís quite likely that adolescents will come into contact with drugs so it is a chance to find out their childrenís attitudes to drug use and to encourage them to avoid drugs. 

Having an open, supportive family environment where your children can talk to you about difficult issues like drugs increases the likelihood that they will make sensible decisions when they need to do so. That includes tobacco and alcohol as well as illegal drugs. 

When you consider that nearly 40% of all Australians over the age of 14 have used illicit drugs at some point, the time to have that discussion is now.      

My children look up to AFL players as his/her heroes, so how can I reinforce the message that my children should not take illicit drugs when the media keep talking about AFL players and drugs? 

JOHN ROGERSON:  Itís important to emphasise that most players donít take drugs. In fact the AFL is one of the few sports where the players agree to be tested for illegal drugs outside competition times. That indicates they are not interested in using illegal drugs.   

The players have volunteered for testing because they want their teams to be free of drug use. However, another lesson of this policy is that if people do use drugs then they need toget some support and help.

Parents could talk about Ben Cousinsí struggle with drug use as an example of how drugs can destroy a personís football career and greatly impact on their personal life. That is a powerful example of the damage drugs can do.  

They could also point out that players such as Tom Harley, Jonathon Brown and Adam Goodes are taking a strong stance against drug use and the whole Players Association is right behind them. 

The AFL and the players say they are sending a strong anti-drugs message, but how can I explain this to my children? 

JOHN ROGERSON:  Parents can point out just how tough the AFL drug policy is. In fact the

AFL policy has two distinct arms. 

1. One is the Anti-Doping Code that is administered by Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA). A player caught using a performance enhancing substance during competition faces a two year suspension from the sport. All athletes have to face testing under the Anti-Doping Code. It conforms to the code of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). 

2. In addition the AFL has its own Illicit Drugs Policy, which goes above and beyond the WADA policy, by testing players out of competition for illicit drugs. Only three sports in Australia currently have an illicit drug policy. 

These two programs mean that AFL players are among the most heavily drug tested athletes in Australia. 

Why does the Australian Drug Foundation support the AFLís Illicit Drugs Policy 

JOHN ROGERSON: The Australian Drug Foundation supports the aims of the Illicit Drug Policy because it recognises that drug use is an important health and welfare issue for players. It ensures that players who fail a test are immediately referred on for education, counselling or other forms of treatment if required. We understand that investigating the circumstances of drug use and providing support for a person who is using drugs is the best first option. 

What are the key things I should be saying to my children about illicit drugs and their harm? 

JOHN ROGERSON:  Parents should inform their children about the short and long term harm related to drugs. They need to explain that drugs can cause many and varied problems that not only impact on them but also their family and friends. Drugs cause health, personal and financial problems, as well as legal problems that can be very complicated. They can also damage mental health and intellectual performance, which can effect education or job opportunities, and lead to loss of friends and low confidence.

Itís important that parents donít exaggerate the problems or go off the deep end about drugs because that could damage their credibility. Be informed and refer to the ADF DrugInfo website to find out answers to your childís questions. Sometimes children will disagree with parents but try to stay calm and avoid arguments - keeping communication going is really vital with adolescents.  

Finally, it is important to listen to your child. This will not only help you understand where theyare coming from, and what is happening in their lives, but will also demonstrate that you valuewhat they have to say.

How can I tell my children that drugs are bad for them when the AFL illicit drug policy offers counselling and treatment and not a suspension if they record a failed test?

JOHN ROGERSON:  If a player is caught using performance enhancing or illicit drugs during competition (on match day) they are automatically banned for two years or they receive a lifetime ban for a second match-day positive test.

Under the Illicit Drug Policy, players are offered education, counselling and treatment which is in line with the National Drug Diversion Initiative and the approach taken by police and health agencies around Australia. If they donít change their behaviour they can face strong penalties.

Education, counselling and treatment are more effective ways of changing behaviour and stopping illicit drug use than punishment. Thatís why police often direct people found using drugs into diversion programs rather than take them through the court system. 

A name and shame policy might make some people feel more comfortable, but research has shown it is not effective in changing behaviour and could lead to further problems developing.

AFL players are role models - shouldn't they be sending a message that illicit drug use is wrong? 

JOHN ROGERSON:  AFL players are sending a strong message that they donít approve of illicit drug use because they have volunteered to be bound by a policy that allows them to be tested out of competition times. 

Now that players have agreed to hair testing out of season, this is another example that they are taking a strong lead on this issue.

Like any section of the community, there will always be some people who donít take note of the warnings, and donít heed the messages. That is why the policy is aimed at identifying those players and offering them support to help change their behaviour.

My child says his/her friends are using drugs, so why shouldn't they? What do I say then? 

JOHN ROGERSON:  Parents should try to find out why their child wants to try drugs and whether they understand the consequences associated with drug use.  

By discussing the risks involved with drug use with their child, parents can help discourage them from experimenting with drugs or continuing to use them. Parents should also think about their own use of drugs such as tobacco and alcohol and whether they are credible models for their children. 

What should I do if I think my child is using illicit drugs? 

JOHN ROGERSON: Itís quite likely that your children will come across drugs at some time because they are prevalent in many sections of the Australian community. Not all children will try them, but some do. If you suspect that your child is taking or experimenting with drugs, consider what is happening in your childís life. Avoid panic. Try to provide an environment that allows your child to feel comfortable about talking about drugs with you.

To be as informed as possible about drugs and the risks associated with using them, contact the drug and alcohol information services in your state or territory. They can provide information, counselling and advice. Then, choose an appropriate time to talk to your child Ė not whilst they are under the influence.  Be clear and honest about your concerns and make sure they understand that it is not them that you disapprove of but their behaviour. Listen carefully to your child and try and find out what is happening in their life. Know where to get help from and work out an appropriate path for you and your child to take. 

Where can I get help if I think my child is using illicit drugs? 

For information please refer to this page which has a list of counselling, information and advice and other support services in your state and territory. 

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