Umm Abdillah, Radio Islam Programming, 2016.01.29 | 18 Rabiul Aakhir 1437H
Lower income and affluent children are all under the spotlight. Illegal drugs for recreational purposes and or to enhance sports performance is a growing problem in SA schools writes Umm Abdillah.
Drug rehabilitation centres in South Africa have recently recorded that children under the age of 17 make up around 22% of those currently being treated.
The availability of recreational drugs at primary schools came under the spotlight in 2013 after a 9-year-old boy from Centurion was caught selling drugs to children as young as eleven and twelve years old.
The most common drug found sold in schools is dagga, while cocaine and tik (methamphetamine) are also easily available. Nyaope, a mixture of heroin and other substances, is another South African problem drug that is growing in popularity among those who are buying drugs at school.
The SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) admits that doping in schools is "beyond serious." Teenagers from middle income and private schools who beef up to participle at Craven Week, a rugby-scouting melee are now routinely tested. Indicted teens who have tested positive for steroids have been banned from competitive sport for up to two years.
Former All Blacks coach, John Mitchell believes that in South Africa, doping (anabolic steroids) is an issue that always starts at schoolboy level. The game is taken very seriously and players are often put under pressure to perform from parents and coaches alike. In South Africa much emphasis is placed on the size of players. The perception is that you have to be big in order to become a professional rugby player, so schoolboys want to bulk up. He wrote in a recent post:
“Having worked with South African players across all age-group levels, I have found that there’s more of a focus on stationary weight training and getting into a gym than conditioning and basic fundamentals such as catch and pass, which is practiced in New Zealand.”
Television as a catalyst
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a study that shows how television glamorises alcohol and drug use.
Part of the study says when television portrays drug and alcohol use as a normal part of everyday life, children pick up on the fact. The study found that an increase of television and music video viewing in 9th graders was a risk factor for adolescent alcohol use.
Simply depicting alcohol and drug use is not the only problem seen. Often alcohol and drug use is seen as part of a celebration. A character may grab a drink after a happy event or may light up a cigarette after an intimate scene. The result is an association between alcohol and drug use and having a good time, and that association becomes dangerous.
In recent years, there is a trend in showing the hidden world of addiction through characters on television.
“Breaking Bad almost makes crystal meth production and distribution seem like a real career choice, Mad Men is the ultimate glamorisation of alcoholism, no matter what time of day it is, and Californication makes alcohol seem like part of everyday life. Weeds and The Wire are not as much about drug use as they are about the lives of those who make a living off the sale of drugs to the millions of people who are substance-dependent and addicted.”
Adolescents watching TV can see someone — or many people — drinking once every 14 minutes. In addition to legal chemical substance use, Hollywood also provides their public with abundant depictions of illicit drug use. According to a study conducted in Columbia, people who watch R-rated movies are six times more likely to try marijuana. This may have something to do with the fact that marijuana is the most commonly depicted drug in the movie industry.
Today, with social media, the impact and digital peer pressure is far greater–teens exposed to depictions of alcohol or drug abuse are three to four times more likely to experiment themselves.
Helping our children
Parents whose children face intense academic or sporting pressure should watch out for sudden weight gain in muscle, acne, and aggressive behaviour as indicators of steroid use.
Other psychological signs to look for is an unexplained change in personality and attitude; periods of unusual hyperactivity or agitation; an inability to focus, appearing “spaced out”; eyes that are bloodshot or pupils that are smaller or larger than normal; frequent nosebleeds could be related to snorted drugs (meth or cocaine); acting isolated, silent, withdrawn, engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviours and frequent clashes with family values and beliefs.
Talk with our children about drugs. Explain how taking drugs can hurt their health, their friends and family, and their future. Tell them you don't want them to do drugs.
Be a good example for our children. Kids look up to their parents. Show them how we can get along with people and deal with stress, so they can learn to deal with stress. Keep our anger and frustration controlled.
Be a part of their lives. Spend time together. Even when times are hard, children can make it when they know that the adults in their life care about them and have their back.
Know where our children are and what they're doing. Keeping track of our children helps us to protect them.
Set clear rules and enforce them fairly. Children need rules they can count on. That is how they learn for themselves what is safe and what can get them in trouble.
Teach our children how to refuse drugs. Kids often do drugs just to fit in with the other kids. Help them practice how to say no if someone offers them drugs.
Consider organised sport and sporting tournaments and sports training as ways of depleting unspent energy and occupying children. Maintain community centres for sport and mobilise informal coaching to instill discipline.
Lastly, keep open channels of communication, even when our children slip up. Never shut the door.
Umm Abdillah is part of development and strategy at Radio Islam's Programming department. Catch her on air hosting The Reminders Programme on Wednesdays between 10-11 am. She can be contacted at email@example.com or @zanah_za on Twitter.