ABU DHABI // Some parents give their children too much money and too little supervision, instructors at a workshop on how to spot and prevent substance abuse said yesterday.
Officials from the National Rehabilitation Centre gave the workshop at the International Community School as part of an effort to target pupils aged 12-14 in all Abu Dhabi schools. The teachers are then equipped to deliver 12 instruction sessions, one a week, to pupils, and three sessions to their parents.
There has been an increase of 20 to 30 per cent in cases at the rehabilitation centre each year, according to Dr Ahmed Ali, the centre's medical director.
While the centre can cater only for Emiratis aged from 18 to 65, a new facility to help the younger population will be built by 2014, said Sandra Hajal, a health educator at the centre.
But the centre will not turn away any teacher or parent seeking advice on how to help their children, she said.
"We do not have any figures of how many children exactly are misusing substances," she said. "But we will go to schools in Abu Dhabi to help teachers know how to teach students how to say no to drugs, have better self confidence, and how to deal with stressful situations - all to prevent substance misuse.
"At least we know there is smoking spreading around students, that could be a window to using other legal or illegal substances."
Several teachers at yesterday's workshop blamed parents for not doing enough to keep their children safe from outside influences.
"Parents come here for money, they work two shifts, so they don't have time to supervise their kids," said Wafa Hamze, an English teacher. "If you get any kid here and ask them to show you what is in their pocket, it would not be less than Dh200; they can afford to buy whatever they want. Parents need to monitor money, set a curfew, and they have to keep calling them."
Ahmed Ajineh, a biology teacher and student council adviser, said: "The majority of students suffering from problems at home is because parents are always too busy for them, always working all the time, so they run away from those problems at home and go to another world."
Fatima Hamadi, a clinical psychologist at the centre who delivered the lecture to the teachers, said that not only were illegal substances a major danger to children, but also legal drugs and other substances.
"Even things that are legal can be turned into dangerous drugs," she said. "Drugs are not only marijuana, alcohol or heroin, but also drugs found on shelves in pharmacies."
One teacher said children had been getting "inventive in different ways to get a buzz". These include sniffing glue, deodorant, gas, crushed medications - even ground-up fruit peel. Nevertheless, staff at the school believe the popularity of smoking is the biggest concern facing their pupils.
The school's social worker, Amani Atta, blamed some supermarkets for selling cigarettes to children.
"They sell them one by one, not even a pack, each for maybe half a dirham," she said. "The children told me about two shops near the school who sell them, I went and threatened them that if they do not stop I will call the police. But all shops around Abu Dhabi, especially near schools, sell cigarettes, one by one."
Mr Ajineh said shisha and midwakh were also widely used.
"They do not think that shisha is bad or is smoking, and midwakh, they smoke it a lot, it is so concentrated and very bad," he said.
Depending on the success of the workshops for teachers of pupils aged 12-14, the rehabilitation centre might expand the programme to older age groups.