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Incredible Aussie teens and our influence on them: Don’t ever underestimate it!

This morning I posted a link to an article published this week that busted the myths around “a generation out of control” and a “binge drinking epidemic” apparently running rampant amongst our young people. It highlighted that we are currently seeing Australian teen drinking at the lowest recorded rates since we began collecting data in this area in the early 80s. This appears to be a global trend and the authors went on to give some possible reasons for the shift including the impact of social media and the internet (possibly reducing the importance of drinking in socialising) and an increasing focus on healthy living. I also believe that it could also have to do with parents being better informed about the risks around teen drinking and growing numbers who are trying to do as good a job as they can as far as parenting goes in this area (even there are those who continue to baffle me with their moronic behaviour!) …

These figures don’t surprise me. Everyday I meet young people who are making great choices around alcohol and doing their very best in an alcohol-soaked culture to do what they feel is right for them. As I always say, I don’t go into schools to preach abstinence – it would be great if I could speak to a group of Year 10 students (most of whom are 15 years-old) and tell them not to drink alcohol and give them all the reasons why they shouldn’t. But realistically for some of them, they are currently drinking, getting a great deal of enjoyment out of it and me telling them not to do it is simply not going to be effective. That said, we should never underestimate the influence we can have …

Last week I received this email from a student:

Hey Paul,
I was a student at XXX and graduated in
2014 and I feel this may be delayed slightly given that this is almost a year
since your talk I would like to say thanks for your seminars.
Before you came and talked I had never really thought
about the option to ‘not drink’ and had always assumed that that’s what I would
do when I got older and live that lifestyle but after you came in proudly
stating that you didn’t drink I began to think and have taken the same
lifestyle choice. 
Now apart from the fact my wallet has been saved from a
great deal of losses I feel I have dodged a bullet and feel a lot greater being
the sober friend and have taken to looking after those who aren’t as sober.
I really appreciate what you’ve done thus far and always
looked forward to your seminars each year and I hope you continue for years to
come as I genuinely think you’ve made a great impact on the lives of many if
not at least you’ve made an impact on me.
Thought I would pay you this compliment as I understand
there must be a lot of negativity with this job and a positive every now and
then would benefit you and your cause 
P.S. How do you answer the question ‘why don’t you drink
?’ I feel like this comes up way to much and I haven’t quite come up with a
response that seems to satisfy the asker.
If that doesn’t make you feel pretty darn special, nothing will! I was blown away … no matter what a speaker or teacher would have said to me when I was young, I don’t think I would have ever taken the time to ‘put pen to paper’ a year later and thanked them. Our kids are amazing!
For those of you who follow me regularly you may remember I wrote a blog entry on a very similar theme last year. A young man approached me after my Year 12 presentation and asked to shake my hand and thank me for almost the very same thing. When I had first presented to his class in Year 10 I had said that I didn’t drink and, as a result of what I had said that day, he had decided to follow my example! Wow! As I said then, no-one, particularly parents, should ever underestimate the impact they can have on the choices their child will make … if a throwaway sentence from a complete stranger (and that’s what I was way back in Year 10 to this young man) can make a difference, what can the person who loves them the most in the world do if they really set their mind to it?
We are constantly knocking our kids – the media rarely reports the good news and that’s sad because there’s a lot of it! Of course we have problems, those young people who do drink alcohol regularly tend to drink a lot and are usually spirit drinkers, putting themselves (and others) at great risk. Although we have some of the lowest rates of recent illicit drug use amongst secondary school students that we have ever seen in this country, those that do use drugs are starting at a younger age and often using them in a more dangerous way (e.g., polydrug use). We also have a growing range of substances available (more than 2 new substances per week) and due to the internet, access can be much easier than it was in the past.

That said, we still have so many teens who continue to make healthy choices – we rarely talk about them and it is so important that we do, as often as possible. Reinforcing positive norms (flipping the figures) and talking about that group of teens that the media simply ignores is vital. And you only have to look at the email above to see that even a simple sentence can make the world of difference in a young person’s life! Who would have thought?

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