"Don't tell my Mum!": The importance of letting your teen know they can call you anytime, anywhere and no matter what you will still love them

This week I was back on the road, travelling across the country speaking to young people. Once again I was blown away by how incredible our kids are and the way they respond to the messages I deliver. As many of you would know, I make it very clear to schools that I don't preach a 'don't do' message - I certainly hope that of those who do drink or use illicit drugs, many of them choose to make better choices as a result of listening to me - but essentially my aim is to try to get the students I speak to to understand the importance of looking after themselves and their friends should they find themselves in a dangerous situation.

Due to their brain development, during the teen years adolescents can find it very difficult to believe what happens to others could possibly happen to them. Many of them are certainly aware of the consequences of taking part in particular activities and most know that if their friend drinks to excess then bad things can happen, they just don't believe it will happen to them when they drink. That's why I focus solely on talking about the impact of drinking and drugs on their friends when I speak to them - they just soak that up! They all want to know how to look after their mates!

That said, I continue to hear stories from students that terrify me about their reluctance to seek help because of fear around what their parents would think if they found out they were drinking or taking drugs. I've covered this topic in a previous blog but I really do believe it is worth revisiting.

During the week a group of Year 10 girls approached me to thank me for my talk. One of them was quite obviously distressed about what I had said about alcohol poisoning and the importance of getting help. In my presentation I provide four simple warning signs that could indicate alcohol poisoning, one of which is vomiting without waking up and stress that they would be unable to look after someone who is in that state and have to call 000 immediately to get medical assistance. This was what she told me ...

The year before my visit (the girl was 14 at the time) she and a friend had gone out partying with her older brother and his mates (I ask you, where were the parents? She was 14!) and had got very drunk. Her friend finally passed out in a bedroom and although she tried to get some assistance, none of the older teens they were with were willing to help. She had the good sense to put her into the recovery position but almost immediately the friend started to vomit and kept on vomiting for a number of hours, all while completely unconscious! Drunk herself, and very sleepy and also feeling unwell, she sat in front of her trying to make sure she kept breathing ...

After listening to my talk she now realized that her friend's life had been seriously at risk that night. When I asked her why didn't she call her parents to help her, I got the usual answer - "I couldn't do that, I'd never call my Mum!" When asked why she didn't call an ambulance, she replied "But wouldn't they call my parents?"

That's a question I get asked a lot, the answer to which I have dealt with in a previous blog entry, but I thought I would just raise it again to remind parents or anyone who cares about young people that it is vital that you constantly remind them how much you love them and that your love is unconditional. No matter what they have done, you will be there for them and you will keep loving them just as much. That doesn't mean that you won't get angry, upset and disappointed in their behaviour but making it clear that your rules and consequences are bound in unconditional love is so important and goes a long way to keeping them safer. Remembering to end any conversation around parties or gatherings and really any social activity by letting your child know that they can call you at any time and you will be there for them is vital.

One of the saddest things I have ever heard come from a young person's mouth was at the very first Schoolies Week I ever attended. A young girl, heavily intoxicated and having difficulty breathing, had been brought to the medical tent. She was only just conscious and had been found alone in the street. When she was asked if there was someone we could call to be with her, her response was a very timid "Not my mum!"

We didn't get a name of a friend or a relative, we were simply told not to call her mother. That sentence would break almost every mother's heart but let me tell you, so many young people feel that way. Over the years I have tried to tease out why so many adolescents respond like this (emergency department workers and paramedics have told me that they often hear exactly the same thing - particularly from young women) - is it because they are frightened about getting into trouble? Are they worried about the possible consequences or punishment they may be given by their parent? What is it that leads to young people making it extremely clear that they don't want one of the people who loves them the most in the world around at such a traumatic time?

From my discussions with young people it is often embarrassment and shame that leads them to respond in this way. They feel they have let their parents down and if they are aware enough to know what is happening to them (which is certainly not always the case), they know exactly how disappointed their parents are going to be with them. I don't think there really is any way of changing that because the truth of the matter is that you are going to be hurt and disappointed (and so you should be - they have broken your rules and got themselves into a potentially life-threatening situation). They have let you down and nothing can change that but wouldn't it be great if a young person also felt secure enough in their relationship with you that they understood that your disappointment could never overshadow how much you loved them?

Taking the time to clearly outline what 'unconditional love' means to an adolescent is vital. Most young people 'know' that their parents love them (whatever that means) but they also need to clearly understand what that means in practical terms, particularly as they start to socialise and go to parties and gatherings.

I had a long conversation with this group of girls and discussed 'unconditional love' and the fact that I could guarantee, no matter what they thought, that their parents would want to be called the second they got into trouble, no matter what they had done. I also told them the story of a mother who attended one of my sessions many years ago who right at the end of my presentation threw her hand in the air and told everybody that she needed to share something with everybody or she would bust! I must admit I was a bit worried about what she was going to say but I shouldn't have been because all she wanted to tell everybody was how proud she was that her daughter had called her from a party she was attending the weekend before because one of her friends was drunk and she needed help. As she finished the story, so thrilled that her daughter trusted her enough to make the call, she ended it with "I'm just so happy that I'm that seen as that kind of mum, the one that gets called if something goes wrong!"

I think the girls found the story a little a bit hard to believe but I swear that it's true!

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you were the parent of a child who was picked up for whatever reason and asked "Who should we call?" and they said, without flinching, "My mum! I want my mum!"


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