Sunday, 14 March 2010

Vodka and Haribo - Still Life 2010

My daily walk between school sites takes me through a public open space and a children's playground. This is well known evening gathering point for the local teenagers who are too youthful to be allowed entry into one or other of the dozen or so hostelries in the town. The juxtaposition of a vodka bottle and a Haribo packet amongst the inevitable litter they leave behind is a timely warning to those of us who are parents about the social dangers that face many mid-teenagers.

Most parents that I meet are worried about their children coming into contact with drugs but the real social evil that should concern them is alcohol. With spirits retailing at less than £10.00 a bottle in supermarkets, most teenagers can afford to pick up a bottle from their pocket money. Fake IDs are routine and there always seems to be an older teen around to effect the transaction. The prevalence of alcopops has taken away one of the greatest bars on teenage drinking from previous generations - the taste. Most young teenagers don't like the taste of beer, wine or even cider. Alcopops are not particularly alcoholic, but they appeal to those with a sweet tooth, slip down like fizzy drinks and have become an entry level to drinking spirits. It is no surprise that teenage drinking is a National problem.

The whole world of teenage parties and alcohol is one of the most difficult that parents face. Children will always try to play parents off against each other - "So-and-so's parents let them, you are SO tight!" - and the consequence is that it is tempting for parents to default to the level of the most liberal. It is important that parents establish good lines of communication between each other and that they are clear about a number of keys issues, namely
  • at what age alcohol will be available,
  • the amount and type of alcohol that will be provided, and,
  • what levels of supervision will be in place throughout the party
In my experience, it makes sense to keep parties totally alcohol-free before the sixteenth birthday circuit, and thereafter limiting access to wines and beers [i.e. no spirits]. Although alcopops, which are particularly popular with girls, blur the spirit/ non-spirit divide, at least they are a 'measured' drink - I am not sure that it is ever wise to let young people pour their own! A strong, active adult presence at all teenage parties is essential - 'policing' duties range from excluding gatecrashers to being willing to check bags for teenagers 'smuggling in' illicit additional supplies of alcohol. A minimum of three adults at a ratio of one adult to ten teenagers should provide a good level of supervision and sufficient cover if anything goes wrong.

Alcohol is a normal part of adult society and it is important that young people learn to drink responsibly. This skill is best taught in the home, with parents perhaps offering a glass of wine with a meal or when at a family gathering. Supervision is the key. The greatest dangers come when teenagers are given opportunity to have access to alcohol - especially spirits - away from the home or behind closed doors.

Most importantly, parents should not underestimate the role that we play as role-models to our children - young people will pay more attention to what we do, than to what we say.

Part of this blogpost was published as an article "Teenage parties and alcohol - setting the ground rules" on the GSA MyDaughter website

No comments:

Post a Comment