Anne Longfield’s final speech today as Children’s Commissioner for England put children front and centre and asked the government if it is “serious about ‘building back better’ and ‘levelling up’?” Anne had a lot to say about the need for better care for vulnerable young people whose problems have been exacerbated by Covid.
What really struck a chord with us was Anne’s point that “the system needs to help professionals develop relationships with children.” And whilst this might seem like a no-brainer, she also said, “I have been shocked to discover that many officials have never met any of the children they are responsible for.”
This point is fundamentally at the heart of Make (Good) Trouble’s ethos, which is to give young people a voice, and to give them agency in their own lives and their futures. Young people are co-creators on all our projects, giving them new and transferable skills in digital media production in the process.
During her six-year tenure as Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne has been a brilliant champion for children. She made time to connect with Make (Good) Trouble and was interviewed by our young reporter Lola, and later by a group of teens who answered Anne’s questions.
Anne’s focus has been to listen to the voices of young people, and particularly vulnerable children such as those in care or those in detention “in secure children’s homes, secure training centre, young offenders institutions, mental health wards and other residential placements, either for their own safety or the safety of others”. Her focus on building up good data on children has shone a light on those in poverty or at risk of being drawn into gangs and county lines. “Vulnerable children stay in the ‘its too difficult’ box”, she said, adding, “people in charge of the system, don’t understand the needs of children”.
If you have time, we also recommend you listen to this podcast episode where Anne speaks to children involved with Football Beyond Borders – a fantastic organisation who help children who are struggling at school by using their passion for football to engage them and improve their life chances.
Find out more about the work of the Children’s Commissioner:
Some parents wonder when, where and how to start a conversation about cannabis. They ask themselves and others: ‘What age is the right age to start talking about drugs?’ Or, ‘Should I ask the questions, or should I wait until my child ask me something?’ Every child is different, so there is no ‘right age’ to start talking about cannabis. But it makes sense to have your first conversation before your child is likely to try using cannabis. That way you establish a connection and share your expectations before they are exposed to any risk associated with cannabis.
Responding to your child’s cannabis use
Discovering (or suspecting) your child has been using cannabis or any other drug can be scary, especially if you feel that it is not just part of ‘normal’ experimentation. While it can be tough to resist the urge to go wild with worry or anger, the best thing you can do for your child is to respond responsibly. It is important not to let your concerns harm the relationship and the trust you have with your child.
1) Stay Calm
Yelling and making threats will not help the situation. If anything, ‘freaking out’ will give your child another reason to hide things from you. Searching their room or personal belongings may harm the trust between you and your child.
2) Talk to your child
Sit down with them and tell them how you feel. If they are high, wait until the effects have worn off so you can have a more meaningful discussion. Say ‘I’m worried because…or ‘I’m afraid because…’. Then give your child an opportunity to express their own feelings. Make sure they know you are really listening. And allow them time to think things through before speaking.
Learn why your child is using drugs. Find out what led them to try cannabis in the first place. Was it because their friends were using it and they wanted to fit in? Was it for the ‘buzz’ that comes from having an altered state of consciousness? Was it because they wanted a way to escape? Was it to manage symptoms of anxiety or other mental health problems? If so, you might want to consider seeking help from a mental health professional. It may also be helpful to find out how often your child uses cannabis.
Young people use cannabis because they feel it benefits them. The most common reasons a youth uses cannabis are:
To feel good – young people may use cannabis to feel more social, celebrate or relax. Using cannabis to feel good is associated with moderate use. There is still some risk, as there is in life in general.
To feel better – cannabis can help to reduce anxiety in social situations or when trying to connect with others or reduce symptoms of chronic anxiety or depression. If young people use cannabis regularly to deal with troubling feelings, then use may become problematic.
To do better – some young people feel pressure to improve their performance, ‘get going’ or ‘keep going’.
To explore – Young people may use cannabis out of curiosity or to ‘walk on the edge’, trying something new and different.
If your child is engaging in risky activities such as using cannabis at school or selling cannabis, it is important to talk with them about why they are engaging in these activities so that you can assess the level of risk, help them think through the consequences and identify alternatives. For example, if your child is selling cannabis to make money, talk with them about safer ways to earn an income.
Quick tips for safer cannabis use
Avoid smoking cannabis with tobacco.
Avoid deep inhalation or breath-holding.
Use a vaporizer if smoking cannabis, use joints rather than water bongs.
Use a small piece of rolled unbleached cardboard as a filter to prevent burns.
Only use cannabis purchased from a trusted source.
Signs of risky or harmful cannabis use
Using regularly at an early age daily or near daily use.
Using during school or work.
Using as a major form of recreation
Using to cope with negative moods
Experiencing chronic coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing or psychotic symptoms.
Long term effects of cannabis use
Decline in IQ (up to 8 points if prolonged use started in adolescence)
Poor school performance and higher chance of dropping out.
Impaired thinking and ability to learn and perform complex tasks.
Lower life satisfaction
Addiction (about 9% of adults and 17% of people who started smoking as teens become addicted)
Potential development of opiate abuse
Relationship problems, violence, antisocial behaviour including stealing money or lying
Increased welfare dependence
Greater chances of being unemployed or not getting good jobs.
We spoke to the REBOOT Sussex team this morning about their work with at-risk teens – those at risk of being involved in crime as well as being a victim of crime. REBOOT uses a pioneering one-to-one, tailored approach to supporting young people, partnering them with a mentor youth coach, in order to keep them away from crime and building skills and resilience. It fills a gap to help those on the periphery of criminal activity and leads them on to more positive behaviours.
In the Q&A they discussed what parents could do if they have concerns about their child – and also how to spot signs of them being drawn into criminality.
Daisy Cresswell from Make (Good) Trouble was joined by REBOOT Operational lead, Roisin Vafaee , John Wilkes, Head of Partnerships for the Office of the Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner, and Laura Hussey, REBOOT Youth Worker.
This morning Daisy caught up with educational consultant Kit Messenger to discuss anxiety in teens and coping strategies for teens and parents. They covered how to talk to your young person, about how to have a more positive relationship as well as helping children with ADHD find ways to manage at school.
They discuss the fact that parents don’t get training for the job, and offered practical tips to help us communicate more positively and enable us to be a better supporter to our children.