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How To Outwit Your Teenager

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Dumped & Betrayed: A Life Lesson

May 13th, 2010 · 3 Comments

boys fighting

It’s a timeless scenario: two boys fighting in the playground, coming to blows with fists; the foulest of language and racist slurs employed for maximum punch. “You dumb f**kin Asian,” one screams at the other.

From the earliest records of history, young men have positioned themselves on either side of an imaginary line and declared themselves enemies. So there’s nothing unusual about a schoolyard fight. Except that in this particular case, the boys are actually best friends. The very best kind of friends. Buddies since kindergarten. Inseparable at school and on the weekends.

A girl has come between them. Seems that the girl dumped Friend A for Friend B. Friend B happily accepted the girl’s advances and affection and Friend A was feeling betrayed. These boys are 12 years old and days after the schoolyard punch-up they are still seething.

When I was told this true tale, I felt sad for these two friends who have allowed a girl that neither of them will remember in a couple of years (or even weeks at this age) to come between them. I listen to grown men on the radio discussing the rules of mateship. One of the key rules apparently is to “never cut your mate’s grass”. So girlfriends and wives are off limits. Remember the uproar when AFL player Wayne Carey slept with his best friend’s wife?

So perhaps we should be teaching our children this rule from a very young age, at least by the onset of puberty. It’s probable that Friend B was so excited that the girl was paying him attention that he didn’t stop to consider the feelings of Friend A. And that’s the other thing we should be encouraging our teenagers and tweenagers to do: think how it would feel if they put themselves in the shoes of others.

Friend A, at the tender age of 12, has suffered a double blow. He was dumped by a girl for the first time in his young life – and we all know the first time is the hardest. But then he was betrayed by his best friend, a more bitter pill to swallow at any age.

I’ve been ear-bashing my sons for years to: a) avoid hurting a girl’s feelings to the best of their ability, and b) never betray their friends for personal gain.

It’s stories like this that reassure me I’m on the right track – even if my sons think I’m crazy.

→ 3 CommentsTags: Relationships · Rules · friends

Did Your Teen Try Mephedrone At The Last Party?

May 6th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Spare a thought for the parents of Cassi Vaicekonis who were forced to bury their daughter shortly after her 20th birthday. As the media details the drug-infused horror of her final night, the inquest into her death revealed she was taking ecstasy tablets at the age of 16. She was in rehab by 19.

Cassi Vaicekonis. Source: The Daily Telegraph

We have read enough about cocaine, marijuana, heroin and ecstasy to believe we’d be able to detect if our teenager was using. If you are reading this blog then you can consider yourself a conscious parent. The trouble is, we never know what we’re supposed to be looking for next until another child dies.

And that’s why the fear of God went through me when I heard about mephedrone, also known as Meow-Meow. It’s a synthetic stimulant of the amphetamine and cathinone classes. Mephedrone comes in the form of tablets, capsules or white powder that can be swallowed, snorted or injected.

Mephedrone in capsule form. Source

Mephedrone in powder form. Source

Excessive cathinone usage can cause loss of appetite, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, hallucinations and panic attacks. Chronic abusers are at risk of developing personality disorders and of sustaining myocardial infarction. (Source: Wikipedia)

Mephedrone appeared from nowhere, but by the end of 2009 this new party drug was the fourth most-used drug in the UK. According to the BBC a British support group for drug users has reported a 300% increase in the number of referrals for use of mephedrone in the past year.

I found a post on the Wales Home website that provides a young woman’s chilling account of how dangerous this drug can be. I have repeated it in full below as the result of the website’s acknowledgement that as any people as possible should read this.

I would not consider myself the average drug-taker, easily-led and gullible at times, but in no way the type of user most people would associate with Meow-Meow or Mephedrone. Having said that, let’s consider the type of people who take this drug. Half the price of cocaine (which can sometimes be of an unsatisfactory standard and therefore a waste of £40-£50) and marketed as a ‘legal high’, the drug sells itself. People who would otherwise say no to drugs are intrigued by the ‘positive’ effects this drug has on their friends and give in to trying some. These people include those with jobs and those without, teenagers, students and alarmingly children as young as eight. Indeed I have taken the drug with adults 10 to 15 years older than me and I am ashamed to say, but also with teenagers six to seven years younger, some studying at university and others hoping to go – little do they know that this M-Kat, Magic Dust or Bubbles (other street names) could change all that in a split second.

