Sunday, 20 December 2009

What's your poison?

The Chief Medical Officer said last week that children shouldn't be allowed to drink until they are at least fifteen. (At present, it's illegal to give any alcohol to anyone under-five.) Apparently such a change will put an end to binge drinking, anti-social behaviour, cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, global warming, climate-change and any number of natural disasters like the X-Factor.

What it also seems to put and end to is the 'middle-class obsession' (that's what the man said) that parents can encourage a responsible attitude to alcohol by setting  an example and NOT covering it with a cloak of secrecy, shame and illegality. We've tried bans before. Not only don't they work, they actually seem to have the opposite effect, creating an unhealthy obsession with forbidden fruit.

Like many parents, we enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner; Sally has been known to have a taste. More often than not she goes straight back to the lemonade, but that is not the point. As far as I'm concerned, the point is that I'm not telling her she can't, she won't, she mustn't, its against the law/it's only for adults and she will have to wait until she's older. Don't get me wrong. There are things she'll have to wait to try. She's not having the car keys for many years to come. But I'm not about to create an unnecessary taboo and risk imbuing drinking alcohol with any kind of grown-up glamour. In my middle-class opinion, that's the problem.

Another report last week suggested that we all underestimate our drinking to the tune of 44 million bottles of wine per week. Surveys suggest that adults consume, on average, 16 units of alcohol per week while sales suggest something more like 26 units. Apparently people rule out special occasions.  "But" the man said sternly, "there are so many of them they aren't special anymore, they're routine." To cap it all The Times today reports that booze costs less than water.

For most of our existence, humans have certainly drunk it in preference to water. In mediaeval Europe everyone - including children - drank. The phrase 'small beer' refers to the watered-down version given to children. And 'twas ever thus. Pre-conquest, the English were described by one contemporary historian as 'amiable, pot-belied and drunk' and there's even a suggestion that the Battle of Hastings was lost because the English were nursing hangovers.

There is no celebration without wine, as the Jewish saying goes. And Charlie cottoned on to what was happening on his birthday (almost) this time last year. So, if the Chief Medical Officer's not looking...




Cheers!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need a drink.

22 comments:

  1. Here, here! Whilst Britain worries about setting such a bad example the rest of Europe carries on giving wine to their children at meal times like they always have done. and which nation has the biggest problem with alcohol again?

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  2. Great post!!! Now I don't feel so guilty....I allow the children a very very weak bucks fizz on Christmas day and allow my 15 year old son very weak beer when we have family over for dinner. I want them to learn that it's not taboo and how to drink sensibly. I've watched children who are not allowed sweets and biscuits at home and their reaction when faced with them and it's awful....forbidden is always more exciting and longed after.

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  3. On very special occasions I will allow my 13 year old (and also when she was younger) a small glass of wine with lemonade (40/60%). I think the European approach is a sensible one - introduce a sensible attitude to alcohol early on and children can learn to respect it rather than abuse it.

    I remember my Mum telling me that when we were babies if we couldn't sleep it was quite common for babies to get a bit of brandy in their bottle, and look - it did me no harm...hic!

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  4. I'm not sure I underestimate my weekly drinking by 44 million bottles...

    Strange how the French have less of a binge drinking problem and yet enjoying wine with meals is the norm there

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  5. We do Heather, we do... I'm amazing that the Chief Meddling Officer seemed so disparaging about the 'middle-class' desire to learn from how they do it on the continent. Still, he knows best (along with the rest of the government)....

    That's always been my opinion CM. And it's a conclusion being empirically verified daily with every arrest for drug use. We don't seem capable of learning from our own mistakes.

    Of course, there are problems on the continent to do with alcohol NSM. No-one would deny that. But they're not ours; and they don't usually involve copious quantities of larger followed by violent behaviour... Maybe it's in our genes, but I can't see any form of nannying being more successful.

