It's that time of year again. I'll no doubt end up in Waterstones at some point in time looking for ideas for Christmas presents. I may also browse Amazon for books or even DVDs and the like. There is a high probability that on these occasions I'll be biased towards any books that are about beer, pubs or general food and drink. I can buy these things without any requirement for an age check.
Adverts for alcohol are not limited to viewing only by over 18s. Indeed there are adverts for many beverages during prime time TV and hoardings adorn many public places.
We have a fairly open and relaxed attitude towards sex in our house. You may feel this is a digression, but I believe this is relevant. Sex is important to me, probably more so than beer. Asking myself a crucial question; what if I had to choose between sex and beer? The answer would be fairly easy and quick. I'm not ashamed of this; it is a very basic instinct and without it none of us would be here.
I want my offspring to grow up to have a healthy and fulfilling life, and that includes satisfying sex. Sure, I don't want them to be promiscuous, but even if they do, I'd like to be here for them should they find themselves in any sort of trouble, whatever that might be. Most importantly I want them to be able to enjoy life and be equipped with knowledge to do so. Therefore, it is important to be able to share knowledge on all sorts of subjects, even those that might be seen as taboo in polite society. I therefore, at the risk of occasionally turning into Jim Levenstein's Dad, encourage debate on the subject.
Indeed, the most risky situation is the combination of alcohol and sex. The increased likelihood of risky activity, pregnancy, STIs and even the application of those dreaded beer goggles. "You're not the person I went to bed with last night, he/she was much more handsome/beautiful"
I sit in Ann's Aunties house as I type this. I'm using her WiFi. The first time I did this, access to my own website was blocked by her ISP. She had to switch ISP before I was able to access our website and blog when visiting her. You can probably imagine this annoyed me. I've also had occasions when borrowing WiFi in other locations for perfectly legitimate reasons, particular web sites have been blocked.
There are many occasions when using the internet to access information about the beer industry I come up against the irritation of the "please confirm your age" dialogue. Out of principle I always put the most ridiculous DoB I can manage. Often putting me at an age of approximately 113. It is of course obvious that any minor can do exactly the same thing.
Our ex-brewer, Alex Routledge pointed out on one occasion the ridiculous and pointless nature of this. "The law says you have to be 18 to buy beer, not read about it on the internet" Indeed, this is one point that disturbs me. I don't want to discuss here at which point I think it's appropriate for my kids to have an active sex life, but obviously it would be after they reach the age of consent at the very least. However, I believe it would be most unhealthy if they were not educated about the subject before that time arrives. I firmly believe alcohol education is similar.
To carry the comparison between sex and alcohol still further, it is quite normal for teenagers to explore physical sexual response by themselves. Indeed I have a firm1 belief that it is essential for later healthy sex life to do so. Far from making them perverts it probably helps ensure a more likely success when they do find a loving relationship within which to enjoy such activities. I believe it is much more likely that abstinence and lack of knowledge produces frustration that in turn creates the monsters. Yes, sure, inappropriate abuse within a family group can later produce such monsters, but my own experience would certainly indicate that appropriate knowledge produces much nicer sexual partners.
Now, don't get me wrong, I don't want to underestimate the scary problem of young children getting hold of inappropriate material. Perhaps porn should be restricted in some way, although I'll be honest I'm not sure about that either. Certainly the problem of illegal activites like child pornography deserve some thought, although even then, censorship may not be the answer but appropriate methods of investigation to find that illegal activity and take appropriate criminal action against the perpetrators might be better. That might actually be easier through a more open system anyway.
I remain convinced that the continual erosion of the idea that small exposure to adult behaviour for young people is wrong, and even as has been suggested in the tabloid recently, evil, is actually detrimental to young lives.
I have long believed that introduction of controlled and supervised consumption of alcohol, and free ability to access balanced and full knowledge is healthy for good development into adulthood. Without this we are far more likely to see youngsters, at an age they can escape the clutches of parents or the law, drink to excess and have unsatisfactory sex in a bus shelter.
Young people, below the legal age, wish to drink alcohol and have sex. It is quite normal for them to want to do so. It is our responsibility as adults to guide and educate. To supervise2 and protect, but certainly not to inhibit completely.
My teenagers do drink. Mostly, I hope, this is under my supervision, and in moderation. They do go to parties, and whilst I believe there is adult supervision, It's not easy for me to check. Of course I could insist they don't go to any party unless I check, but if you've ever had the pleasure of being owned by a teenager you will understand how difficult that is. "Dad, do you not trust me?"
In reality I do trust them, partly because I believe we have instilled a sense of responsibility by carefully educating rather than denying. This is partly by sharing small, controlled and supervised family drinking experiences where appropriate. And, most importantly, with education. I feel that internet censorship is generally ineffective and if anything detrimental to my attempts at bringing my teenagers up as adults.
The plus point of course is that generally it is only the alcohol sites run by the great big multinational alcohol producers and their umbrella organisations that put age checks on their sites. This means that the new youngsters are much more likely to grow up with a more discerning approach to alcohol, if we believe that any real effect is realised as a result of such censorship.
None the less, it seems counterproductive to think that inhibiting under 18s from even reading on-line writings about beer is good.
1Sorry about that, wasn't deliberate, just happened.
2Although the direct supervision of your child's own exploration into being sexually active may be considered wrong.