Western Region Drug and Alcohol Task Force community worker, Emmet Major, said the results of a recent Planet Youth survey, which was carried out anonymously among 15 and 16-year-old students at secondary schools in Co. Roscommon, can be used to empower parents and to assist them in setting boundaries for children.
The survey was adopted from similar research previously carried out in Iceland which was credited with completely transforming teen drinking and substance abuse in that country. The Irish survey also questioned students about their social media habits and time spent on screen.
The Western Region Drug and Alcohol Task Force will now use the results of the survey to take proactive steps in order to raise awareness among parents and teenagers.
Emmet Major said: “The parents of children starting secondary school in September will get a booklet and a fridge magnet (from the Western Region Drug and Alcohol Task Force steering committee) that will have guidelines around bedtimes for young people, screen time for young people, around alcohol use, sports and hobbies. It’s hoped that that will keep parents roughly on the same page.
“We could see from the survey that half of the teenagers surveyed aren’t getting enough sleep, half them are overusing screens, half aren’t getting enough physical activity and so on.
“The theory is that if the parents of these students are getting the same information it’s a lot easier to say ‘Everybody’s going to bed at nine o’clock so that’s when you go’. That’s a nice simple step to try and get parents working together if you like. Ultimately what we’d be hoping to get is a little more cooperation between parents.
“If we work together as parents we can improve the situation here not just around alcohol but in all sorts of ways. That’s the first obvious starting point for this – to try and get parents cooperating more closely together. In time what we’ll be trying to do is get more funding for sports and hobbies”.
He added that the committee may look at the possibility of a ‘Planet Youth School’ flag system, much like the Green Flag rewards system currently in place in primary education.
“In this survey there is stuff about drugs and alcohol but there’s also other stuff about their lives in general. If you can address that other stuff it can reduce problems with substance abuse and mental health issues and suicide.
“Iceland went from twenty years ago having a very visible substance abuse problem among young people. It was a political issue really because it was so obvious and public. Now they have no problem with it or practically none”.
In 1998, the Icelandic survey showed that a whopping 42% of 15 and 16-year-olds claimed to have been drunk in the month previous. By 2016 that number had plummeted to just 5%. The percentage of those who said they had used cannabis also fell 10% in that time (17% to 7%) while those smoking cigarettes fell from 23% to 3%.
The secret, according to those who developed the survey, was addressing the risk and protective factors around substance abuse. It meant finding out more about what makes young people tick. Emmet and his colleagues, with the help of parents across the county, will be hoping for similar results in Roscommon.
The full results of the surveys of Roscommon and Mayo are available at www.planetyouth.ie.