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  6. No, me neither MAM... But I think I might be guilty of underestimating my intake now and then! I can't quite understand why, as a nation, we can't take what's positive about the French approach rather tha
    dismissing it with a snide comment about middle-class attitudes. But then, I'm not a politician.

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  7. It's simple, really. If you make it taboo they'll only want it, crave it, and experiment all the more. By introducing it gradually and in a controlled environment, it can only help, age regardless.
    Good post sir.
    @drop4three

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  8. Chief Meddling Officer indeed! A man sorely lacking in charisma and talking out of his...

    I agree entirely with the post and comments. Our 13 year old has on occasion had a swig from our glass and never much liked it, though loves a shandy, especially when we have a curry! Sensible parenting I hope.

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  9. From someone whose mother used to dip their dummy in whiskey I agree wholeheartedly with your post.

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  10. As always, these so-called do-gooders do more harm with this gloom-mongering. People will still drink what they want but will now have added guilt.

    Common sense is needed. French children do NOT drink wine at every meal. On special occasions (birthdays, Christmas etc) they might have a tiny taste of Champagne or wine in their water. My son is 15 and has the occasionally beer with us or a half a glass of wine; my daughter just 12 has always tasted of the grape.

    Am I doing the right thing? I don't know but life should be embraced for the joy it can bring. Most of the bloggers I read seem to enjoy food and alcohol in a positive way. Yes, we overindulge now and then (!) but life can be very short (Brittany Murphy dead at 32 in today's news).

    Have fun and be responsible. I'll drink to that!

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  11. Thanks @Drop4Three. That certainly seems to be the consensus so far. Wonder it we'll get any dissenting voices?

    Sensible parenting indeed Trish... Wonder what ever happened to sensible government?

    And it never did you any harm eh, MwCH?

    Ah, common sense DD - not a quality many of our great leaders are particularly well-endowed with I fear. And life can indeed be very short... Have fun while you can and be responsible. Cheers!

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  12. Unsurprisingly I think I'm going to be a lone voice here.

    Star will not be having more than a tiniest sip of alcohol until he is at least 14. His family will drink openly and responsibly around him but I simply don't want my son consuming what we tend to forget is a very damaging toxin until his body is mature enough to cope with it.

    I don't believe these rules alone have any impact on future alcohol consumption, having a real understanding of it's dangers I believe is key. My sister and I were not allowed alcohol until we were well into our teens, and the result ? she is a regular (and occasional binge) drinker and I am virtually teetotal...

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  13. I was allowed alcohol when I was young, a sip here, a watered down version there and I still went clubbing and drinking until I was sick when I was 14. I enjoy drinking but rarely know when to stop therefore I don't go out much and when I do I make sure Sam's away for the night!

    I don't think that what parents do (letting them drink or not) has an impact on that many teens. My parents are responsible drinkers but I still went off the rails. If they had told me no then I still would have gone off the rails! Saying no is like a red rag to a bull to me. Sam has already tried red wine and beer (by taking glasses off the table, we didn't put them in his bottle or anything!). As I ran across the room he sipped, spat it out & put it down. I'm hoping that will be his response for a few years yet.

    I will allow him to drink when he's older. The odd shandy won't turn him into a raging alky. This is yet another overreaction from the government after media hysteria and it winds me up! I won't let them tell me how to parent my child. That's my decision.

    Cheers to you & yours Tim!

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  14. Well, so far that's true GM. But I doubt if yours is truly a lone parenting voice. I've certainly heard that view expressed, and I agree that no amount of rules alone will be the answer. And alcohol is dangerous, no doubt about it. There's also no doubt whatsoever that most of what children learn comes from their parents, and setting the right example - as you seem to be doing - is paramount.

    Of course, as you say NYSM, that's only one aspect of what is, after all, a complex situation. Some people are going to rebel against whatever example they're set (I've met girls like Saffy before, straight-laced with hippy parents!) and that's as much a matter of the individual personality as any other. But I agree it's our responsibility as parents to take the lead on this, as on any other issue. There are still plenty of people who do stuff whether or not there is a law against it.

