Young people speak out about education on alcohol

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1 Young people speak out about education on alcohol I think the best possible way to reduce the amount of young people drinking would be to educate them about alcohol. You will never be able to stop people obtaining alcohol and drinking, the best option is to educate people. female What do young people say about education on alcohol? There is considerable concern across the community about the harms caused by alcohol consumption, particularly the impact on young people. Research conducted in Western Australia 1 shows that 30 per cent of 14 to 17 year-olds consumed alcohol in the past week, with 29 per cent of those drinking more than five standard drinks on any occasion. Only nine per cent of this age group have never consumed alcohol. In 2011 the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA engaged researchers to undertake a consultation with nearly 300 young people aged 14 to 17 years from across WA. The aim of the consultation was to find out their views on alcohol-related harm and the strategies they saw as likely to work in reducing this harm. Participants were asked about their knowledge of standard drink measures and the national alcohol guidelines. They also discussed the main influences on their decisions about drinking alcohol, their concerns about harms that arise from alcohol consumption and their views and ideas on strategies to reduce these harms. In the online survey conducted as a part of the Commissioner s consultation, 43.5 per cent of young people identified education at school as an extremely effective strategy. It was considered one of the most effective strategies among drinkers (31%) and non-drinkers (48.3%). Overall, the top two strategies identified by young people were providing more alcohol-free activities (52.5 %) and stronger enforcement of the laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol to intoxicated people and to people under the age of 18 (45.8 %). In addition to these strategies, young people thought that community-based alcohol education strategies (such as media campaigns, targeted programs, public health campaigns and product warning labels) would be likely to reduce alcohol-related harm to young people. School-based education programs Consultation participants made a number of suggestions about how school-based alcohol education programs could be improved to have a greater impact on young people. They said programs could be more effective if they started before drinking behaviour had commenced and were delivered by credible people. Participants also said that being educated by older peers, particularly those who have been negatively impacted by alcohol, would possibly influence their decisions.

2 If they do it at a younger age when you re not so, I know everything about it, should start in year 8 or year 9 before the get into that drinking culture. male I think educating people in a casual and supportive approach early on might help them make the right decisions concerning alcohol and then hopefully they will spread the message to other young people. My idea would be that if younger spokesman (such as their peers) were to educate and spread the message of the harm caused by drinking to young people then they may be able to relate more, rather than feel like they re being lectured by adults or others that don t understand them. male Young people said that they also wanted practical information and tips on what to do to help keep friends safe when drinking. We want strategies to solve things, hints on what you can do like if this happens, lay the person down or if this happens here is how you deal with it. female To help us with strategies so like when your friends are drunk how to sober up and like what to do before you drink. female Definitely effective, so long as they don t lecture us. If it s like, don t drink, don t drink, don t drink, then we will we need tips. female Consistent with the evidence 2, some participants said it was important for education campaigns to aim to modify behaviour and not just increase the knowledge base of children and young people. Furthermore, they said alcohol education strategies should target community-wide knowledge, attitudes and behaviours, including parents and older siblings. What works and what doesn t? Schools have a significant role in preventing and reducing alcohol-related harms by promoting protective factors for wellbeing. Some of these factors include a positive connection to schooling and learning success and achievement. Research has shown that children who are not engaged with learning and have poor relationships with teachers and peers are more likely to use alcohol and other drugs, develop anxiety/depression and fail to complete school. 3 Schools also have an important role in both identifying and supporting young people who consume alcohol and educating them about the harms associated with doing so. In 2010 the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) conducted research on behalf of the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) about the role of schools in alcohol education. Their survey of participating schools found that the most successful school-based programs tend to: use a social influence 4 approach as a key part of the program include wider community and parental involvement and focus on building resilience and connectedness to the school community address the whole school environment, for example promoting positive relationships and behaviours, reducing victimisation and bullying and increasing social connectedness have a highly interactive mode of delivery

