Getting Frank in the war on drugs
YOUR teenager is moody, unpredictable, up all night and asleep all day. They mope around the house, refusing to speak unless it’s to their friends down a mobile telephone. They get on your nerves, you get on theirs, you argue and doors are slammed.
Typical teenage behaviour? Or could it be a sign of something much more worrying - that the son or daughter who just a few years earlier enjoyed nothing more than playing with their Action Man or Barbie dolls is now involved in the world of illegal drugs?
According to many sources, there’s a fair chance that your moody youngster may well be demonstrating typical drug abuse behaviour - nearly five out of ten secondary school children questioned by Scotland Against Drugs in 2000 claimed they had been offered drugs, while 17 per cent admitted using them, with boys more likely than girls to indulge.
Even the signs from government seem to suggest that parents must accept that their children come into regular contact with all kinds of illegal substances, with recent drugs education initiatives revealing a steady shift away from the zero tolerance approach towards informing them how to reduce the chances of harm.
Indeed, Westminster’s latest approach is a controversial 3 million advertising campaign for a drugs information website, www.talktofrank.com, which blends graphic information on how to feed drug requirements and avoid the wrong drugs cocktails with quirky jokes and even an agony aunt column. "Don’t mix Ketamine (a tranquilliser) and tobacco", it warns. "If the ketamine knocks you out you could burn the house down".
But for parents concerned about their youngsters’ likelihood to dabble with drugs, it’s no laughing matter. Confronted by either the hard evidence of their child’s habit or the crippling fear that their moody youngster may well be tinkering with ecstasy, cannabis or cocaine, simply accepting the drugs menace may not be an option they want to consider.
For them, the statistics are chilling: 60,000 people have died in Scotland over the past 20 years from drug misuse and there are currently 56,000 heroin users across the country. Use of crack and cocaine has increased by more than 200 per cent in Scotland in the past five years, while the number of babies born to drug-addicted mothers has dramatically increased to one in every 56 babies born.
Even closer to home - and school - last November a 14-year-old pupil at St Thomas of Aquins was charged by police for being in possession of cannabis, while a UK Drugs Unlimited report of clubbers in Edinburgh and Glasgow showed nearly half of them, mostly undergraduates and young professionals, had taken cocaine.
And there may be further cause for them to be worried: from July 1 cannabis becomes a class C drug rather than class B, and punishments for personal use become much less severe.
So where does it leave the worried parent who would rather not see their youngster stumble through early adulthood and into prison, in a drug-induced haze? And what if they want to guide their teenager away from the drug dealer’s trap long before any damage can be done?
Unfortunately for them, trying to figure out whether their youngster’s unsociable behaviour is just another annoying symptom of adolescence or a warning sign that they could be tampering with illegal drugs, is far from an exact science.
However, help for them could come in the form of a new programme from Australia, which is said to have helped thousands of families there deal with the threat of harmful drugs and sustained misuse.
How to Drug Proof Your Kids, unveiled at the Scottish Parliament last week, is specifically designed to educate parents about substance misuse through a series of community-based programmes led by fellow parents trained by the organisation, along with drug education and child care professionals. The first Scottish session is expected to be held at an Edinburgh primary school in autumn.
"It may not be possible to stop children from trying out tobacco, alcohol or illicit drugs," concedes Jacqui Foggitt, manager of Care for the Family’s office in Scotland - the charitable Christian organisation which has brought the initiative from Down Under.
"But extensive research shows that parents can play a vital role in keeping their children from long-term involvement in substance abuse."
The six-point programme of two-hour sessions covers key areas including: the extent of the drugs problem; why young people indulge; how to educate children to make "good" choices; prevention tools for parents; learning to intervene and where to get help, and advice on how to handle "relapses".
The package - which focuses on stressing to parents the need to build a strong relationship with their children long before a drugs crisis may even arise - was put together from a book, Drug Proof Your Kids, written by Dr Steve Arterburn, who has a doctorate in addictions and runs several clinics in America, and his colleague Jim Burns in the late 1980s.