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  15. I think the whole thing of not giving under 15s drink cos they'll be alchies is rubbish.

    I wasn't allowed near alcohol as a child/teen, and as a result two things happened.
    Firstly as soon as my parents thought my sister and I were old enough, they left us indoors while they did the weekly shop. And we would siphon off the cooking port, so much so that my Dad had a row with my Mum accussing her of drinking it.

    Secondly when I left home at 16, I was given 15 pounds for food by my gran, and did I buy food? No, I went directly to the supermarket and bought crates of Carlsberg instead-I have a wole year from 17-18 that I have very little recollection of at all due to my love of the beer. Or vodka. Or any alcohol that was available to me!

    I wouldn't give it to very young children, but a glass of wine at Christmas to the older ones is not going to turn them into winos.

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  16. My parents were publicans when I was a child and I first had Babycham when I was very young indeed! I used to watch Playaway then fall asleep....those were the days!
    My daughters have asked for a Babycham to go with their Xmas day dinner - they are 11 and have had like one sip or something before now. I have drunk far too much in my life and got into some pretty bad situations through it. I was out drinking in town when I was 14. Looking back, I can't believe that and there is no way my daughters will be allowed!

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  17. Ah, times I used to have a crafty swig of my Dad's beer. Tasted dreadful but it was forbidden fruit nonetheless.

    Yes, I think I used to go into pubs at 15 or so and have a Dubonnet or something. Don't know whether it did me any harm or not quite frankly.

    Happy Christmas xx

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  18. Yes, I take much the same approach as you. I never do anything to make alcohol more palatable for my children but I have wine with dinner and they ask for some, then I pour them some. They rarely ask to be honest because I only drink dry red wine and they don't actually much like it.

    My daughter is 21 and she was brought up the same way and she has a responsible attitude to drinking ie she enjoys a drink but doesn't spend her evenings vomiting on the pavement (of if she does she's keeping it quiet!)

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  19. And yet in Europe where family drinking (at home and in pubs) is the norm there is a distinct absence of binge drinking... can nobody see the connection?

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  20. I agree....now pass me a drink...::clink:: cheers.
    My kids(17 and 14) have tried a few varieties of alcohol and already know what their acquired taste is like, so I'm hoping that means they will not go binge drinking, mixing drinks and trying everything, and getting very sick and silly in the process.
    But then they have my genes....
    oh well. We'll see.

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  21. Only thing I wouldn't do is "water" down the wine with lemonade, which makes it more palatable to a youngster. Most of the young women who get drunk do so on alcopops - that is, vodka plus a sweet additive, which doesn't taste much like alcohol. Both girls and boys drink lager which is not much more flavoursome than lemonade.

    My parents had wine on the table twice a day and from my earliest teens I was allowed to drink it. Took me years to really enjoy their dry taste.

    I think a lot of kids drink to get drunk. That's their intention. If they learn to appreciate good wine, they're not so likely to get drunk. They may well drink a fair bit in the long term though.

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  22. You're spot-on 20somethingmum... There are far more serious factors in the make-up of an alcoholic, the most important of which is personality.

    PlayAway had the same effect on me too, Linda. But without the influence on BabyCham... thank goodness.

    I'd say not Jenny. But I hope it put you off Dubonnay!

    I'm sure you couldn't keep a thing like that quiet dot2dot. Not for long, anyway. So I'm sure your approach has been vindicated.

    Nobody in the government, Steve... Therein (as the bard said) lies the rub.

    Nature versus nurture eh Cate? Wonder which will win out.

    Absolutely right about making it more 'palatable' to young tastebuds Z, which is why I rather think the Chief Meddlesome Officer should be turning his attention to the manufacture and sale of alco-pops instead of responsible parents. Quality, not quantity is the best policy, and the only way to achieve that is by educating someone's palate.

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