December 17, 2009

Today’s News- Teens and Alcohol – Mark’s Views

Teenage Alcohol: Under lock and Key?

So the politicians are waking up to the problem of teenage alcohol abuse. But as usual their solution is to interfere and sensationalise!

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson has been in the news saying how parents must stick to the law and not allow their children to drink alcohol at home before they are 15, or preferably 18. In theory of course, he’s right: it’s the law!

However, he’s not showing any understanding of the status of alcohol in this group or the social ramifications of clamping down and demonising the evil liquor any more than it is already. I wonder if he’s got or had teenagers himself?

Alcohol is the new cigarette at school today: it’s cool…it’s grown-up…it’s the 2 fingers (or perhaps 1 finger these days!) to authority. It already has a rebellious and aspirational status. The attitude today is that young people go out at night with the specific objective of getting “slammed”! This has changed since their parents’ day…where we went to meet our mates and may well have got drunk on the way. We didn’t step out of our front door saying ”I’m going to get absolutely pi**ed tonight”

Getting parents to abide by the letter of the law, not allowing their kids to drink at home until that magic date of their 18th birthday has 2 problems:

  • Firstly, it’s shutting the gate after the horse has bolted: they’re doing it with their mates anyway
  • Secondly, it’s making elusive, forbidden alcohol even cooler.

The French don’t have this problem; for them a glass of wine is a normal part of life! They start drinking a glass of watered down wine at an early age at a special family gathering…it’s normal!

We need to take the same approach. It’s not something to be heavy-handedly controlled, but gently introduced as part of growing up. In fact, this isn’t just about alcohol abuse, we need to give our teenagers more respect and (within reason) treat them as adults.

We’ve never made a big thing out of alcohol in our house and my girls have seen their Mum and Dad occasionally worse for wear! But they can genuinely happily go out and not have a drink, if they’re driving …and still enjoy themselves. Yes, my oldest is at Uni and does have a bit much occasionally but I remember doing the same myself at that age. It just wasn’t a big deal!

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