Exercising restraint

The past few months, parents have been bombarded with the Close-Up tragedy news, where five people died of suspected drug overdose. In the university where I teach, we have another conundrum, a community problem: we are discussing the issue of Close-Up traged. Because our university does not have classes on Fridays, Thursday night is the beginning of the weekend.

There have been multitudes of scenes involving students throwing up on the sidewalk in the middle of the night, as well as numerous calls from the nearby police community precinct to the chancellor to collect this and that drunken student who was rounded up from the street.
Worse, there have been cases of rape where the perpetrators are unknown, because they were all too drunk. It is common knowledge that Thursday night is happy-hour, and students from other universities head over to our area to do some drinking.

For the university, one main issue is the bars themselves. Why do they have permits to operate in the first place, when they are within 500 meters of a school?

The vice-chancellor reported during a town hall meeting with stakeholders that the university has been complaining about the bars for years now. They would disappear for a while, but re-open again some two weeks later. Dealing with government is definitely an uphill battle. During that town hall meeting, the university was trying to get a feel of how the student and faculty bodies felt about moving the university break from Fridays to Mondays. Having class on Fridays removes happy-hour Thursday.

Many argued that it is not which day of the week that matters. Those who want to drink will just move happy-hour Thursday to happy-hour Friday. They felt it is more important to teach them responsible drinking.

It is the same issue with the Close-Up tragedy. Though the substances were not “illegal,” the “party” drugs are still known to have addictive and damaging substances. One family is suing the event organizer for being negligent in handling and operating the concert.

The medico-legal office of the National Bureau of Investigation found that two of the victims had traces of synthetic drugs, specifically MDMA Methylyne Homolog and Synthetic Cathinone. I have no idea what those are, but I definitely do not trust anything I could not even pronounce.

Every time updates on this issue go on the radio, our family driver surmises that the families who did not sue knew their children were users, or worse, addicts. He believes that the suing party is “hibang” – deluding themselves that their daughter was not a user. He places the blame squarely on their shoulders, that they should have ensured their child is drug-free.

I argued with him that the parents and boyfriend say that the daughter was not a drug user. So, our driver goes on to conclude that the boyfriend probably just did not want to admit that both of them were taking drugs or drug-laced drinks. Since the boyfriend did not undergo any drug-testing, we will never know.

With these issues on the table, I do have to wonder about the relationship of these children with their parents. The parents say they knew their daughter very well. It could very well be the first time she tried to take recreational drugs that tragically turned out to be fatal.

When a parent-child relationship is truly open, children and teens should be comfortable in expressing their feelings, beliefs, values and opinions at home, and can openly disagree with you. The parent will then be in a better position to guide them in what is acceptable or not acceptable.

For Achi, since she’s only 8, we’re working on her resistance to gadgets. She’s quite nerdy and is capable of spending the whole day on the iPad or laptop if left to her own devices. We limited her gadget time to four hours a day this summer (Yes, four hours seems a lot, but programming is time-consuming). She argued that playing music on Spotify while she’s playing with toys should not count as gadget time, and I agreed.

When she grows older, I hope she continues to be comfortable in presenting her arguments so we could talk about all the good and bad things happening in her life. Only when we are true confidants can we be 100 percent sure of our children’s actions.

Meanwhile, the drug and alcohol problem is still looming over our heads. Talking might not be enough. In a study of drug prevention programs in the U.S., researchers classified the programs into 1) information only, where students only listened to lectures about how drugs are harmful; 2) resistance training, comprising of skills training on how to refuse drug offers; 3) normative education, where the school curriculum is designed to combat the influence of passive social pressures.

They found that a combination of the three seems to work best in teaching children to resist drugs and alcohol. With the insidiousness of drugs and alcohol use, having an open and comfortable relationship with our children is not enough anymore. The idea of teaching resistance skills to our children is for them to NOT even try.

Let us start by facing the issues directly. Speak with your teen and discuss the kinds of negative peer pressure he encounters in school. For that matter, is your teen aware of what peer pressure really looks like? It does not always have to be friends explicitly asking him to try something he does not want to do. Is your teen aware that some actions or being left out of the group can be peer pressure too?

For example, friends decide to go to the mall during class hours. Your teen is not invited. He would thus feel as the odd man out and could have blurted out “Mall kayo? Sama ‘ko!” If his friends make him feel uncomfortable for not going along with the crowd, for wanting to do something different, for trying something different, that’s peer pressure.

If the boyfriend withholds affection like a hug or smile because your teen doesn’t want to go somewhere with him – that’s peer pressure. Talk to your teen about healthy and unhealthy relationships. Bottom-line, healthy relationships never require people to prove themselves in ways that are unsafe or uncomfortable for them. Healthy relationships fill us with ease and well-being. True friends make us feel safe and accept us for who we are.

Find out how easy or difficult it is for him to say no. Discuss the nuances behind his decisions. What is difficult for him to resist? Ask your teen to give you reasons for these difficulties. And then move on to role play how your teen acts when he has trouble resisting. Pretend you are the friend offering cutesy party tablets to everyone but him. Does he feel left out? What does he want to do? Most importantly, in these role plays, have your child practice different ways of saying no. It could be as simple as walking away from the situation.

When there is nowhere to go, your child could practice calmly saying no or how to ignore the person or situation. Have him prepare a few jokes up so he can use humor to divert the pressure. Peer pressure is one thing. However, the lure of party drugs and happy drinking hours could also be a factor. Talk openly about your fears with your child. Use the concert as an example! If the girl at the Close-Up concert truly was not a drug user, as her parents believe, then someone could have laced her drink.

That one time trial cost her her life. It could also happen to your child. Ask your teen to come up with solutions for that scenario. What should she have done? What if they are at a party and want to drink. Teach them to drink responsibly, as I have written before. (See “Alcohol abuse among the young,” Tulay, Nov. 17-Dec. 7, 2016).

Lastly, these strategies should not be a one-time-big-time lecture or talk. Space this out over time and do not stop until your child is truly well out of his/her teens, and you are sure of his/her resistance skills. — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 29, nos. 1-2 (June 21-July 4, 2016): 13.