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Talk to youth about drugs ‘early and often’

Parents should talk to their children about drugs and alcohol “early and often”, Pride Bermuda has urged.

Samantha Smith, a programme coordinator at the substance abuse prevention charity, said that children were beginning to first experiment with tobacco and alcohol at worryingly young ages.

“When I first came into prevention a decade ago, the age of first use was about 9. Now it has dropped to about 7,” said Ms Smith, after giving a presentation on Pride Bermuda at Tuesday's Hamilton Rotary Club meeting.

She claimed that parental vigilance was key to preventing children from finding substances such as alcohol or tobacco around the home.

“It's about being aware,” said Ms Smith. “Do we have these products locked in a cabinet or are they easily accessible? And when we're not looking, are the children trying them?”

Ms Smith claimed that if a child experimented with alcohol before the age of 15, they were four times more likely to become addicted later in life.

She urged parents to pay attention to signs that their child may have started using drugs or drinking alcohol.

“Look at the friends they're hanging out with, look at their grades, look at if there's been a change in their behaviour or if they've become more secretive,” she said.

“These factors indicate if there might be some high-risk behaviour taking place.”

Pride Bermuda, which celebrates its 30th anniversary next year, runs two school programmes in Bermuda — LifeSkills and Paths — reaching youngsters aged from about 4 to 14. Between them, the two programmes focus on areas such as empathy, introspection, self-esteem, decision-making and assertiveness.

“Nowadays, prevention science says that you need to address the whole child,” Ms Smith said.

“Once you know how to manage yourself, you are more likely to be focused in school and less likely to engage in substance abuse and other high-risk behaviours.”

LifeSkills also has a programme for parents to foster awareness and help them to communicate with their children.

“For us, it's about getting to the children early and encouraging parents to make their expectations about substances known early and often,” Ms Smith said. “They need to have that conversation, so the child knows that they're expected not to use.”

Here to help: Judith Burgess, left, and Samantha Smith of Pride Bermuda, the substance abuse prevention charity (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published December 03, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 03, 2015 at 12:36 am)

Talk to youth about drugs ‘early and often’

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