Thursday 17 December 2009

Forbidden Fruit

I blame the parents. The influences that surround young people in the home have a significant effect on the way that person grows up. In many ways you would think then that Sir Liam Donaldson's latest advice is sound: Don't let children drink before they are 15 and don't permit drinking in front of children. This is based on scientific research, and a final guidance is given on alcohol and children.

There is an underlying principle here that is absolutely correct. The way we deal with alcohol in the eyes of our children will effect their attitude to it when they are older. It is the responsibility of parents and any other adults to ensure young people develop with a mature and healthy regard for social drinking. How then can we make sure that this happens?

In the eyes of our chief medical officer the best way of doing this is to be overly protective and bring up our children in a completely alcohol free environment. I fundamentally disagree with this and once again I shall try and explain why.

Responsible drinking does not just happen by running a prohibitionist attitude towards young people and then suddenly letting them loose in an adult drinking culture once they reach a legal age. There are significant and detrimental effects of this method of youth discipline. For a start, no adult has enough control over youngsters to be able to watch their every waking hour. Levels of responsibility have to be carefully increased as the young person gets older. By the age of 15, which is the age that is now being recommended for a young person to start their responsible alcohol training, most young people already have a strong social life outside of the family home. If no parentally supervised drinking has taken place there is a very real risk that this activity will have already commenced on the park benches. The age old forbidden fruit will have tempted too much and the real problem of park bench drinking will have started.

I do have to point out that I understand the medical and social risks of young people under the age of 15 drinking too much and too often. But then that is something that even a 44 year old like me has to worry about a little for my own health. It is however a matter of, and here is that word again, responsibility. Of course I'm not going to allow my children to drink 4 pints every night, for that matter 4 pints in any night. At the age of 12 and 13 I wouldn't even consider allowing them more than say a couple of units one night a week. I cannot see how this level of responsible and supervised drinking can damage their well being. Indeed, if it is backed up with the one message that I believe is more important than anything else: It is not big and it is not clever to get drunk and behave like a dick head.

On Christmas day I hope we will sit down for dinner. There may be as many as 3 under 15 year olds at the table. There might be some wine and there might be some beer; we have a good cellar to choose from here. Does Liam really think I'm going to tell these young and intelligent people that even one glass is endangering their lives? Does he really think that telling them they are not old enough to understand yet how to enjoy this mysterious pleasure is somehow going to lessen their desire to try this out-of-reach taboo?

I firmly believe that it is the steady alienation of young people that creates some of the problems today. Drinking culture is much more generation divided today than it ever has been in the past. I know it is perhaps becoming a cliché, but the public house is a safe and supervised place to drink. A public house and a private house have some things in common and private houses, where a responsible adult can supervise, represent the best training ground a young person can get for responsible and healthy drinking.

There is a base message underneath the prescriptive detail that perhaps we need to look at. The way we deal with young people and alcohol can shape their future drinking habits. This I fundamentally agree with. I just do not believe that prohibition ever helped anybody when it comes to drinking. Being drunk in front of young people is indeed showing a poor role model. Excessive drinking by young people will cause medical problems with immature and developing physiology. These are facts that presumably is where the science is. However, the occasional drink never hurt anybody and if done as part of education this can only be a good thing. I believe there is a poor connection from the science to the advice which is further proof of the neoprohibitionist stance of this Government.

I do not believe this sort of detached thinking is the solution to the problems of drink induced health problems. I am not denying that there is evidence of real problems and there really are sections of society where drunken behavior is a big problem. Education is the solution, not draconian age limits. I feel insulted that as one of the "middle class" who really does believe that the education of the developing future adults in my care is being handled correctly, they have the wrong target as usual. Of course, I would like to think that if the young people who are carrying my genetic information into the future, along with instilled wisdom, will realise that lack of respect for the culture I'm training them in will result in a firm rebuff.

A slow and careful introduction to the art of drinking is more effective than false and arbitrary age limits. People do not suddenly mature into a different person at a magic age. Of course we should be concerned about how those young people in our care are nurtured. Of course we should be worried about them drinking on park benches and do what we can to prevent it. Giving young people the park bench as the only option available will drive them there, unsupervised and with the inevitable consequences that brings.

While I was checking the information about this issue on the Department of Health website I did find some good news; Sir Liam Donaldson is to retire next year. Not before time. Unfortunately, I doubt his successor will be any better.


Séan Billings said...

The problem is that the neoprohibitionists don't draw a distinction between responsible drinking and excessive drinking. Most are tea total and think that alcohol is only a means of intoxication, which is bad by definition. When they advise against drinking in front of the children, they are trying to stop the poor ignorant working classes from getting pissed in front of the innocent impressionable kiddies. When they advise against parents introducing alcohol to their children, they think they are fighting against parents opening a fridge full of supermarket cans and saying "work away" to a tragic little waif.

The working classes have to be saved from themselves, you see. This is the same attitude as the temperance movement of the 19th century, but the excuse has changed from public morality to public health.

The proposals they have for curbing problem drinking (price hikes, limited availability, etc.) have never resulted in an improvement in drinking culture wherever they have been tried, but they still insist that they work.

Why? They don't actually want to improve matters, they want to feel superior for not drinking and they want you to agree that they are better people than you because they don't drink.

Drink if you like, but at least have the decency to feel guilty about it and for the love of God don't do it in front of the kids. You'll warp their fwagile wittle minds.

[Sorry about the rant]

Curmudgeon said...

Excellent post by Dave and comment by Séan - nothing I can really add to that.

Reuben Gray - TaleOfAle said...