It urges parents to arm themselves with knowledge of the drugs scene - from how drug dealers prey on and befriend vulnerable young children to street names for drugs - to become aware of support groups in their area and how to deal rationally with evidence of their child’s drug use.
"Parents need to understand and respond in a way most appropriate to their situation," states the programme. "To simply tell children who are already casual or dependent users to stop taking drugs is naive. As is lecturing young people that ‘all they have to do is say no’. It is a much more complex issue, and there are psychosocial and health issues that need to be addressed."
Blowing your top or finger-wagging is exactly what parents should not do, agrees one Edinburgh parent with direct experience of a drug-abusing son.
"I look back on how I handled it and there are many things I probably did wrong," says the 57-year-old father who lives in the west of Edinburgh. "I didn’t know what to look for, where to go or who to talk to. I didn’t understand what it was all about."
His son started smoking cannabis 14 years ago at the age of 13, although his suspicions were only really aroused when he noted evidence of him smoking roll-ups instead of cigarettes. "I didn’t know anything about smoking hash - I didn’t even know what it looked like," he admits.
"My son said hash was ok, most kids have either been offered it or tried it by the time they are 16 or 17. What do you say? It was tremendously difficult. I didn’t know what to look for and found I was always second-guessing my son. Eventually it became much more serious than hash."
His son now has a heroin addiction which has seen him spend long periods in prison and left his father shattered.
"He spends about 50 per cent of his time in prison - addicts who take drugs and then go out stealing usually get caught," says the father, who asked not to be identified. "He has even run up a drugs bill while in prison and then got into trouble trying to pay it back once he was released by smuggling drugs back inside.
"The whole culture of drugs brings bewilderment, stress and hurt, a whole selection of feelings. I’ve even had to go down to his dealers and try to pay them off. It’s hard for the parents as well."
He believes the key to helping parents is encouraging communication with children at an early age, gathering as much information as possible and learning to identify warning signs - just the kind of skills which How to Drug Proof Your Kids appears to stress.
"This is primarily a parenting course," explains Jacqui Foggitt. "It’s about improving the relationship between parents and their children with the emphasis on drugs." The course also advises parents on how and where to find support and advice at local level and how to support their child should they relapse by looking at diet, emotional state and the issues which may have led to drug abuse in the first place.
Paula Pridham, training manager for the programme, adds: "The course is aimed at prevention, it’s about parents learning how to relate to their children to put in enough protective factors so they don’t feel the need to try drugs. It looks at building self-esteem, open communication and making sure children are well educated about drugs. And it’s about parents looking at their own behaviour and lifestyle."
Indeed, the most recent Scottish anti-drugs television adverts also strived to show parents how they shouldn’t react, with two furious parents wagging fingers and simultaneously shouting at their sullen daughter after discovering her dalliance with drugs.
Alistair Ramsay, director of Scotland Against Drugs, agrees that this approach is the wrong one. "Parents often get it wrong because they don’t want to think their children know more about a subject than they do. And drugs can be an emotive topic.
"We want to encourage children to look up and beyond drugs, rather than wag fingers at them. Finger wagging and sermonising about don’t do this and don’t try that often backfires."
Paula Pridham agrees. "Parents will want to scream and kick them out of the house. They won’t ever want to see their child again. And that’s the wrong way to handle it. They have to think about how they might react beforehand, so that if drugs do become an issue they can talk about it with their child in a positive way and not an emotive one that doesn’t help anyone."
New heights for extreme sports fans’ festival
EXTREME sports fans are to be given the chance to watch their peers perform death defying stunts thanks to a new festival of short films to be opened in Edinburgh.
The Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival will show a series of short films on mountaineering, skiing and snowboarding, kayaking and canoeing, and other sports on Wednesday, October 8 and Thursday, October 9.
The Festival will be staged at the Caledonian Brewery, Slateford Road, and 250 people are expected each night to witness short films focusing on mountain sports taken to the extreme. These will be followed by a slide show presentation by a leading figure from the world of mountaineering.
This year’s speakers are Scott Muir and Jamie Andrew. Mr Muir is one of Britain’s leading mixed climbers and will speak about his recent attempt to climb some never repeated Alpine routes that were first conquered by legendary Edinburgh mountaineer Dougal Haston.
