Teenage Drinking – Good Example Needed

16 September 2010 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The impact made by the “Don’t Pour Your Dreams Away” alcohol awareness campaign being targeted at young people in the Monaghan area to coincide with this week’s announcement of the Junior Certificate examination results merits being closely monitored.
The initiative has adopted some interesting approaches in order to bring the message about the dangers inherent in alcohol abuse home to its target audience.
The views of young people themselves have informed how the campaign is being conducted.  If that influence can be discerned in the provocative catch-line and high-impact poster which spearheads the awareness creating exercise, it indicates that there is already a heightened perception among the social grouping at which it is aimed of the pitfalls of treating alcohol with anything less than circumspection.
The intended recipients of the message, then, may prove more receptive and responsive to this endeavour than to some of the standard attempts to warn young people away from drinking.  The endorsement of the campaign by a wide range of youth-centred organisations and local authority interests also goes a considerable way to meeting the requisite of the ‘multi-agency’ approach which the resolution of deep-seated social problems are said to require.
And there can be little doubt that the problem of irresponsible teenage drinking is an imbedded one.  Eyewitness evidence of its deleterious effects was offered to last week’s meeting of Monaghan Town Joint Policing Committee by Town Council member Paul McGeown.  What Colr McGeown had to tell about the behaviour of a number of inebriated underage drinkers in the centre of Monaghan Town on a recent occasion, and the supporting comments of some of the other JPC members about other manifestations of the problem, were deeply shocking.
Young people and their parents often protest that bringing such instances into the open at a public forum, and the consequent publicity they generate, is at best a broadstroke method of addressing them.  All young people and all parents can be tarred with the one brush of irresponsibility when in fact the problems are caused by only a few.  This, undoubtedly, is true – but who are the few?
The harm alcohol can inflict on young people doesn’t confine itself to conditions of domestic turmoil or social disadvantage.  The really sad thing about this problem is that it can land at anyone’s door, even that of young people who are ordinarily responsible in their conduct and habits and that of parents who are habitually careful to exercise close and caring attention towards their offspring.
Occasions such as the celebration of exam results are danger times because they invite uninhibited behaviour from young people in an atmosphere of heightened peer group pressure, and can also cultivate a more indulgent parental attitude to their children’s whereabouts and time-keeping.  Such inconsistencies are perhaps inevitable in a society in which attitudes towards excessive drinking remain ambivalent. There is something in the national psyche which excuses immoderate attitudes to alcohol at times of both celebration and sadness.  Adults are often the primary offenders in setting bad examples that encourage young people to emulation.  A disturbing legacy of mixed messages is being visited upon the young, and incidences such as that described by Colr McGeown are the inevitable consequence of them.
The point made during last week’s JPC discussion about the need for greater parental supervision is therefore doubly important.  Ensuring that young people are collected from social outings at their conclusion would prevent the distressing scenes to which Colr McGeown, and we are sure many other people who traverse the centres of all our towns and villages on weekend occasions, had occasion to witness.  And enhanced self-supervision by all responsible adults of their own approach to alcohol might ultimately be the most effective long-term means of ensuring that such behaviour vanishes from our streets.
Certainly it would be wrong to lay the blame at the door of organisers of events such as teenage discos for what happens in their aftermath.  As long as every endeavour is exercised to keep the events themselves free of alcohol and drugs, the venues that host what, when properly run, are valuable social gatherings for young people, are doing everything that can be reasonably expected of them.  The incidents highlighted by Colr McGeown undoubtedly came about at the conclusion of one such function in Monaghan Town when a number of young people were able to access alcohol from whatever source, and knew they had the freedom from supervision to indulge in it.  Who acquires the alcohol for its underage consumers in such situations and from where it is obtained are the troubling questions.  In endeavouring as best they can to ascertain the answers, the Gardai and other agencies are not helped by the ubiquity of alcoholic drink, which can now be picked up as easily off a supermarket shelf as it can from an off-license or pub and which is left highly visible and accessible in a multitude of households.
Young people who engage in this sort of behaviour do not do so entirely ignorant of the danger to which they are exposing themselves, although their actions are undoubtedly governed by motivations other than good sense.  But it is unlikely that they have given the necessary attention to the very real threat to their health, and their lives, they are courting.  As well as vulnerability to assault or abuse and the chances of physical harm being inflicted by or befalling young people under the influence of drink, the teenager on a binge can consume so excessively that they could die.  Emergency medical attention can be required in any of these circumstances.  Given the removal of services from Monaghan General Hospital and the worrying changes that have come about in the deployment of rapid response ambulances in this region, not to mention threatened reductions in the availability of the Doctor on Call resource, every drinking spree embarked upon by underage drinkers in the north of our county in particular carries with it the potential for tragedy.
That in itself should be a sobering thought.
All those who have direct responsibility for, or a humane interest in, the wellbeing of our young people will be watching the progress of the “Don’t Pour Your Dreams Away” campaign with an intense interest and a desire for its success.  In terms of our collective social responsibilities in this regard, however, it will perhaps only be when the adult population grows accustomed to making more of an example, and less of an exhibition, of itself when it comes to the respectful consumption of alcohol that a meaningful message will be communicated to the young.

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