I can only comment to how I was brought up. My family were not drinkers. My parents only had alcohol at Christmas and then it was either wine or sherry. The only Beer was the Guinness used to make the Christmas pudding. I was always allowed to taste the Guinness, or more likely I always tasted the Guinness (bottled by the way) and was never given out to but always got amused chuckles when I made a horrible fact and said it was disgusting. However I was allowed a glass of wine or maybe a little sherry. Alcohol was not taboo, it was simply something my parents did not usually drink and when they did, had no problem giving some to me in very small quantities.

The result? I did not drink until I was 18 and even then I stopped a month later and did not drink again till I was 24. After some hiccups with too many girly cocktails I now have my Craft beer both home made and store bought and I reckon I am a very responsible drinker for the most part and very rarely (couple of times a year) get drunk enough to make an ass of myself.

My Wife's family on the other hand were regular drinkers and alcohol was never taboo either. She did not drink until her 20's either so from our experience, wrapping your kids up and telling them alcohol is evil leaves them ill prepared for the day they are legally allowed to drink. Teaching them responsible drinking at a young age though makes far more sense and will likely result in a more responsible teenager.

Anonymous said...

Obviously they've tired of persecuting the smokers and now it is the turn of the drinkers. Good blog Dave and good posts responding to it.


Velky Al said...

"After some hiccups with too many girly cocktails" - I assume you are included Heineken as a girly cocktail here in the days before before I shone the light of Irish craft brewing into your soul! ;)

When I were a lad (does anyone else get depressed hearing themselves say things like that?) my parents both drank and allowed us to try a little bit as well - in the summer we were allowed Breton cider which was only 2%, but is still one of my favourite drinks. Sometimes with dinner we had wine, watered down a la francais. When we were sick we had whisky in our hot toddies before bed. None of us (I am one of 4 boys) has grown up to be alcoholics, although we all appreciate good booze, whether wine, spirits or beer.

Yes we have all been drunk, and even occasionally drunk together as a mob, but rarely to the degree of being anti-social, unless you call drunken singing of the old songs anti-social, in which case you are just some silly NIMBYite.

StringersBeer said...

I tried to read the report, but I'm afraid it's really boring. The "science" is a basically a review (of research in the field) by that Prof. Bellis and his gang- from the Centre for Public Health at John Moores in Liverpool. The bottom line seems to be that drinking lots is bad for adolescents, making alcohol available to children can lead to some of them drinking lots. Giving them lots of pocket money can lead to drinking. Poor supervision, hanging out with bad uns, lack of youth clubs, problem drinker parents, etc can lead to young people drinking excessively.

But you knew that.

Also: "Drinking in family contexts is protective against underage drinking and problem drinking in later life"

And you knew that as well.

Unknown said...

Séan, thanks for the rant. That is exactly what this format is for.

Thanks 'Mudgy.

TaleofAle, I think your experience mirrors that of many responsible drinkers today.

Washy, this is my main concern over the smoking ban. I think it is unlikely the smoking ban will get lifted and even if it did many places would keep their own. The point is though, the people who say they will never ban alcohol in the same way need to wake up. Remember prohibition in the USA in the early part of the last century?

Al, "When I were a lad" - I'm depressed now. When It comes to being drunk to the point of affecting other peoples lives it's about respect. I know plenty of people who can become very drunk indeed but remain charming throughout - Washy for instance - and others who become total tossers. I think that is to do with respect and responsibility and show up inherent failings in general personality traits. It's not the fault of the alcohol.

Stringers, wow, perhaps I should have looked in more detail. This is, I think, a classic case of the headlines over oversimplifying the facts. As you say, the firm science is what we already know but making sweeping generalizations and hard and fast false limits from that is just balmy.

Reuben Gray - TaleOfAle said...

I can confirm that Washy is a very charming drunk, Or to put it better... He is still very charming when drunk. Let's not start calling poor Washy "a Drunk"

When I get drunk I get sleepy, sometimes I say inappropriate things because my mental filter is turned off.

I do get louder than normal, but I am very quiet already so louder than normal for me is about normal for everyone else when sober.

That said, I do not enjoy being "drunk" and try to avoid it but sometimes it slips up on you.

Unknown said...

TaleofAle, exactly, you probably don't get out of hand when you are drunk because you start from a point of appreciating other people.

Pivní Filosof said...

Ever since we were little my parents had a very positive attitude towards drinking. Even the doctor told my mum that having a little bit of beer or cider wouldn't do us harm.

At first it was letting us have a sip of their beer, or putting a dash in our coke. Then having a glass of something at Xmas or New Year, and so on, which is exactly the same approach I will have with my daughter. Fortunately, I live in the Czech Rep., where things like this aren't an issue, yet.

We never felt we had to hide our drinking from our parents. And that is the key here. As you well say, kids will drink, smoke, etc. The problem is not so much that they do that, but that they do it behind the parents' backs, and that can lead them into trouble.

Of course, in this day and age it's easier for everyone to prohibit and repress than to educate.

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely a drunk rather than an alcoholic. Alcoholics go to meetings.


Reuben Gray - TaleOfAle said...

Do you have one of those T-shirts Washy?

StringersBeer said...

Dave, it's not so much the headlines over-simplifying (that's no surprise), but the final guidance seems to also. That's worrying really. Am I a bad parent if I ignore this guidance? Will the social workers come for the boy?

We must be too stupid to make sensible decisions for our children, it's clearly safer to advise us to "just say no". Unless the question is "is it alright if we put lager adverts all over your son's soccer heroes?" in which case the answer is "how much?". I blame the capitalists - see some
stuff about alcohol advertising in US