I never thought any charity could be so irresponsible as
Alcohol Concern was today in suggesting that parents should
be banned from letting their children drink at home. It
amounts to punishing parents for giving their children one
of the most important lessons you can have in life, learning
to cope with a potentially dangerous but wonderfully
enjoyable drug. Thank goodness the outcry has been quick and
strong, but I want to add to it, for we all need to stand up
to the creeping progress of the Just Say No meme.
Just Say No has been a disaster for drug
policy and would be a disaster for alcohol policy as well.
We know that prohibition has never worked - indeed it's been
disastrous for those countries that tried it. We also know
what kids are like - tell them not to do something and at
least some of them will rush right out and do it. With
alcohol this matters; it's a potentially harmful drug and we
need to teach people how to use it positively rather than
Alcohol Concern is quite rightly troubled
by the increasing amount youngsters that drink, the trend of
binge drinking and other forms of abuse. Alcohol Concern is
right to try to tackle these problems. I think the
organisation is also right that education is part of the
answer. But what kind of education?
Alcohol Concern seems to have in mind more
of the Just Say No kind. Presumably children will be taught,
at school, in lessons, about the dangers and harm that
alcohol can do. They'll be taught it as yet another piece of
intellectual information to take in, more or less divorced
from what they actually do, how they feel, and what skills
Will they be given practical lessons in
how to drink? Will they learn by careful and gentle guidance
over many years how to handle that tipsy feeling when it
gets a bit too much? Will they learn to enjoy the released
inhibitions that are the reason so many of us drink, and
then recognise when it's time to stop? Will they learn how
to make beer, appreciate good wine, or pour a gin and tonic?
Will they learn to mix a cocktail and which mixtures can be
dangerous and why? Will they learn how to deal with social
pressure to drink too much, or how to help friends who get
in trouble with drink? No they won't.
Only parents, relatives and friends, in
the course of ordinary life can do this. Happily lots of us
do it anyway. We give our kids a little beer or wine from
whatever age they want it. Most kids don't like the taste at
all until they are teenagers, and then often don't want much
to drink, and when they do want it we are there to help. We
set an example by drinking in sensible ways and letting them
join in. We drink with meals only, or only after 6pm, or
only at weekends, or whatever our own rules are. We don't
get plastered in front of them, or if we do we let them see
what a stupid thing it is to do. We don't drive and drink,
or drink before working. In these, and numerous other ways
responsible parents simply help their children - without
even thinking of it as education - to acquire the skills and
habits of ordinary social drinking.
And you want to ban this? Do you think
lessons in school could ever do better? Please, think again.
The last thing we need is a war on drink to add to the war
on drugs. The result wouldn't be a decrease alcohol abuse
but - as has happened with so many other drugs - an
increase. We should encourage all the best in good
parenting, be thankful that so many parents do teach their
children how to use alcohol safely, and help others to do
the same, not make the very best practice actually illegal.