New guide helps parents stay up to date on drug abuse

Online booklet contains info on trends, risks and tips on how to talk to kids about drugs

"Ice" in the drugs sense is not as innocent as the ice used to cool beverages.

When Madam Phoebe Lau, 39, found herself having to explain the street name for methamphetamine, also known as "Ice", to her children, aged 14 and 11, it dawned upon her that she did not know much about it.

For parents like Madam Lau, Growing Up Drug-Free, the small handbook launched by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) last Thursday will come in handy to equip them with preventive drug knowledge and tips when similar questions arise.

The booklet, which is available online, aims to encourage parents to broach the subject of drug abuse with their children, and contains information about drug risks, updates about drug trends and tips to help children say "no" to drugs.

Madam Lau, who works in the social service sector, said she has spoken to her children about drugs only on five occasions.

She feels the handbook will help her understand more about the drug situation and stay up to date on the ever-evolving substances that are popping up in the market.

"Some of the names (of drugs) sound cool and are so normalised, it's a challenge to keep up so that we are ready to talk to our children when the opportunity arises," she said.

A survey by the National Council Against Drug Abuse (NCADA) showed that nine in 10 teenagers who have had conversations with their parents about drugs said it helped them stay clean.

However, only one in two teens has had such talks.

Mother of two Vanishree Muniswamy Raju, 44, said that the guide would help her broach the subject in an informed and factual manner.

"Instead of just telling my daughters that drugs are bad, I now know the specific effects of certain kinds of drugs," said the housewife.

Mr Ong Kek Siong, 53, a retiree with three sons, aged 17 to 24, said it was useful for parents to be well informed about the dangers of drugs so that they can provide answers when their children pose questions on the topic.

"If you have the answer, you can satisfy their curiosity. If not, they might turn to friends or the Internet for the answers," he added.

However, clinical psychologist Carol Balhetchet, who specialises in family, children and youth, said the effectiveness of the handbook will depend on the relationship between parent and child.

"If you look more closely, you will realise the children who talk to their parents about drugs are the ones who have a relationship with their parents," she said.

Bringing up preventive drug conversations might backfire if parents do not have a close relationship with the child, she added.

"The child might feel like he is being accused of taking drugs if it comes out of nowhere."

Mr Ong said he brings up the topic of drugs only when the opportunity arises, sometimes after watching a show or reading an article.

"It should be done casually and not be a lecture," he suggested. "The right communication channels should be open and parents should not shy away from the subject."

However, some young people say they would rather get their preventive drug education from school talks or the Internet.

Student Ryan Toh, 18, said: "I haven't spoken to my dad about this before, but the repeated talks in school are enough for me to say 'no' to drugs."

The NCADA survey, which polled 2,748 people aged 13 to 30, also revealed that there was a growing number of young people here displaying a more laid-back attitude towards drugs like cannabis.

Results showed a softening of perceptions towards drugs, where 16 per cent of those aged 13 to 21 had a liberal attitude towards drugs last year, compared with 11 per cent in 2013.

This is set against the backdrop of a growing number of American states legalising cannabis and many other countries' lawmakers calling for its decriminalisation.

While parents The Sunday Times spoke to were shocked at these changing attitudes, young people said it was expected, given some media portrayal of cannabis, also known as "weed", as positive and medicinal, and its prevalence in pop culture.

Student Jacqueline Tan, 20, said that she has heard friends comment that cannabis should be legalised because it is "just a plant".

She added: "(The results) are not surprising. Especially with the kind of exposure we get overseas and over the media, it's slowly becoming a norm that the drug is cool and socially acceptable."

Said 17-year-old student Sarmeni Ramakrishna: "If you scroll through Facebook, you see many overseas articles talking about weed... It's a pretty normal topic among teenagers and I've heard people talk about trying it before."

But she added: "With what I know about drugs, I'm not curious to try it. But I do hope that if I come across a situation where I am offered drugs, I will have the confidence to refuse them."

•The booklet, in all four official languages, can be found at the CNB website

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 30, 2017, with the headline 'New guide helps parents stay up to date on drug abuse'. Print Edition | Subscribe