Last bastion against alcohol

6th July 2007 at 01:00
I knew a 15-year-old girl once who shocked her classmates by drinking alcohol and boasting about it. Her problem wasn't just the excessive consumption of booze, it was also the fact that she was treated as a pretty unusual specimen an oddity. She was admired for her daring, but pitied for stepping out of line quite so dramatically.

Admittedly, it's a while since I was in S3, but teen drinking was far from the norm then. Those who did so either came from dysfunctional homes, probably with an alcoholic parent, or they were incredibly precocious, possibly with a dissolute older sibling who had introduced them to the pleasures of intoxication.

Sadly, it's no longer a rarity. Young teenagers are uninhibited about sharing the scale of their drinking habits. There is no problem with getting hold of alcohol, even if you are significantly under age. Too many kids spend the early part of the week discussing the aftermath of the weekend's drinking activities and the later part of the week planning the next round.

The problem has become so bad that Dr Peter Terry, chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland, is calling for more work to be done in primary school to educate children about the dangers of alcohol before they are drawn in by advertising. Some experts suggest that such education should start at the age of five.

There's something terribly poignant about having to be taught about the dangers of alcohol before you can even read the word. Yet the truth hails down on us like bullets younger and younger children are hitting the bottle. Hospital accident and emergency departments confirm this, as increasing numbers of primary-age children have to be treated for the effects of over indulgence. Kids are scooped off the streets by police officers and delivered to medics to have their stomachs pumped.

How, then, do we expect primary teachers to act on this one? It's a very depressing thought. Bring back synthetic phonics so they can learn to read; ban calculators so they can learn to count; and now teach sobriety so that they don't destroy their livers before they reach adulthood. This is our caring society.

It's a world of duplicitous contradictions. Sporting and entertainment events continue to be sponsored by alcohol producers. Alcoholic drinks are not clearly labelled with the number of units they contain. Despite compelling medical evidence that even one unit of alcohol impairs reaction times, we still permit a drink-driving limit of 80mg per 100ml of blood.

What ship of fools are teachers sailing in then? Where are the parents? Schools teach sex education and health education; they run homework clubs for parents too inept to supervise and breakfast clubs because parents don't know how to feed their children.

Can teachers really take on more of society's responsibilities? Maybe primary and guidance teachers should just take their charges home with them at night to do the job at which parents are clearly failing.

It's a crazy world when primary-age kids are allowed to wander the streets at night and drink themselves to oblivion. We are not referring to 17-year-old miscreants here. We are talking about young kids who should be tucked up in bed.

I can't disagree with the BMA that drastic action needs to be taken, but I don't believe that schools can take on yet another burden.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy

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