Tipsy lesson for 10-year-olds

25th January 2008 at 00:00
Children as young as 10 are being targeted in a growing number of anti-drinking campaigns. In one scheme, pre-teens try out "beer goggles", specially designed glasses which allow wearers to experience the dizzy effects of drunkenness.

Year 5 and 6 pupils at Hook Primary School at Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, are taught about the health implications of binge drinking. This includes a session experimenting with the beer goggles.

Last year, Hook pupils produced a play portraying the embarrassing effects of drunkenness at a school disco which was performed at primaries throughout the county.

Research in 2007 revealed that a tenth of pupils aged 10 and 11 had drunk alcohol in the previous week. This rose to one in five by the time they reached the age of 13. And the average weekly consumption for under-15s has doubled since 1990, now reaching 10.5 units - equal to 512 pints of beer.

Figures released this week by Positive Futures, a Home Office-funded scheme, also showed that almost a third of teenagers drink to get drunk. A quarter said that this led to fights, violence and trouble with the police.

Most teenagers drink beer, but spirits, cider and wine are also popular. Many drink because their friends do, or because they think that it looks like fun. Half said that their parents were indifferent to their drinking habits.

John Roach, Hook's head, said: "Alcohol abuse does stretch even to junior school these days. We're making children aware that alcohol is a drug, so they'll realise drinking could have an adverse effect on themselves and on other people."

In the West Midlands, a similar project for primary-aged children offers support for those who have an addict in the family.

Time For Me allows them to discuss concerns and learn coping mechanisms from trained staff. Participants are also taught life skills, such as cookery and needlework, which help compensate for parental incapacitation. And they learn first aid, in order to look after unconscious or unwell parents.

Both schemes were funded by Mentor UK, a charity working to educate pupils about implications of drug and alcohol misuse. Each year, the charity awards pound;20,000 to three alcohol awareness schemes around the country. It is keen to highlight the problems of under-age drinking following the recent conviction of the three Warrington teenagers who kicked to death Gary Newlove, a 47-year-old father of three.

Derek Ferguson, of Mentor UK, believes binge-drinking celebrities, such as singer Amy Winehouse and actress Lindsay Lohan, have helped contribute to the increase in under-age drinking. "Adults are role models, the people children look up to," he said. "But the media is saturated with people drinking. How many TV soaps revolve around the bar?

"It's important to start alcohol education in primary schools, before drinking patterns become established. The best programmes develop healthy attitudes and behaviours before outside pressures come on. But perhaps there are cultural issues to address as well."

- Applications for this year's Mentor UK awards should be received by April 20. Go to

www.mentorfoundation.org.

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