What makes this drug so popular other than the price? The effects of Mephedrone can be described as being in between Ecstasy and Cocaine. It makes you more confident, more funny, more talkative, more sexually aroused and, above all, makes partying in clubs fantastic as all types of music are now appealing. Other effects are feeling like a cat (e.g. liking being stroked or stroking things of a certain fabric, hence the name, I would guess), being unable to eat, rapid-eye-movement (often associated with Ecstasy or MDMA), needing to urinate more often (leading to dehydration, but you do not think this at the time), vomiting, nosebleeds, significantly increased heart rates, paranoia, hearing voices or schizophrenia, headaches and sensitivity to light. However, the drug still appeals to people as these effects tend to wear off sooner than the effects of Ecstasy, Speed or MDMA and you can still function a few hours later. This of course makes the drug moreish and easy to become addicted to.

As a hedonist with an addictive personality, I became addicted – not that I would have called it an addiction myself as usage was kept until the weekend and I worked during the week. Little do people know that if cut wrong by the wrong type of dealer (not that there is a right type), or cut with a substance that does not mix well with Mephedrone, the effects can be disastrous. With a full-time job, this drug became my weekend drug of choice as opposed to alcohol – one gram costing £20 (£15 in some places in Cardiff) and lasting all night even if you share it out with friends, as I often did. In one popular city centre club in particular, I would hazard a guess that at least one third of the club were taking Mephedrone as a prolific drug dealer sells it there. What is the most alarming thing about it is that if caught selling this drug, there is nothing that the club or the police could do to this dealer as this drug is still legal. Why is it taking so long to ban it, with the death toll on the rise?

I only took the drug over the weekend and first took it on Boxing Day 2009, after a so-called friend had convinced me to try it. With it being Christmas and then New Year, from Boxing Day until I returned to work on January 4th, I had one big ‘blow-out’. In addition to taking this drug, I was also smoking Cannabis to ‘bring myself down’ so that I could catch a few hours sleep here and there before another big night out. Other users have been known to take Valium or any other depressant. Giving my body a stimulant and then a depressant, in addition to having little sleep and not eating much, started to take its toll.

I began to lose weight (although I saw this as a plus at the time) and needed copious amounts of coffee to get me through the week at work – caffeine being another dehydrator, although I paid no attention to this as I needed the caffeine. While at work, my time was then spent looking forward to the weekend.

I also began hearing a prolonged beep when smoking Cannabis and the room would zoom in and out of focus. Still I ignored the warning signs, not knowing much about health, as I didn’t share these facts with my family. I was then spiked (or tricked) on Saturday January 17 after being awake with ‘friends’ from a night out on the Friday. Thankfully, this was the last time I took Mephedrone and I am still here to tell the tale. It has since been explained that not only would the spiking have killed me, but the prolonged beep I was hearing was my brain getting ready to shut itself down so I would have been another death on the rising toll – after only three weeks of use.

More needs to be done to warn adults and children of the negative effects of Mephedrone as too many people are still taking it and too many people will continue to try it, until they get a wake-up-call like I did, or until a friend of theirs dies from a bad batch. With the power to empower club owners and the police, the Government should really be doing more to stop this killer before the death toll climbs any higher.

It’s a chilling tale, but one that we should encourage our teenagers to read…just in case.

A number of teenage deaths in the UK in the past year six months have been linked to mephedrone use and last month the drug was finally recognised as an amphetamine and banned in the UK. A week after the banning of mephedrone, its ‘legal high’ successor was already available on the street to the next round of party goers. It’s a synthetic chemical known as MDAI and replicates many of the effects of ecstasy, according to The Guardian.

Mephedrone is banned in Australia, but as we know that won’t stop it from reaching our most vulnerable.

→ 1 CommentTags: Addiction · Anxiety · Drugs

How Involved Should You Be With Their School?

March 28th, 2010 · 1 Comment



I hadn’t spoken of the incident that I’m about to share for at least six years. I’d pushed the very thought to the back of my mind, so distressing was my first contact with the powers that be at my son’s new school seven years ago.

