herald

Tuesday 17 October 2017

I care about my Junior Cert son and he deserves better tonight than a bath of drink

when I was a young reporter I used to hate my bosses tut-tutting on Junior Cert night every year.

Middle-aged and male, they would say a few sorrowful words about how terrible young people were these days - and then send out a photographer to get the worst possible pictures.

And I thought: "Get over it. I bought naggins of vodka when I was 16 and mixed them with Fanta and I survived. And you did too, if you'd only admit it."

But I now think differently. I'm the middle-aged one and my son got his Junior Cert results today.

And now I can't imagine how anyone could think it would be OK for my 15-year-old to binge-drink. He is only a kid.

Alright he's a big lump of a boy but he is really only beginning to mature.

I can nearly hear him growing, cell after cell. Drowning all that delicate growth in alcohol now would be a disaster.

What's more, he doesn't need it. He's a grand lad with a secure home. He didn't sweat about his Junior Cert and the results don't matter.

ritual

He'll be doing the Leaving in three years' time and that will be the first exam which matters to his future in any way.

How could we have allowed this Junior Cert results drinking ritual continue? We middle-aged people are the adults now, after all.

I guess we sat around tut-tutting like my old bosses and never actually tried to change anything. Never really asked the kids why they were doing it or offered them alternatives.

And while the oldies sat around sighing and wringing their hands, the advertisers were working their magic. The drinking age crept down by a full three years in the last 30 years, while I was becoming middle-aged.

Nowadays, the drinking age is 14 or 15 so you're likely to be no stranger to drink by the time your Junior Cert results come out.

As a society, we let that happen and did nothing about it.

First we let our kids see success as a series of letters on a page. Then we taught them that what they should do is drink themselves silly if they were pleased with themselves.

And most importantly, we taught them to drink themselves silly if they were disappointed.

It's amazing stuff, alcohol. After a few drinks those Es look just like As.

We sat round doing precious little to stop this although we know that drinking at 15 makes you a full four times more likely to end up an alcoholic.

And we know what heart-break and misery that brings.

The Junior Cert results night is, for many, the official start of the binge-drinking season. The recent European research puts us, yet again, at the top of the EU league table for binge-drinking and young people are leading the way.

It's true there are signs that Irish young people have started to drink slightly less in recent years. But I'm worried that can be put down to the recession rather than any action on the part of parents or Government.

Will "the recovery" mean a recovery in our young peoples' chart-topping drinking habits, I wonder - or does anybody care?

Well listen, I care. I care about my son and I know he deserves better tonight than a bath of drink.

It's my responsibility to make sure he doesn't get one and that's hard. But who ever said parenting was easy?

We're the big people now. It's up to us middle-aged parents to change the meaning of Junior Cert results night and we must start tonight.

essential

Let's organise a game of football or a bowling trip or order a few pizzas round to the house.

Let's show that it's alright to be pleased with yourself and stay conscious to enjoy the feeling.

And most of all, let's show our children how to deal with disappointment by facing up to it.

Facing up to it safe in the knowledge that it's only school and it doesn't really matter because what matters are friends, family and the kids themselves.

What matters is the essential people that our young students are inside, no matter what kind of alphabet soup is served up to them by way of results.

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