Monday, 14 April 2008

People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones

It bothers me enormously that we condemn young people without looking in the mirror. One of my early lessons in life was, people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

The front page of the Metro today reports drink, sex, age of 12. I am quoted as saying that my staff 'had heard of cases where children as young as 12 had needed treatment' (I added) 'it is important they get treatment.

Yes it is important they get treatment, and it is important that we understand the wider context. Most young people under the age of 16 do not have sex, and of those that do, many are responsible about sex, responsible about contraception and actively seek the help and support they need. At Brook we see 1500 young people everyday, 1500 young people learning about their sexuality, their choices and learning to manage their sexual health. We also see many young people who have got drunk and do not know whether they had sex, or whether they used contraception.

Drink, sex and STDs is not the norm at the age of 12, nor indeed at 14. Before taking another swipe at young people and their conduct, maybe we need to look to ourselves, the adults who help determine the culture in which young people are learning about sex, and learning about alcohol. When it comes to alcohol young people learn from us - and they tell me they learn that you drink to be happy, drink to celebrate, drink to commisserate, drink to ease the pain.

And we also use drink as an excuse sometimes - I was too drunk, I don't remember, I couldn't help it, and because of our attitude to drinking, alcohol is an acceptable excuse for unprotected sex or for having sex you didn't really want.

But that doesn't stop at the miracle age of 21. So let us not get hysterical about the very small numbers of 12 year olds who get drunk and have sex, though we must be concerned. Let us instead use our energy creatively and productively to think about our attitude to alcohol, our attitude to sexuality and our attitude to young people.

When I worked at National Children's Bureau ( I did a project on the links between sex, alcohol and other drugs. Young people told me they wanted more things to do so they didn't just hang out on street corners, bored and looking for fun. Lets really join up policy - start from a premise of trusting and respecting young people and offer them the opportunities for risk, pleasure and excitement through play and recreation, safe spaces to hang out, and to be with their friends.

Brook produces a pack - drunk in charge of a body, exploring the links between alcohol and sexual risk taking - visit to find out more. Lets support them to think about the links between alcohol and risk taking, rather than keep telling them they are feckless, irresponsible and remarkably different from many of their elders.

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