E Jane Dickson: When it comes to children, I'm for banning alcohol

Is it really so hard to explain that alcohol is a pleasure best deferred?

Share
Related Topics

Other mums are marvellous. I know this because my children, aged 13 and 11, hold daily audits on British attitudes to parenting.

Am I aware, they wonder, that "every other mum" is fine with chat rooms/staying out late/dressing up like a Crazy Horse saloon girl to hang about in parks? Thoughtful analyses of my intransigence on these and other matters include the possibility that I am hopelessly behind the times on account of being a) Irish, b) old and c) "just sad".

I don't discount these factors, but can generally call a few named witnesses to the defence – parents, known to us all, who share my saurian views. When it comes to the issue of alcohol, however, I'm pretty much out on a limb. I've lost count of the convivial family lunch parties where hosts ask if it's OK to give the kids "just a little wine" and are surprised when I decline the offer.

It has become a tenet of middle-class mores that "responsible drinking" should be taught in the home, that introducing children to alcohol at mealtimes will deflect the rise in underage binge drinking and make Continentals of us all. In January, when Liam Donaldson, the Government's Chief Medical Officer, issued guidelines advising parents not to give alcohol to children aged 15 or younger, mutterings about "the nanny state" could be heard from Clapham to Chiantishire.

When last year's World Health Organisation report cited British teenagers among the heaviest drinkers in Europe, David Cameron was quick to join the chorus. Reflecting that some of his friends, "the ones who had the biggest problems were the ones who actually were never allowed to drink anything at home", he suggested that "a glass of wine or a shandy or something" was just the thing to introduce children to the idea that "drinking is something you can do socially, and something you can do with a meal, and something that is part of life".

Which is a little like introducing children to the idea of driving safely by sticking them behind a wheel before their feet can touch the pedals. New research carried out by Washington University in Missouri shows that, contrary to Cameron's cosy experience, children who are introduced early to alcohol by their parents face increased likelihood of becoming problem drinkers in later life. The Missouri research team analysed data on young adult twins and found that the age at which alcohol is first consumed has a direct bearing, not just on drinking habits, but on the amount of physiological and neurological damage suffered by heavy drinkers. In particular, the study suggested that early exposure to alcohol (crucially exposure under the age of 15) may "switch on" genes in the developing brain which can affect a person's susceptibility to addiction.

It doesn't take a whole lot of science to work out that teenagers and alcohol don't mix. Cameron is right in as much as children are keen observers of adult behaviour. You don't have to witness your parents drinking themselves under the table to see the loosening effects of social drinking. For an adolescent already suffering seismic shifts in self-confidence, it's an attractive prop. And it requires neither research nor imagination to complete the picture: from knife crime to teenage pregnancies, the pitiful consequences of underage drinking are staring us in the face.

Yet we persist with the self-flattering notion that, in our own little corner, we're simply adopting "the Continental model". No matter that the Continentals now have their own, well-documented problems with teenage drinking – the botellón, a street party fuelled by two litre bottles of spirits and mixers is the scourge of Spanish civic authorities. No matter that centuries of Anglo-Saxon drinking culture is premised on excess. To put it bluntly, the British drink to get drunk. Our youngsters get drunk on drinks that don't even taste of alcohol. And it's going to take an awful lot of Burgundy brought over in the back of the Volvo to change that.

This is what really sticks in my craw with the Cameronian "teach them to drink around the table" brigade. There's an arrogance there, a "surely they can't mean us?" insouciance that the problems of "society" are not really going to affect them. And the worst is that they're partly right.

Alcoholism, God knows, is no respecter of class, but there is a substantive class difference in how it can affect the rest of your life. The worst casualties of underage drinking will not happen around the Smallbone kitchen table. They won't necessarily show up in the Priory, either. They'll happen in underpasses and alleys and all the places we prefer not to look.

Is it really so hard to explain to our children that alcohol is a pleasure best deferred? Would legislation to this effect, an enforceable ban, say, on drinking below the age of 15 (it is currently legal to give alcohol to children over the age of five) be such a terrible erosion of our liberties? It's a quirk, but not a coincidence that those most exercised by "the nanny state" are invariably the nanny-hiring classes. Maybe – just sometimes – nanny knows best.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker