AS the summer holidays draw nigh, we note the campaign by the National Council on Drug Abuse against consumption of alcohol by underage youth.
The issue is not new. Many Jamaicans now in the evening of their days can easily recall as youngsters yielding to the temptations of alcohol and other drugs.
However, anecdotal and statistical evidence suggests that the problem is getting worse. We are told that findings from the National School Survey (2006) show an eight per cent increase in alcohol use by adolescents over the last 20 years.
We should all, by now, be aware that alcohol abuse and its twin, cigarette smoking, can have serious negative consequences for health. Alcohol abuse negates good judgement, triggering motor vehicle and other accidents, as well as other long-term social difficulties such as unwanted pregnancies.
Especially for the very impressionable young, alcohol and cigarettes can serve as the ‘gateway’ to the use of hard drugs.
A large part of the problem is the happy-golucky, free-for-all mentality that prevails at all levels of Jamaican society. So while the law dictates that children under 18 years old should not be consuming alcohol, far too many bar and club operators make no special effort to ensure that obviously young people are required to show proof of age.
And while in many communities — mainly rural — responsible police officers strive to ensure that the law is followed and that children are protected, that’s all too often not a priority for crime fighters stressed with more serious infractions of the law.
Obviously, those who sell alcohol should be made to take greater responsibility in ensuring that children do not access their establishments and organised events; and the police should enforce the law.
But it seems to this newspaper that of even more importance is the need for parents to protect their children. As we understand it, children under 18 years are minors and as such are the responsibility of their parents.
We are aware that far too many parents are themselves immature adults, often unthinking as regards their responsibilities. Sadly, some bore children as adolescents — ‘children having children’.
Note the comment of Counselling Psychologist Ann Richards: “Parents do not have any form of parental training, as the saying goes. A number of persons will be trained in various fields, but how many parents are actually trained for the job of parenting?
“Some of the parents are really young as well and wind up attending the same functions as their children.”
Parental training is an aspect that is increasingly part of the service being offered by social/welfare organisations, both public and private. This newspaper is aware, for example, that Northern Caribbean University has incorporated parental training as part of its highly successful Community Counselling and Restorative Justice Centre programme. Clearly that’s a direction that the country needs to take as it strives to better protect its children and also reduce an unsustainably high birth rate.
But also, we feel parents at all levels of society need to be reminded that their children are first and foremost their responsibility. If a child ends up drunk, it seems to us a parent/guardian should be held liable under the law.