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Kids and the perils of alcohol
The intimidating bunch of youths swigging from bottles on the street corner. The alcohol-fuelled groups of loutish teens roaming our estates and parks.
They are familiar scenes played out across Hampshire on any given evening.
But behind the nuisance caused to residents, the harmful health effects, the increased likelihood of injury and risky sexual adventure, lies a disturbing fact: Parents are the main source of alcohol for younger children.
In fact two-thirds of 12-15 year olds get most of their alcohol from parents, according to a leading survey.
Experts point to a number of reasons why kids drink: escapism, the buzz, something to do, peer pressure, gaining respect, improving image and confidence.
But as a new wave of pupils starts life at secondary school faced with the rite of passage that under-age drinking has increasingly become, the Daily Echo launches a campaign to encourage parents to step in to:.
o Take a more active and responsible role in tackling alcohol.
o Wise-up to the facts. Teach children about the harmful consequences of alcohol and to think before supplying them with booze.
o To Keep Kids Sober.
Streetwise, a youth project, which operates across the New Forest and parts of Southampton, has witnessed first-hand children as young as 11 drinking on the streets and in recreation grounds.
The group tours the district in a bus offering sobering food, drink and activities, alongside advice and support to encourage youths to improve themselves and their image.
Spokesman John Cunningham said it was time some parents asked themselves whether they were setting a good example.
He called on them to be aware of the legalities of alcohol on the streets and who their children associate with.
They should ask: "Do you as a parent buy or encourage other adults to buy your young people alcohol."
He warned: "This may be detrimental to their development and sets a path for the future."
Mr Cunningham called for positive development through promoting a stronger interest in future careers, hobbies and community work.
Stressing that it was the duty of all adults to ensure young people have the best opportunities he said: "Let's work together to wipe out the stigma of young people and antisocial behaviour going hand-in-hand.
"We are the standard they will use."
For police, an ongoing battle is being fought with youths over alcohol, which often pushes their behaviour into criminal damage, violence and disorder.
According to the Home Office, two-thirds of children who drink commit nuisance behaviour.
We have regularly reported on drink-fuelled antisocial behaviour and seizures of alcohol from children.
It is an exercise all too common to beat offices.
In one operation in Southampton a haul of 500 bottles and cans was gathered in just four weekends from under-age drinkers.
Hampshire Constabulary's safer streets inspector, Alistair Nichols, gave his backing to our campaign and warned: "If you buy alcohol for your children or other young people who are not old enough to buy it themselves, you could receive a fine of up to £5,000.
"We work with Trading Standards to carry out test purchase operations and raise awareness of the penalties for shops and licensed premises who sell to under-18s, but perhaps people are not so aware that they can face punishment if they are found to be purchasing the alcohol on behalf of someone who is under age.
"When police officers are called to reports of antsocial behaviour, it is often found that under-age drinking is a contributory factor.
"It has also been found that young people are more vulnerable to becoming a victim of crime if they are under the influence of alcohol.
"Under-age drinking and its effects can blight communities and ruin lives. All adults, but especially parents, have a large part to play in not providing the alcohol and steering young people towards more positive activities."
Dr Nick Sheron, a lead consultant hepatologist at Southampton General and renowned alcohol and liver expert, is increasingly concerned about the health effects of alcohol on the young.
Latest figures from the Strategic Health Authority show an under-18 is admitted almost daily to a Hampshire hospital with an alcohol-related condition.
Dr Sheron said the chief worry was acute alcohol poisoning, which is far more dangerous in children and can be fatal.
Drunk children leave themselves exposed to the same problems as adults and are more likely to develop alcohol-related problems later in life, he said.
Although you need to drink for ten years to be at risk of a significant liver disease it was no longer unusual to see men and women in Southampton in their late 20s with alcoholic liver cirrhosis, he said. The youngest was 23. One 26-year-old died as a result.
"The longer you can keep kids away from alcohol the better," said Dr Sheron. "It is certainly not a good idea to introduce young children to sips of alcohol at birthday parties."
The strategy for parents should be to keep alcohol away from children as long as is absolutely possible.
He advised: "When they are at an age where they are likely to start drinking anyway, talk to them about alcohol, the problems that it causes and teach them that it is possible to enjoy alcohol socially without getting so drunk that they are incapable and vulnerable."
Dr Sheron said older teenagers whose parents talk to them about alcohol and were exposed to alcohol drinking in safe parental environment had "slightly less" of a tendency to binge drink and drink in public places than other children.
He is also concerned about links between binge drinking and the risk of teenage pregnancy.
No Limits, a Southampton information and counselling service which aims to promote healthy lifestyles, has carried out its own local research into the link.
Spokesman Liz Diamond said: "About a quarter of young people we consulted said the first time they had sex was because they had been drinking. Others said that they end up having sex when they have drunk alcohol."
She said research showed most young people were given their first drink by parents. "The number of young people who go on to problematic drinking is small, but significant."
No Limits is also critical of the alcohol industry.
"Since the introduction of alcopops and the associated advertising, alcohol consumption in 13 to 15-year-olds has risen significantly and sexual health has dramatically declined," it says.
Matthew Bradby from the drinks industry funded DrinkAware Trust, said: "Parents have a vital role to play in educating their children about alcohol, in the same way that they do in most subjects.
"It's important that alcohol is not treated as a taboo subject but is discussed openly and honestly so that young people have a good understanding of why people drink and its effects."
Alison Rogers, chief executive of the Ringwood based British Liver Trust, said: "Against the background of the power of the drinks industry in the UK and the retrograde step of the poorly thought out licensing laws, the number of people developing and dying from cirrhosis is bound to rise."