First published in ACCESS Winter 2017 magazine
A Tradition of Healthy Habits
When most people arrive the Netherlands, they already have ideas about what they are going to encounter. Some expectations are based on accurate information, and some are misconceptions. One of the most common misconceptions is that cannabis is legal here, which it is not. Dutch drug laws can be confusing, especially to outsiders.
Encouraging safe, healthy decisions
At ISH we educate students to make decisions based on evidence. We encourage them to question information and look for the facts. Students should be successful in all areas of their lives, inside and outside of school. That’s why every student participates in the FlourISH Programme: our social, emotional, and health course designed to promote overall well-being.
As part of the FlourISH programme, we host a prevention specialist from the non-profit organisation Free from Chemical Dependency (FCD). FCD encourages a social norms approach to prevention. Teenagers are more likely to engage in a behaviour if they think that everyone else is doing it. Often students falsely believe “everyone is drinking” when, in fact, most are not. The social norms approach helps student to understand that health, not risky behaviour, is the norm. We surveyed all secondary students anonymously to learn about their use of alcohol and other substances. It came as no surprise that students at the ISH have a lower rate of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use compared to the European and Dutch averages.
During the FCD week all students had the opportunity to attend a talk with the prevention specialist. The specialist provided facts about substance misuse and tips on how to deal with peer influence. Older students went to small group workshops and participated in discussions. By maintaining open dialogue with students, we can encourage healthy attitudes.
Parents and prevention
Parents were invited to an evening with the FCD prevention specialist. A diverse range of topics were explored, from how to talk to your child about drugs to what age you should let your child try alcohol. The key message was talk with your children openly about the risks of substance abuse and alcohol.
Research suggests that the older a child is when they try alcohol for the first time, the less likely they are to have issues with alcohol. Parents who engage in conversation and show disapproval of the use of drugs and alcohol have children with lower rates of use. Use current events or a TV storyline to spark discussion. Set clear boundaries with your children and educate them about the risks associated with drugs and alcohol. If you know they are drinking, make sure they know how to do so safely.
The FCD week empowered staff, students, and parents with information to continue the ISH tradition of healthy habits.
By Liz Stammers
School Counsellor at the International School of The Hague (ISH)
2554 BX Den Haag