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

Recruitment Genius: Fundraising Manager / Income Generation Coach

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A smart software company locate...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Account Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Busy, friendly and creative marketing ag...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - London - £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Wes...

Recruitment Genius: Media Telesales Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children who fled the violence in the Syrian city of Aleppo play at a refugee camp in Jabaa, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley  

A population bigger than London's has been displaced in Syria, so why has the Government only accepted 90 refugees?

David Hanson
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Ukip on the ropes? Voters don’t think so

Stefano Hatfield
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project