3 be flexible to the needs of the school population provide professional development to support teachers. 5 Research has also shown 6 that while school-based education programs have a role, they are unlikely to be successful in isolation. This is of particular significance for Aboriginal children and young people, where the effects of most school-based AOD (alcohol and other drug) education appear to be weak and short term. 7 Partnerships with parents and the wider community are a key component of successful alcohol education programs. There is also mixed evidence about the effectiveness of scare-tactic strategies, such as graphic images or real-life stories, despite their prevalence in schools and their popularity with young people. While graphic stories are memorable for young people, behaviour modification does not necessarily follow: In general, the more serious and tragic consequences of drinking are inconsistent with young people s own experience and what they see happening when friends and family consume alcohol. Thus, while scare tactics are compelling to watch, adolescents may still fail to make the connection between their own risky behaviour and the potential for such dire consequences. Moreover, the use of scare tactics subverts the normative approach, which aims to dispel the myth that all young people consume alcohol in a risky manner..8 What is currently happening in WA? School Drug Education and Road Aware (SDERA) School Drug Education and Road Aware (SDERA) is the State government s primary drug and road safety education strategy. SDERA works with schools and the wider community to provide prevention education aimed at keeping young people safe. Currently, SDERA works with primary and secondary schools across the State, representing approximately 30 per cent of all government, independent and Catholic schools. SDERA offers a range of print and online resources to help school staff deliver alcohol education programs through the Health and Physical Education learning area of the Western Australian Curriculum. The whole school community approach is also a focus for SDERA, which is evident in their new Changing Health Acting Together (CHAT) initiative. The CHAT model recognises the close association between the good health of individuals and positive educational outcomes. 10 The model uses three key areas working in unison to achieve improved health and wellbeing outcomes - Curriculum; Ethos and environment; and Parents and community. 11 To date, the CHAT model has been adopted by 50 schools across Western Australia. The School Health and Alcohol Harm Reduction Project (SHAHRP) Curtin University s National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) has conducted research into reducing alcohol-related harm in a school context. 12 The studies reflect the aims of the National Drug Strategy 13 by adopting a harm-minimisation approach. Secondary schools participating in the teaching program complete three phases of alcohol harm-reduction lessons which take place over a three-year period. The aim of the program is to reduce the level of alcohol-related harms in students who drink alcohol and to reduce harms experienced by those who don t drink but interact with those who do. The teaching

4 program provides knowledge to enable students to develop an awareness of situations with alcohol-related risk as well as skills training to enable them to make and implement choices that minimise harm when in such situations. 14 The program is evidence-based and draws on findings from several studies conducted in Australia and overseas. The SHAHRP teaching program has been rated highly 15 in terms of its flexibility and innovative approach to program delivery. 16 Results of the program show that SHAHRP students had greater alcohol-related knowledge, lower levels of total and risky consumption and alcohol consumption, and lower levels of harm associated with alcohol use. 17 Program materials are available from the NDRI website. When developing alcohol education programs and activities, it is important to understand and acknowledge the needs of children and young people at particular stages of their development. Particularly, research tells us that significant biological and neurological developments take place from the ages of nine to 14 (Years 4 to 9), which is a period known as the middle years. The middle years are now understood as a development stage during which an increase in risk-taking and sensation-seeking behaviours occurs, such as disengaging from school, involvement in criminal behaviour and experimentation with drugs and alcohol. 18 Policy makers and educators should consider the unique developmental period of the middle years, so that school-based education programs and activities to reduce alcohol-related harm are delivered in a relevant and age-appropriate manner. Education for parents For young people participating in the online survey, parents were the most significant influence on non-drinkers (56.6%) and the second most significant influence on drinkers (38.1%). Consistent with these findings, young people considered it important for parents to have more information and support to help their children make informed decisions about drinking. Parents are also an important factor in determining the success of school-based alcohol education programs. A research project undertaken as part of the South Australian Department of Education and Children s Services (DECS) Drug Strategy 19 identified the most successful strategies in their study began with establishing early and ongoing interaction between parents and their children on the topic of alcohol and then led to the provision of a range of opportunities for parents to engage throughout the inquiry. 20 For further discussion about the role of parents in reducing alcohol-related harm to children and young people, see the Commissioner s Speaking out about the role of parents policy brief. Policy and program development Considerable good work is already being done by a range of agencies in Western Australia to reduce alcohol-related harm on young people. Further policy and program development needs to occur to maximise the capacity of education to make a positive impact on reducing alcohol-related harm.

5 Key priorities: An evidence-based alcohol education program should be compulsory in all schools. Policy makers and educators should consider the unique developmental period of the middle years (nine to 14 year olds) as the stage to commence school-based alcohol education programs. School-based alcohol education programs should aim to modify behaviour, not just increase knowledge and competence. School-based alcohol education programs should be delivered using a social influence approach that involves parents and the wider community. Promoting protective behaviours and a positive school culture is a key component of this approach. Young people should be an integral part of the ongoing development and implementation of strategies to reduce alcohol-related harm. Alcohol-related harm is a multi-faceted problem that requires a comprehensive long-term strategy that is based on the best available evidence. Prevention strategies directed at young people need to be complemented by other strategies that support broader efforts to reduce excessive alcohol consumption across the community. This includes: legislation to restrict the advertising and marketing of alcohol strategies to reduce the availability of cheap and discounted alcohol increased penalties for adults who supply alcohol to young people including legislation to prevent the supply of alcohol to minors on private premises without parental consent public health campaigns to address the culture of excessive alcohol consumption and tolerance of intoxication. For further discussion about these strategies, see the Commissioner s Young People and Alcohol issues paper and the other publications on this topic available at NB: All quotes from young people are from the Commissioner for Children and Young People s research into young people s views on reducing alcohol-related harm. The report, Speaking Out About Reducing Alcohol- Related Harm on Children and Young People is available at

6 1 Griffiths P, Kalic R & Gunnell A 2009, Australian School Student Survey 2008: Western Australian results (excluding tobacco). Brief Communication no.2. 2 National Drug Research Institute School Health and Alcohol Harm Reduction Project, < 3 Bond, Butler, Thomas et al., 2007; Bond, Patton, Glover et al., 2004, cited in Roche AM, et al 2010, The Role of Schools in Alcohol Education: Final Report to Australian Government Department of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations, National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA), Canberra, p The social influence approach recognises that the individual is located within a wider community and subject to a range of forces and influences, including the school environment (Hughes C et al 2008, Final Report to the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation, University of Tasmania). 5 Roche AM et al 2010, The Role of Schools in Alcohol Education: Final Report to Australian Government Addiction (NCETA), p Closing the Gap Clearinghouse Reducing alcohol and other drug related harm. Australian Government, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Australian Institute of Family Studies, pp ibid 8 Roche AM et al 2010, The Role of Schools in Alcohol Education: Final Report to Australian Government Addiction (NCETA), p School Drug Education and Road Aware (SDERA) 2010, Annual Report , p School Drug Education and Road Aware (SDERA) < 11 School Drug Education and Road Aware (SDERA) 2010, Annual Report , p National Drug Research Institute School Health and Alcohol Harm Reduction Project, < 13 Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy 2011, National Drug Strategy : A framework for action on alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, Commonwealth of Australia. 14 National Drug Research Institute School Health and Alcohol Harm Reduction Project,< 15 Roche AM et al 2010, The Role of Schools in Alcohol Education: Final Report to Australian Government Addiction (NCETA), p. 58, p National Drug Research Institute School Health and Alcohol Harm Reduction Project, < 17 Roche AM et al 2010, The Role of Schools in Alcohol Education: Final Report to Australian Government Addiction (NCETA), p Commissioner for Children and Young People 2011, Middle Years Issues Paper 7, see < 19 Burgess J 2011, Are approaches that engage parents in school alcohol education effective? In what ways? How do we know? South Australian Department of Education and Children s Service Drug Strategy, p ibid

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