Mr Andrew’s climbing career appeared to be cut short in 1999 after a horrific accident on Mont Blanc cost him both his hands and feet after they were ravaged by frostbite during a five-day ordeal on an icy ridge. His companion, Jamie Fisher, died after the pair were trapped in bad weather.
However, Mr Andrew made an inspirational recovery and became the first quadruple amputee to climb Ben Nevis. Last year he managed to climb some rock routes graded Very Severe.
Clowns serious for Lothian meet
CLOWNS from across the globe will descend on Midlothian next month for an International Clown Summit.
More than 40 clowns are expected to attend a week-long event in Dalkeith.
The comical characters have agreed to help put smiles on the faces of polio sufferers by supporting Rotary International’s Polio Eradication Campaign.
Dalkeith and Esk Valley Rotarian Clubs are hosting a Clown Extravaganza in the grounds of Dalkeith Palace, High Street, Dalkeith, on Thursday, June 12, from 6.30pm to 9.30pm.
An evening of slapstick, fun and games is promised, as well as fundraising stalls and musical entertainment.
Clowns from Japan, Canada, Malaysia, Britain, Israel and America will entertain visitors.
Prior to the extravaganza, the performers will be clowning around in Midlothian primary schools, which Rotarians have organised for them to visit.
Timing is right for Tempo gig
CHARITY youth group Tempo are following their success of the Sound of Musicals last year with a fundraising concert next week entitled Razzle Dazzle.
Performers aged between ten and 17 will be taking part in the musical extravaganza, which will feature a mix of songs from both stage and screen, emphasising Tempo’s aim to encourage and stimulate youngsters’ awareness of the performing arts.
The Tempo Youngstars will be performing with the regular cast at Edinburgh’s Church Hill Theatre on Tuesday and Wednesday, June 10 and 11 at 7.30pm.
City designer makes it two in a row with architect prize
LEADING city architect Malcolm Fraser has scooped a top Scottish design prize for the second year running.
Mr Fraser was named Architect of the Year at the prestigious Scottish Design Awards, which was held in Glasgow on Friday night.
The Scottish Design Awards, staged by The Drum magazine, cover the entire design spectrum from brochure and new media to architectural design.
There were 72 nominations in total for a range of prestigious awards with 18 designers and 12 architects picking up prizes.
Greenbank Parish Church in Morningside won the Best Public/Leisure Space Award for the kirk’s new contemporary multi-purpose hall for its parish church.
The church’s congregation raised around 1 million to meet building costs for the scheme, which was designed by Lee Boyd Ltd of Edinburgh.
Edinburgh-based Reiach and Hall Architects won the best use of photography award, while Oliver Chapman Architects was highly commended for the best domestic project.
City architect Allan Murray was also commended for best public project for Edinburgh City Council’s new Under-fives nursery in the Cowgate.
Today, Mr Fraser, who leapt to prominence with the award-winning Dance Base in the Grassmarket, said he was delighted with the award.
"It is pleasing because this is voted by fellow professionals. I won it last year with Dance Base. In the intervening year, I have been vocal on various issues about architecture in Scotland.
"I believe the award reflects the fact that people like what I say, my optimism about architecture in Scotland and how business and heritage groups should work together."
He added: "It’s not about starting again, but valuing what we’ve got."
Shear joy as sheep flock in
AROUND 4000 sheep will descend on the Capital later this month for the Golden Shears World Sheep Shearing and Wool Handling Championships.
The world’s top shearers and wool handlers are expected to compete in the two-day contest at the Royal Highland Centre in Ingliston, which begins on June 21.
four-time world champion David Fagan and Scots pair Tom Wilson and Hamish Mitchell will all compete in the event, the first time it has been held in Scotland.
Competitors from a host of other countries including Australia, South Africa, Austria, France and the Falkland Islands will also take part.
The competition is divided into four sections, wool handling, team, world blade and world individual.
A purpose-built open-air "theatre" featuring sheep pens and a stage for the competing shearers has been built for the event, which is forecast to inject up to 100,000 into the city's economy.
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