But in recent weeks I’ve had cause to speak of it twice and on both occasions my audience was a person with first-hand knowledge of the machinations of exclusive private schools. They both gasped in horror and then started laughing hysterically when I told them my story.

“I can’t believe you really thought you could infiltrate the School Board!” one of them shrieked. “Oh, I’ll be dining out on this story for years”.

So here’s what happened. A couple of months into our son’s new boys-only schooling we received a notice in the mail calling for nominations to the School Board. I had decided that I wanted to be involved with our son’s school in a meaningful way and given that my career as a publisher prevented me from tuckshop and other daytime activity, the School Board seemed ideal. So I sent off my nomination with optimism and enthusiasm.

A couple of days later I received a phone call from one of the Board members inviting me for a coffee to discuss my nomination.

I phoned my husband immediately. “This is a good sign,” I suggested.

We met for coffee at a city location that was convenient to both of our offices. I was nervous but optimistic. He appeared a little agitated.

He cut to the chase. “We would like you to withdraw your nomination for the School Board,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Sorry?” I asked, sure that I’d heard incorrectly.

He explained to me that if I didn’t withdraw my nomination there was a fair chance that I could be voted on to the Board, in place of one of the incumbents. And clearly change was not welcome by the School Board.

I asked him why they bothered calling for nominations if they had no intention of honouring them. He informed me that in all of the years that he’d been on the Board (many) no one had ever nominated.
Our meeting was brief. As I drove back to the office I became enraged. How dare they tell me that I can’t stand for the School Board. My husband and I discussed it through the night and into the weekend. We shared the issue with our closest friends who were also parents of children at the school. They egged me on. “Go for it, we’ll vote you onto that bloody Board,” one of the fathers cheered. They were as angry as we were.

After a few days of dissecting the options we decided that I shouldn’t pursue the School Board. It was our son’s first year at a school we anticipated being a part of for the next 13 years. We chose not to rock the boat. The decision came down to one niggling fear: that our son would pay the price for my muscling in on that School Board.

I wrote the letter they wanted me to write: explaining that I would withdraw my nomination, but also accusing the Board of dodgy governance. With a few of the corporate world’s high flyers on the Board, it was an unusual position for the Board to take.

Interestingly, the letter calling for nominations never appeared in our mailbox again.

Did I make the right decision? Perhaps I should have steamrollered that Board to invoke change, but at what cost to my son? What would you have done?

→ 1 CommentTags: Bullying · Culture · Education · Uncategorized

Empowered To Study

September 9th, 2009 · No Comments

students at desk-use this one

I think we may have turned a corner. I have spent the past four years tearing my hair out, trying to convince my son that studying is part of the high school deal.

But he has never been a child who can be made to do anything that he doesn’t want to. As a toddler that was round-the-clock frustrating. As a teenager, it’s actually a great thing because he’s not swayed by peer pressure. However, it also means that he’ll only devote time to doing the things he’s interested in. And until recently that didn’t include studying.

Something relatively magical happened a few weeks ago. My son was empowered to choose the subjects that he would study for the HSC. My husband and I decided that we would have to leave him to his choices if we were to have any hope at all of him putting any effort in. So we took a deep breath, parked our own aspirations for him, and encouraged him to make the final decision.

Not only did he choose well, but he stated that he would be applying himself to his studies for the next couple of years. I don’t know why HSC subject selection became a line in the sand for him, but he seemed to cross over into a space where the importance of good grades in the final years began to resonate with him.

I have observed him during the past week and although he still doesn’t devote anywhere near the amount of time he’ll be needing to in order to even get into his favoured university course anywhere at all, he has actually managed to close facebook and spend quality time ploughing through maths problems without me screaming at him in advance.

It’s a modern day miracle.


→ No CommentsTags: Education · Motivation

Time To Shock Teens Out Of Text-Driving

September 3rd, 2009 · No Comments

Above: Texting while Driving U.K. Ad

When I saw this ad on a news programme last week, I was captivated by its horror and immediately became an advocate for it being shown to Australian teenagers. But there’s a view that it may be too confronting for children to see.

In my view it’s exactly the right kind of shock value our teens, who mostly believe they are invincible, need. It did the trick for me too. I’m addicted to my blackberry and have been know to sneak a glance at my emails while driving. No one ever thinks the worst could happen to them. But this English anti-text-driving advertisement has scared me out of my technology obsession, while driving at least.

