Yesterday we heard from a Discovery Bay school principal, today is the turn of DB teenagers and the NGO educational KELY Support Group.
Last week I covered the concerns of Discovery Bay parents and residents published in the DB magazine "Around DB” about teenage drug and alcohol use in the Lantau community.
KELY Support Group, which helps with education and prevention, asked some DB teenagers what they thought of the SCMP.com blog. One teenage girl said that although she lived on DB, she never hung out there, but she agreed there were young people who use alcohol “a lot, especially because it appears that their parents don't really mind what time they come and go and what they do, so it’s not surprising.”
Another teenager said they were not surprised about what was written in the SCMP. "I think when people run out of things to do; they just try to find other things to do that are "fun" or "exciting". Another agreed that Hong Kong should build more facilities to engage young people instead of flats.
Generally, most thought that it was a bit exaggerated and made it seem like a "bigger thing" than what it probably really is,” said a KELY spokesman.
So I caught up with a KELY representative to hear about the problem of teenage drinking and drug taking in Hong Kong and especially, communities like DB.
“Hong Kong lacks a way for everyone – counsellors, parents, government organisations and schools to get together and address teenage drinking and drug taking, it seems. “Hong Kong is still quite lacking in this,” says Victoria Wong, Communications & Development Coordinator for the KELY Support Group. “Yes, there is a drug problem in Hong Kong, definitely, especially with the youth groups.” In recent drug reports, 27 per cent of the new drug users are 25 and under, a large number considering the population of Hong Kong, she says. That’s psychotropic substances, anything from meth, ketamine, marijuana and anything classified as illegal drugs. Alcohol is not included. There’s also unreported drug abuse, says Wong. “Hong Kong has a big problem with hidden drug abuse,” she adds.
Drugs are accessible and cheap – a dose of ketamine costs HK$30, the same as a slice of pizza. “They are faced with a lot of options where it’s so easy for them just to say oh I’m going to go with drugs, with low cost and easy access too.” Research shows peer pressure is the leading push for teenagers to take drugs. It can be in schools, but usually at a friend’s place.
KELY, which holds drug and alcohol prevention workshops, no longer, works with DB as much as they did previously.
With densely expat communities like DB, often parents work long hours and kids spend a lot of time with each other. “I don’t know if it’s a lack of knowledge on the parents’ part, or it’s become such a big problem that you can’t do anything about it,” says Wong.
The problem of teenage drinking tends to be worse in small communities in Hong Kong than in the city, she says, especially on the outlying islands. “We don’t know what it is but there’s a bit of a bigger problem there.” We don’t know if it’s because of the community – once one drinks, the other drinks as well, she adds. “We find the problem is bigger with non-Chinese speaking youth, the reported drinking problem is bigger there.” Teenagers don’t necessarily tell KELY that they drink, but in KELY’s reports, but when asked if they know anyone who takes drugs or drinks, they often reply yes, a close family member, she says. Everything KELY does is confidential, so we don’t really know what they mean by “close circle,” but they generally mean immediate family for which drinking is a problem, she adds.
It all starts with education, says Wong, because parents are just as likely to be ignorant about drugs and alcohol as the kids. New drugs and new substances become available all the times and the message needs to be reinforced continuously. Kids usually don’t tell their parents they are taking drugs for fear of punishment. “It’s a matter of building relationships within the family, then they can branch out into the community talk about what does and does not work for them, says Wong. “ If you don’t look at what goes on inside the family circle it’s a really hard problem to solve.”
“Most likely there is a reason behind people taking drugs and if you don’t solve those underlying problems nothing will change.” They must tackle the root causes. The message must be that it’s Ok to have problems and to talk about them – communication is key. “That’s the first step," says Wong.
So in DB specifically, what needs to happen? Well there’s the community hall, it’s usually rented out for government use, no one really uses it for anything, says Wong. “Maybe have a forum which brings together youth, parents and counsellors to talk about the issues and not to be afraid to talk about the issues, instead of right now, it’s a hush hush business - but the issues exist.”
Even if it’s already happening, prevention is key. What works is speaking to kids at their level and engaging them because you can’t just tell them to say no to drugs, Wong explains - that’s what the government does. The government has a zero acceptance approach to drugs so it’s almost like a parent telling a child don’t do this, don’t do that - most of the time it doesn’t work. “When we ask kids they all say no, it doesn’t work. They say it’s not proactive, it’s not a strategy, it’s just a statement. You have to tell them the reasons behind saying “no” to drugs. We must help them develop strategies to deal with their issues, so they don’t resort to binge drinking or drugs, she adds. “In our programmes we empower the kids to make their own decisions, because if you just tell them something, they don’t understand. We help them to develop their own strategies. That’s our way of doing things.”