Teenagers feeling the pressure to binge
By ANDY PARKS NORTH Coast teens agree. The peer pressure on them to binge drink is huge.
"It's insanely strong. It's the strongest pressure on teenagers," said Emily Alexander, a student at Lismore High School.
The issue of teenage binge drinking is well and truly on the political agenda. Not only has the Federal Government committed $53 million to tackling the problem, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Health Minister Nicola Roxon are meeting with the heads of state governments in Adelaide this week to discuss a range of possible measures.
Ms Roxon says the states and territories need to be part of a coherent national approach to tackling binge drinking, which is believed to affect one in 10 teenagers on a weekly basis.
"We think that this is a good forum to have a debate about what works and what doesn't, and to see whether we can get some consistency within those laws, and the practices that govern the way our pubs and clubs operate," she said.
At the end of the discussions there are likely to be health warnings on alcoholic drinks similar to those on cigarettes, and tougher penalties in NSW for licensees found guilty of serving alcohol to minors. The idea of raising the drinking age has been suggested, but has been rejected for now.
The Northern Star asked a group of five students from Lismore High School for their views.
The students, Sasha Hunt, Ryan Links, Emily Alexander, Eleni Stratton and Bradley Herd are all either school captains, vice captains or involved in the Student's Representative Council. They said they probably weren't 'typical' of most teenagers because three of them don't drink, and the others occasionally.
"It really changes from the lower years of high school to the upper years," said Sasha.
"You get a change from what friendship groups are based on. It becomes based on drugs and alcohol and whether you do that or whether you don't, or the extent to which you do. It's really disruptive to friendships that you form."
"It becomes like a moral standard, because they're quite moral issues; whether or not you drink or at what age. So you start basing your relationships on moral standards to do with drugs and alcohol, rather than on other common grounds."
"Teenagers just want to be accepted and that's just one of the things that kids do to be accepted by others," said Bradley.
One unexpected response was that the pressure was much stronger on kids aged 14 and 15 and by the time they had reached 17, they felt more confident to make their own decisions.
"I think we're at the age now where we can go to parties and not drink and people accept it. We're at that age now we people say 'it's your choice' and accept it," said Ryan.
He also said most people didn't make the distinction between social drinking and binge drinking.
"At this age people don't usually drink alcohol for the taste, they do it to get drunk."