Shurely shome mishtake?

2nd January 1998 at 00:00
Josephine Gardiner on the alcoholic message downed at the British Psychological Society conference.

Cynics might find the idea of journalists pontificating about alcohol faintly ludicrous, but those who do write about drink should bear in mind that young people actually take what they write seriously.

Dr Geoff Lowe, of Hull University, told the British Psychological Society's London conference that he had polled a group of 134 secondary pupils aged 13 to 17 on their attitudes to drinking and smoking, and then given them a series of articles about drink culled from the health sections of papers and magazines. Some were positive, some negative.

They were then asked to fill in the questionnaire again. The pupils who had read articles about the dangers of alcohol became more negative, the ones who were given articles about the more cheerful side of drinking became significantly more positive. The control groups showed little change.

For instance, before reading the cuttings, only 27 per cent agreed with the statement "drinking alcohol increases cancer", but afterwards this had risen to 57 per cent.

Boys tended to concur more strongly with positive messages about alcohol, girls with negative ones.

Almost all the pupils (95 per cent) said they drank, although this was often only once a week or less. Twenty per cent of the girls also smoked, and 17 per cent of the boys.

Dr Lowe concludes that "magazine and newspaper articles may have a large influence on people's attitudes to alcohol".

* Young children accept and adapt to the limitations of disabled siblings at a surprisingly young age, although learning disabilities are more difficult to understand than simple physical problems, the conference was told.

A five-year study of 10 families with one disabled child and one younger non-disabled sibling found that by the age of two and a bit, the younger child had accepted the fact that their sibling, though older, needed more help.

Before the age of two, the children wanted to be like their sibling. One girl asked for a wheelchair for Christmas like her sister, another wanted to have Down's syndrome.

The children would also try to get the disabled sibling to join in their games, but if they could not, then by the age of two most had given up. They stopped copying the sibling and began to imitate their parents. They also tried to look after their disabled brother or sister - two-year-olds would fetch nappies without being asked.

After the age of two, says Annette Hames of Newcastle NHS trust, who carried out the study: "There seemed to be a noticeable and rapid acceptance of disability by the siblings. They no longer wished to be like them."

However, where the older child had a learning disability without any physical handicap, the process takes a lot longer. Research, as Ms Hames points out, suggests that children may not develop an understanding of the concept of intelligence until the age of seven, so younger children will only have a limited understanding of why their sibling is different.

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