I plan to show this to my son when he starts driving later this year because I want him to be able to comprehend the reality of dangerous driving behaviour. Prevention is better than devastation.

→ No CommentsTags: Education · Law · Rules

Time To Take Bullies On Directly

September 2nd, 2009 · No Comments


My 15-year-old was as shocked as I was. As he read about 15-year-old Jai Morcom’s death last Friday following a schoolyard fight at Mullumbimby High School, on NSW’s north coast, I could tell that this news item was a little too close for comfort.

Allegations of bullying turned my horror to anger. Bullying has become commonplace in schools today and many children are powerless to avoid it or deal with it.

According to a report on the ABC News website , at least one mother of a student at the school had complained to the headmaster about a bullying problem prior to Jai’s death.

It goes without saying that Jai’s parents are devastated, shattered beyond belief. Never in their wildest dreams would any parent imagine that this could happen to their child while he is in safe care at school. It’s almost unimaginable. And yet it happened just last week to a teenage boy in an Australian school.

I am a firm believer in taking matters into my own hands when it comes to my boys. I’ve had to deal with various incidences of bullying of my boys over the years. Thankfully they attend a school with a zero tolerance to bullying, once the bully is identified of course. Because that’s the hardest part: convincing your son to let you know why he’s quiet and agitated in the first instance, then the name of the perpetrator after that.

Although it’s not condoned by the school, I have been known to have a quiet word to the bully child, as well as alerting the school to the issue. In my experience the bully quickly becomes like a deer in headlights when confronted by an angry mother.

Parents can’t be expected to move their child from school to school to avoid bullies because sometimes there is no convenient alternative. Schools will only do so much to assist. It would be wonderful if schools really were the safe haven that parents hope them to be. The reality is that mostly they are not. So it’s up to us as parents to ensure the safety of our children and that’s why I’ve made no apologies for suggesting to bullies that if they touch, tease or taint the reputation of my child ever again they will have to deal with me. I may not be a bulky tough bloke but as those bullies peer into my eyes they know for certain that my head could start spinning at any moment.

It’s time for us to get serious about bullying on behalf of our kids.

→ No CommentsTags: Bullying · Education · Parental Bonding · Violence

Does This Campaign Speak To You?

August 25th, 2009 · No Comments

If you’ve been reading this blog you’ll already know my view on alcohol and teenagers. It’s a view that is at odds with the findings presented in the new Drinkwise TVC.

While I don’t advocate plying them with drink before the legal age of 18, I’ve always believed that if you don’t make it mysterious and special then there’s less chance your teenager will be thinking about trying it 24/7.

According to the campaign, the later it is before teenagers taste alcohol, the less chance that they will have alcoholism issues in the future.

That of course is the simplistic view as you don’t need to be einstein or a researcher to know that there are many more complicating factors that cause a person to make alcohol a way of life. But like most advertising campaigns, the aim is to speak to the lowest common denominator. And in this case that means those parents who are least likely to read my blog or go in search of information that might inform their parenting style and decisions. They’re hoping to communicate with the parents who are unlikely to consider the best interests of their child unless it’s put to them in plain and simple terms while they’re having a beer in front of the telly.

So while there was heated debate on radio talkback shows across the country today, I took the view that Drinkwise needs to take a blanket stance against introducing teenagers to alcohol too early because not all parents are sensible enough to use their judgment.

→ No CommentsTags: Alcohol · Education · Media

A Mother’s Love

August 18th, 2009 · 1 Comment


My boys are the same age that Princess Diana’s boys were when she died in a car accident in a Paris tunnel on August 31, 1997.

It was the weekend that I brought home my second child who will be 12 this weekend. Although I wasn’t a royalist or Diana obsessee, I reflect on the tragedy around this time every year; the memory triggered by my son’s birthday.

William was 15 and Harry was 12 when their mother died. Impressionable years for both boys. A time when most young men desperately need the affection and understanding of their mother, even if they don’t realise it at the time.

As I watched my boys this evening eating the dinner that I cooked for them, putting on the pyjamas I laid out for them on the beds I made that morning, snacking on the cookies I’d baked them (Just Add Milk cookies – I’m no supermum) so they can concentrate on their homework, I wondered how/if my boys would cope as well without me.

