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Pondering Teenage Drinking

Oscar Foulkes January 11, 2010 Uncategorized 1 comment

As the father of a rapidly growing-up thirteen-year-old I am being confronted with an avalanche of important guidance issues. Boyfriends are not yet on the scene (beware, boys!), but I am cogitating the issue of alcohol.

Before I continue, in this moment I can see the allure of the fundamental application of religion. If one lives one’s life according to one of the major codes there is never any need to engage in a debate. The answer is simply “no”, and the reason is that the Bible (or Koran or Torah or whatever landmark book of guidance) says so. I could try to invoke such dogma on the issue of premarital sex, but I don’t have any high hopes of success.

I’m not suggesting that fairy tales offer superior guidance, but I’d like to introduce my interpretation of Sleeping Beauty, who slept for a very long time (not with anyone, it must be said!) because she fulfilled a curse by pricking her finger on a spindle. The reason why this happened is that her father, the king, had ordered all spinning wheels removed from the kingdom in an attempt to protect his daughter. The problem is that she therefore did not know what the spindle was when she finally encountered one. If we truly want to protect our children we must empower them with knowledge, is the conclusion I draw from the fable.

The implication, therefore, is that teenagers should not encounter alcohol for the first time when they are of legal drinking age (18 in South Africa). Nor, should it be prohibited, because this will only increase their interest in consuming it illicitly. I am not advocating profligate consumption of alcohol by anyone of any age, but it is a reality that people are going to drink alcohol, and if they are it’s preferable that they learn to do so in a responsible manner. Being drunk – I’m not going to soften this one by using phrases like excessive consumption or overindulgence – puts one into a high risk situation. If one is driving a car after drinking it puts other, innocent, people at risk as well.

Wine is consumed in our house every single day, to the extent of a bottle shared between Andrea and myself. Both my son (nine years old) and daughter (thirteen) are free to taste anything we’re drinking. Our hope is that they develop an interest in appreciating wine the way we do – an endless collection of diverse (and often beautiful) experiences that encapsulate the the place and people that created them. Yes, one can get as drunk drinking Chateau Margaux as cheap vodka shooters, but I’d like to think that wine inspires a more cerebral – and hence more moderate – type of consumption.

Thus far our son is showing a much greater interest in wine (and beer, but then he is a boy). While on holiday we had a couple of cocktails, which is very unusual for us. What surprised me was our daughter’s sudden liking of the tastes she had, as she seldom shows any interest in tasting wine. Given the sweetness of cocktails and their cooldrink-y flavours this is not a huge surprise, but she doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, and nine times out of ten will drink water in preference to fizzy drinks.

Perhaps her late nights on Cape Town’s Long Street are closer than we thought.

The conventional interpretation of Sleeping Beauty suggests that a handsome prince will rescue inebriated girls from vomiting into gutters. I’d rather it never reached that point.

Maybe it’s time for a new round of fairy tales, in which the women aren’t perpetually being rescued, or waiting for the handsome prince. Is it too much of a stretch to imagine my daughter reaching for the wine list on that mythical first date?

At what age does she qualify for her first ‘own’ drink? I’m not suggesting that she should be having a gin and tonic along with the adults just yet, but 18 strikes me as being an arbitrary and hence perhaps an indefensible point. Is that drink going to do anything different to her at the age of 17 years and 364 days? Will she have a more responsible attitude to alcohol if she doesn’t touch a drop until that fateful birthday?

I’d be really interested to get some other opinions on this one, so feel free to use the comments section below.

1 comment

Bernard - January 11, 2010

I agree with everything you have said – but I can’t match the eloquence. I introduced alcohol to my kids at an early age and they are welcome to sample anything I am drinking. One of the most special moments of the holidays was when my daughter and I shared a glass of wine – I had a glass and poured about a quarter into her own glass – and chatted until the early hours. I am also quite lucky as I now live close to a corner bottle store that caters for the sub economic drinkers – those that queue up outside in the morning waiting for the store to open. There is nothing like seeing someone passed out on the pavement or staggering around to demonstrate how ugly it is to be drunk.

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