Colette Sheridan: Bono gives school kids advice but doesn't address narcotic use

What advice should we really be giving secondary school pupils? ponders Colette Sheridan
Colette Sheridan: Bono gives school kids advice but doesn't address narcotic use

MISSED OPPORTUNITY? U2 singer Bono focused on positives when addressing children on RTÉ’s Home School Hub

MAKING the transition from primary school to secondary school can be daunting, what with becoming an adolescent.

That phase is generally a testing time for young people, not to mention their despairing parents.

The late mother of a friend used to say that “a girl who smokes will drink”. She was bang on the money. She could have been talking about me, a bold girl as opposed to an agreeable healthy type.

Not that I drank much during my teenage years, apart from the odd glass of beer whose taste I didn’t initially like but whose effects appealed to me rather too much.

Naturally, I smoked, being susceptible to peer pressure which deemed that inhaling carbon monoxide was cool. How dumb was that?

Of all the advice you can give to people on the cusp of adolescence, firmly suggesting to them that they avoid substance abuse is probably the most important.

It’s not just the physical damage caused by cigarettes, alcohol and illegal drugs that should be warned against. It’s also the mentality that goes hand in hand with using narcotics. Nihilism, which tends to accompany narcotic use, is not a good guiding philosophy for anyone.

It turns out that the very vibe that pervades a school can play a vital role in encouraging healthy behaviour in young folk. That’s according to a new study from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

Young people’s health behaviour — whether they smoke, drink, eat healthily and exercise — varies significantly depending on the secondary school and, to a lesser extent, the primary school attended.

And this has nothing to do with sports facilities in schools. It boils down to how engaged students feel in the school and how positive their relationships are with teachers.

Students who are disaffected from school (those who sit in the back row, generally) and see their teachers as, at worst, the enemy, or at best, unapproachable authority figures, tend to drink and smoke.

Some 5,000 17-year-olds were examined for this study. Young women are more inclined to fall into the unhealthy smoker/drinker group than males. This is borne out by the fact that young women have lower levels of physical activity than young males.

With less emphasis on sports for girls, there isn’t the incentive to train their bodies to peak condition. Or even to be fit enough to run for the bus without almost expiring.

Aspects of personality, self-image and coping strategies are also found to influence young people’s health behaviours.

Those who were drinkers/smokers at the age of 17 were more likely to display bad behaviour when they were younger. This cohort tended to socialise with older people in adolescence. They had poor quality relations with these friends.

In addressing sixth class students as they graduate from primary school (in strange circumstances this year), Bono proffered his wisdom in a recording for the final episode of RTÉ TV’s Home School Hub recently.

He didn’t go on about booze and fags, focusing instead on friendship, kindness, activism and following one’s dreams.

He said young ones should listen to people who tell them they can be anything they want to be. They should avoid the naysayers who put young people down by telling them they’re not smart enough, strong enough or talented enough.

But what about having the odds stacked against one?

The ESRI study found that young people from working class backgrounds are more likely to smoke or drink alcohol, while those whose mothers have lower levels of education are more likely to have a poor diet and low levels of physical activity.

How would Bono address such kids?

Undoubtedly, what’s important is positivity. One of the contributors to the report, Anne Nolan, said: “The study findings show us that health behaviours are interconnected.

“Measures to promote school climate, while important for educational outcomes, are likely to have positive spill-overs for other aspects of young people’s lives, including health behaviours.”

If Bono wagged his finger at teenagers, warning them against the seductive but destructive effects of drink and smoking, perhaps they’d take notice. It would sure beat taking the pledge at Confirmation. Does that still even happen?

I remember making a mental note at my Confirmation to ignore this bond you were meant to take on. Foolish, but wilful, I wasn’t going to be dictated to by the church.

Looking back, my school days were something to be endured and there was certainly no advice from rock stars on how to live well.

Instead, myself and some of my peers skulked in the bicycle shed, smoking surreptitiously, willing ourselves to be free of authority figures.

We should have been more engaged. We didn’t know everything; we didn’t have concern for our health. We thought we were invincible.

If I had my time back, I’d have concentrated more on French than fags.

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