Young people aged 14-17 want "realistic and credible" information about drug abuse and not moralistic lectures from adults and teachers, research carried out by the Health Education Board for Scotland has concluded.
Launching its latest anti-drugs campaign last week, the board emphasised that the attitude of adults was vital in helping young people take health decisions.
Dr Jonathan Watson, the board's drugs specialist, said teenagers had to be challenged to think through issues. "For teachers, it is trying to help them make informed choices and not just sitting back and saying we cannot do anything about it. Nor is it about adopting a high moralistic tone. Teachers have to listen to young people. They are informed and know what is happening on the street."
The sheer range of drugs separated the younger generation from the knowledge their parents had, Dr Watson said. But most drugs misuse started with alcohol and tobacco in the early teenage years and adults had to be prepared to be questioned about their own habits if they questioned young people's use of illegal drugs.
Research with 20 focus groups, involving 150 young people across Scotland, showed a wide gulf in understanding between parents and young people. Dr Watson commented: "Drugs are much more part of young people's lives. They are taken for granted."
Figures from other studies had shown that half of the country's 16-year-olds had experimented with an illegal drug and around 15 per cent of 12-year-olds. The studies indicated young people did not feel they had received the information they wanted and that drugs education was not followed through after S2.
Information handed out in schools was regarded as boring and was rarely kept. "They want more sophisticated content which has got to get down in the dirt. But it has to be challenging and of very good professional quality," Dr Watson said.
Dr Andrew Tannahill, the board's general manager, commented: "We have talked to parents and teenagers about what they need by way of information, and how this should be presented, and particularly in the case of teenagers, on what tone of voice is appropriate in approaching the subject. Our campaign material reflects their response."
The board is promoting a national drugs helpline and a parents' guide.