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Monday, 14 January, 2002, 13:45 GMT
Was Charles right about Harry?
Princes Harry, William and Charles
Family affair: Harry spoke to both his brother and father
For each commentator backing Prince Charles's handling of Harry's drug-taking and under-age drinking, another says he over - or under - reacted. How are parents supposed to deal with such situations?

By today's standards, Prince Harry confessing to have dabbled with cannabis and alcohol could be considered no worse than when his father snuck into a pub and ordered a cherry brandy at the age of 14.

Prince Harry
Prince Harry is said to be a reformed character
Yet in 1963, a short, sharp shock did not consist of a visit to a drug rehabilitation centre but three strokes of the cane. And instead of a firm but loving conversation with a concerned brother and father, the teenaged Charles faced an irate Duke of Edinburgh.

The issue of teenage drinking and drug-taking is all too familiar to modern families. And the debate over how best to handle such a situation crops up each time a survey comes out or a high-profile teen is found somewhat worse for wear.

Softly softly

Teenagers can be notoriously hard to talk to about sensitive issues - and parents' experiences when they were younger may well have been very different.

Charles with pint
For Charles, a trip to the pub is a rare event
Many people will think Charles did well to avoid an angry confrontation with his younger son. But as for suggesting a meeting with recovering addicts in order to highlight the potential impact of drugs on people's lives, opinion is somewhat divided.

Robert Lefever, who runs the Promis Recovery Centre, says such an approach would have little effect on a person with a natural tendency towards addiction.

"Those people cannot be just frightened out of something. Other people are just being silly - a short, sharp shock for them doesn't do them any harm at all."

Viv Craske, the senior editor of the magazine MixMag which runs an annual survey on drug abuse, says that Charles overreacted.

Seeing someone who has recovered can be an excuse for trying drugs out

Peter Martin
"Any drug or alcohol issues are best dealt with in a non-judgemental, caring family situation and it was probably the worst thing he could do."

Mr Craske compared it to sending a teenager caught with their pants down to a clinic for sex addicts.

Peter Martin, the chief executive of Addaction, one of the UK's largest specialist drug and alcohol treatment agencies, commended Prince Charles for acting promptly and properly in ensuring his child got the information he needed.

However, research has shown that talking to former addicts can actually make young people feel they can get away with dabbling in drugs because that ex-user did.

"Seeing someone who has recovered can both be an inspiration and an excuse for trying drugs out."

Freedom v safety

As with the Blair family's efforts to deal with Euan's public drunkenness two summers ago, the trouble with Harry has prompted commentators to ponder how much is too much freedom.

High on life
27% of 16- to 19-year-olds took drugs at least once in past year
Nearly one in two 15-year-olds have had alcohol
Home Office figures
Addaction's youth workers recommend that parents encourage their offspring to take responsibility for themselves, and to set clear limits for what is acceptable behaviour.

As many young people will not shun alcohol or drugs entirely, they say that parents should encourage less harmful behaviour such as:

• including non-alcoholic drinks in any drinking session

• sticking to brands containing less alcohol and avoid spirits

• having someone around who stays drug-free and sober, and have a way of getting home safely

Harry's behaviour is, after all, hardly unusual. Thus Mr Martin hopes the incident will remind parents that they need to get educated in how to deal with such issues themselves, especially as the UK lacks specialist help for young people whose drinking or drug taking gets out of control.

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