4 October 2018

Keep Calm and Talk: Encouraging parents to talk about smoking, alcohol and drugs with their teenagers

A new campaign has launched to encourage parents and carers to talk about cigarettes, alcohol and drugs with their teenagers and each other in a bid to challenge widespread misinformation and myths. It can be difficult to talk about the harm caused by these substances, and the campaign aims to equip parents and carers with facts and ideas to help them talk calmly with their teenagers about the possible impacts of their lifestyle choices. 

Developed by YMCA Right Here and Brighton & Hove City Council, Keep Calm and Talk encourages thoughtful conversations, and aims to increase knowledge and understanding and to support changes in behaviours. 

Brighton & Hove has some of the highest rates of cannabis use, smoking and alcohol consumption among young people in the country. According to the What about YOUth survey from 2015, 15% of 15 year olds in Brighton & Hove currently smoke, which is the highest rate in England. Almost a quarter (24%) have tried smoking cannabis and 14% have smoked cannabis within the last month - the highest rates in the country. Alcohol rates do not fare much better, with 11% of 15 year olds drinking at least once a week, the joint third highest rate in England. Engaging in harmful behaviours can have knock-on consequences now and in later life, with some young people at risk of developing severe and enduring substance misuse problems that continue into adulthood. The ideas for this campaign came from listening to the views, experiences and needs of parents and carer’s and their young people.

A parent from a Focus Group comments: “I think the hardest thing is starting the conversation. Kids are scared to talk to parents about drugs and parents are scared to say the wrong thing to kids about drugs. What parents or carers need are facts.”

Parents have said they feel pressured into allowing early drinking or smoking because they believe other parents are more permissive. Talking about the issues with other parents can prevent feelings of isolation and uncertainty, and instead enable joined up responses and consistent messaging.

Cllr Karen Barford, Chair of Brighton & Hove Health and Wellbeing Board said: ‘We know it can be very difficult to have meaningful conversations with young people about the risks of alcohol, smoking and drugs. This can be particularly tricky at a time when young people are increasingly inquisitive about the world around them, often keen to make their own life choices and can feel susceptible to peer and social media pressure. This is not about blaming anyone; this is about making sure that parents and carers feel well equipped to offer the right information to young people in a way that works for all of them. Ultimately, this campaign is about keeping our young people safe and prepared for a positive, healthy future’.

Shaila Sheikh, Project Manager at YMCA Right Here, said: “This campaign came about because parents and carers are very worried about some of the things they see and hear about across our city. They said they would like more information and ideas on how to talk with, and support their young people. Young people told us that they respond best to their parents remaining calm, not raising their voice and really listening to them. Thoughtful conversations can be a really powerful way to stem risky and harmful behaviours.”

Feeling tongue-tied? Try a few of the campaign’s conversation starters:

‘I need you to help me understand what’s going on as I’m worried.’
‘Can you try and tell me what’s going on?’
‘Would you know what to do if you or your friend has taken something and seems unwell?’

To find out more about the campaign, and to access information and support to have your own conversations, visit the Where To Go For website.