Call to ban alcohol at school fundraising activities is naïve and dangerous
A call from The Australian National Council on Drugs to ban alcohol at school fundraising activities is naïve and has the potential to exacerbate the massive and growing problem of underage alcohol abuse in Australia.
An open letter issued to every school principal seeking “assistance and co-operation in not permitting the use, sale or promotion of alcohol products in school fundraising activities” fails to recognise the manner in which young people’s attitudes toward alcohol are developed.
Research indicates that attitudes toward alcohol among children and teenagers are influenced heavily by the examples that they observe.
“Parents who model responsible drinking behaviours have the potential to teach their children the same… Once something is not taboo in a household it reduces the likelihood that it will be abused.” – The Journal of Adolescent Health, 2004.1
Discouraging the responsible consumption of alcohol among adults of legal drinking age undermines the importance of positive role modelling in developing a cautious and responsible attitude toward alcohol among young people.
It is a tragedy that there are many contexts in Australian society in which irresponsible drinking is modelled by both underage and legal age drinkers, and it is to these situations that greater efforts of authorities must be directed.
Based on ten years of personal experience teaching in Queensland schools, it is my overwhelming experience that school workplace social functions, parent events, wine tastings and fundraisers exemplify some of the more responsible and appropriate contexts of alcohol use in our society.
To ban opportunity for such positive role modelling sends precisely the wrong message to the young people of Australia.
As an active campaigner against teen alcohol abuse in Australia, I have spoken with numerous parent and student groups on this topic over the past decade. Last year I printed 200,000 copies of “A Parents’ Guide to Teen Alcohol and Parties” for circulation to parents through schools across Australia. The very first message in this eight-page publication read:
“As a parent, you play a vital role in influencing your teenager’s use of alcohol. You carry the primary responsibility in discouraging early and excessive use. The single most important thing that you can do is to model safe drinking behaviour. The example you set in where, how and why you use alcohol will have the strongest impact on your teenager’s attitude toward drinking. Be a positive influence. Let them observe you modelling sensible drinking habits.”2
The Australian National Council on Drugs document “School Fundraising and Alcohol” notes that while the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction is currently conducting a study on the Role of Schools in Alcohol Education “the use of alcohol as a fundraising activity has not been canvassed as part of the consultation process.”3 A call to ban alcohol at school fundraising activities appears premature in the absence of such a consultation process.
The problem of teen alcohol abuse in this country has reached epidemic proportions. Every week in Australia, one teenager between the ages of 14 and 17 dies as a result of alcohol abuse4. Rates of drinking at harmful levels among 12-17 year olds have doubled in the past two decades5. According to the latest research, one in twenty 12-15 year olds engages in regular binge drinking, one in four 16-17 year olds and almost one in two 18-19 year olds6. One in two Australian teenagers who get drunk do something they regret7.
These statistics are distressing. It’s time more was done to save our young people.
We must begin by addressing the irresponsible use of alcohol, not by banning its responsible use.
1. The Journal of Adolescent Health, http://jahonline.org/
3. School Fundraising and Alcohol, Australian National Council on Drugs, February 2011.
4. Dr Christine Bennett, Chief Medical Officer, Bupa Australia.
5. Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug Survey 2005.
6. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2007.
7. National Binge Drinking Campaign Evaluation Survey 2009.
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