Parental responsibility

Published on The Independent, 18 December 2009.

… (England): Half a million children aged 11-15 get drunk at least once a month and the numbers have doubled in the last 20 years. England has one of the worst records in Europe for under-age drinking and is reaping the costs in terms of social and medical harm.

But is the strategy workable? All parents of teenage children – and Sir Liam has been one – know that exercising control is one of the greatest challenges. Not only over drinking, but also over smoking, drugs, sex and myriad other activities. Teenagers are born to experiment – testing the limits is part of growing up. It may be best to accept that you cannot stop them going at 100 miles an hour, and to strive to prevent them going at 150 miles an hour. The important goal is to keep the lines of communication open. 

Curbing teenage binge drinking is an essential parental responsibility. Drunken or neglectful parents who set a bad example and fail to provide the care their children need are not fulfilling their duty. That much is clear. Beyond this, however, parents will have to take the Chief Medical Officer’s advice and interpret it in their own way. It involves recognising that while alcohol gives much pleasure it also does great harm, and the harm has been underemphasised. We want to instil a healthy attitude to drink in young people. But we should also recognise that parenting is the art of the possible. (full text).

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