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

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a Teaching Assistant...

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Automation Test Lead (C#, Selenium, SQL, XML, Web-Services)

£50000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Automation Tes...

Day In a Page

 

i Editor's Letter: Still all to play for at our live iDebate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering