herald

Saturday 21 October 2017

Eamon Keane: Our kids are under relentless pressure and they’re turning to alcohol to ease it

The news that Dublin’s Temple Street Hospital says 114 children, some as young as 11, have presented at the hospital with “acute alcohol intoxication” over the past three years is shocking.

The hospital (inset) says that girls make up almost two thirds of the youngsters they treated for alcohol poisoning.

Why is this happening? Apart from the fact that young girls bodies cannot handle alcohol, the combined effects of neglectful parenting, economic recession and a culture of binge drinking and easy alcohol access have taken their toll.

Children abuse alcohol for a variety of reasons. However, their inability to process emotional upset with family or with friends leaves them floundering. 

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Instead, they turn to alcohol in a culture which promotes it as a healing agent. All this is occurring in a society where economic recession and the changing nature of family structures have hit children badly.

Most of the children who regularly abuse drink are coming from families that do not support them. That could be a single parent or a workaholic rich businessman’s family.

The common factor is that these children are neglected when it comes to someone giving them clear boundaries and the belief that they count. That lack of knowing that your parent is present and cares about you is the single biggest problem, in my view. 

The traditional family home is gone for many. We’ve many single parents who do a great job. But it can be a tough station without either a strong female or male presence.

How do you solve that? If you have extended family who are willing to dig in, then great. But not everyone does.

If we do not provide children with loving families, its almost certain they will find a new family in alcohol or drug buddies.

As a therapist, I see parents who neglect children because they themselves grew up in a similar family environment. I see parents over-controlling their children because they believe it’s their right. If parents are not dealing with their own childhoods, how can they pass on good parenting?

We cannot ignore the reality of financial hardship either. Children worry about their parents and about what will happen to them if a parent loses a job. If a parent’s self-esteem goes, what happens to the child’s?

It’s sadly not surprising that rates of child alcohol treatment have gone up given that we are emerging from a severe recession.

I have had to treat suicidal fathers whose children are watching them disintegrate.

What happens to the mental health of a family when a parent loses a job? What happens when stress levels and arguments go up in the house? Properly funded agency counselling and support is needed.

Social media has many good qualities. But it has also served to increase the pressure on young boys and girls to be perfect.

Whether it is body weight, the number of friends they have, sexuality issues or bullying, it impacts on their emotional state. It is relentless. It does not switch off once they leave school and head home.

Please parents, you need to monitor and be aware of how it impacts your children.

These young children live in a culture that promotes the sale of alcohol. Off-licences, supermarkets and a willing supply of adults to buy for young kids have been significant forces.

The Government’s recent legislation on minimum pricing will help, but as a practising therapist working with youths every day, the back-down on alcohol sport sponsorship legislation is one of the most damaging decisions for the health of our children made in recent years.

We can still change these shocking alcohol problems – with awareness and action. Let’s do it for the sake of our children.

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