Lots of young people are hurting themselves and others through their use of alcohol. Yes we know this. And so our government has decided to have a series of ‘hard-hitting’ ads aimed at young people and drinking. The minister said something along the lines that young people think they are bullet-proof and they need to know they are not. The ads, from what I can see so far, seem to show the violence and agro and all the unpleasant stuff that goes with nasty drinking. And this is supposed to turn young people off getting drunk is it? I really don’t get it. Okay so let’s add up what we know:
1. Young people don’t actually think they are bullet-proof. But they do have strong young bodies which can take a hell of a pasting and bounce back. And they are full of hormones, and their and hearts and minds are full of desires, impulses and a yearning to explore, experiment and push hard.
2. The research around brain development is now pretty clear. The part of the brain that says: ‘Whoa slow down…maybe this is dangerous’ isn’t fully developed until around 25 years old.
3. We used to have clear ways for young people to grow up which helped them go through the transition gradually. In traditional societies this growing up process was marked by rituals of initiation, and changed expectations, and possibly some guidance. And these addressed the brain development issue, even though we didn’t know about it at the time. In more modern times these rituals have been things like the first full-time job, a 21st party, or getting married. I am not advocating we all run out and get married to those we have lived with for years, but I am saying that there has been an erosion of the markers of growing up and young people are both unsure as to how to grow up and when they are grown up.
4. Added to this, at least in Australia, we have this peculiar combination of getting to leave school, go legally into a pub, and get a driver’s license all at about the same time. A strange piece of social organisation.
5. And then we have a society which is awash with alcohol, and alcohol being actively associated with all that is enjoyable in our society including our cherished sports.
6. Now I quite like living in Australia in 2008 but I suspect we have a got a couple of things wrong. You recall the old marching call that goes: ‘What do we want?’ And the old response is: ‘Instant gratification!’ The cry continues: ‘When do we want it?’ And…you know the rest. We have created a society where credit is better than saving up for something, where a job for a couple of years is a long term event. Fast and furious is the way of the day…
Enter alcohol. Made for the moment really.
I suppose we could rethink the way our society works, which might be contributing to the nasty drinking behaviour which might just be an outer response to inner needs and confusions. But sorting out our society and root causes is kind of a big task isn’t it?
Maybe we could look specifically at how alcohol is promoted and advertised; we could look at where it is consumed, how it is consumed, and when it is consumed. And of course, who is consuming. But this is kind of a tough option too.
So what we have come up with is to leave all this alone and try and change the way young people behave. And the way that is chosen, a series of commercials, is one which research suggests is counterproductive. That is, showing the ‘worst’ outcomes of drinking…which is supposed to deter our young people from dangerous drinking. And yet young people video punch-ups and put them up on YouTube. And getting drunk is what many young people try to do on weekends, as cheaply and quickly as possible. Whether I approve or not is kind of irrelevant. And yes there are those who don’t get drunk. And yes many of those who do, are still decent kids. But there seems little sense to these ads. Who are they aimed at? Those unlikely to get drunk anyway? So if we are aiming at those young people who see getting drunk as a good thing to do, and if we are aiming at those who see getting drunk and fighting as good things to do (rites of passage?), why on earth do we expect that ads showing the very behaviours which are actively sought and admired, is going to encourage them to act any better?
No, I just don’t get it.