Its not just what I do for them. It’s more about the security they feel in not having to worry about the details of their life because they know I’ll take care of them. Like most mothers, I do the incidental thinking for them. Who would consider the little things if I wasn’t in their lives?

Clearly Harry and Wills were surrounded by enough people to get the job done. But no one can love a child as deeply as a parent. Last night my husband remarked that he loved how much I clearly love our boys, as he observed me sorting out their lunch orders and recess snacks for the following day. It’s what I do; what many, many mothers do on a daily basis. And yes it is a labour of love, one of a very long list.

I’ve been doing this for nearly 16 years. Although my oldest son now towers over me and grunts more often than he offers intelligent insight these days, he needs his mum even more now as everything else in his life races ahead at a rapid pace. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the children who lose a parent at any point in their lives but knowing what I now know about teenagers, it seems that this juncture would be particularly tough to get through.

Spare a thought for Diana and her boys in the coming week.


→ 1 CommentTags: Parental Bonding · Puberty · Relationships

The Mail On Binge Drinking

August 14th, 2009 · 1 Comment

binge drinking teens


Apparently the pattern of binge drinking in adult life starts with teenage drinking in the home. Really.

According to a Deakin University study, the practice of allowing your children to have an alcoholic drink at home can result in them drinking an increased amount when they’re out with friends. The study suggests that it just carries on from there, without control.

European families would dispute this. And so would most parents of teenagers, and anyone who has survived puberty.

I took my first sip of alcohol at a party aged 15. My parents were dead against me drinking alcohol but I decided to drink it anyway in the company of my closest friends. In hindsight, 28 years later, I can see that we were putting ourselves in a potentially dangerous situation. But back then we just wanted to be considered cool and feel confident and grown-up. Alcohol can tick those boxes for you when you’re a teenager.

By contrast, my 15-year-old son shows no interest in sipping on cheap wine, brandivino or even a beer. My husband has offered our son a sip of his beer at home on a couple of occasions. Our son has always declined.

“It’s OK dad, I don’t need to,” he has said.

Maybe it’s because he has never been a child to pursue a course of action because of his peers’ choices. Or perhaps the school has done a very good job of educating him – or scaring him – about the dangers of alcohol. Or could it be because his parents are relatively relaxed about alcohol – we drink it certainly, but not to excess and only on occasion – that he isn’t dreaming about an alcoholic drink.

We have taken the view that it’s better for our son to try it with us, without the pressure of peers who may encourage him to drink more than he should. Also, we subscribe to the demystification theory that has served Italian teenagers and their parents well over the years. If they have respect for alcohol and choose quality over quantity, they won’t ever be tempted to throw it down their throats without it touching the sides (like my friends and I did at the same age).

So I don’t buy the thinking that we should ban our teenagers from alcohol, prohibition-style. There are too many exceptions to the rule for it to be worth contemplating.

→ 1 CommentTags: Alcohol · Education · Health

Mood Swings? Whatever!

August 13th, 2009 · No Comments

I caught the ‘moods’ episode of Whatever! The Science Of Teens on the ABC tonight. There was a huge emphasis on depression and its causes.

We all know that teenagers experience vast mood swings (and due to proximity, we do too), but I had no idea that psychologists consider the ‘downs’ to be as important to a teen’s life learnings as the ‘highs’. The thinking is that if a teenager doesn’t suffer those feelings of helplessness then they won’t learn how to lift themselves out of it.

Although that makes perfect sense when it comes to reasonable people, it can be extremely worrying for most parents when it happens to their largely unreasonable teen.

Teenagers that “ruminate” are apparently the greatest candidates for depression. This is one of the reasons that twice as many girls than boys get depressed. Girls tend to go over the same ground, dissecting every detail of a troubling event, working it over and over again in their minds. The resulting effect can be a dangerous downward spiral.

The single most troubling event that is believed to lead to depression is a broken relationship. Again this is largely why depression hits girls harder than their male peers. Boys are still doing the dumping, largely unexplained. Girls are still workshopping the agonising what-might-have-beens. It’s been that way for generations.

My teenage son is yet to experience heartache and with a bit of luck he will be through high school and out of the precarious teen years before he does. Another big tick for our decision to send him to a boys’ school.

→ No CommentsTags: Depression · Education · Media · Relationships