Page last updated at 04:57 GMT, Monday, 2 June 2008 05:57 UK

Youth drink guidance for parents

youth drinking
Ministers want to crackdown on binge drinking among young people

Parents in England are to be given advice on how much alcohol to give their children, as part of a government drive to tackle teenage drinking.

It would be the first time official advice suggested an age and amount at which children can drink safely.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls, who will unveil the plans later, has called for a "culture change about drinking".

Other parts of the plan - such as prosecuting parents who allow children to drink in public - emerged on Sunday.

Continental culture

According to government figures, the number of 11- to 15-year-olds drinking regularly fell from more than a quarter in 2001 to about a fifth in 2006. However, a third said they drank to get drunk.

It's heartbreaking to watch this happening to a boy that I love

Mother of son who drinks

And average consumption by young people who drink has nearly doubled from 5.3 units in 1990 to 11.4 units in 2006.

The new parental guidelines are intended to encourage a more moderate continental culture, rather than a binge-drinking culture.

Other measures in the cross-Whitehall alcohol action plan include widening existing police powers to disperse youngsters.

It could also become illegal for under-18s to be regularly found with alcohol.

Other ideas are:

  • Anybody who appears to be under 21 will be challenged by bars and off-licences to prove they are an adult before being sold alcohol.
  • Vendors will be subjected to a "two-strikes" rule on selling alcohol to children.
  • Teenagers persistently possessing alcohol in public will be subjected to anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) and acceptable behaviour contracts.
  • Court orders requiring their parents to step in would also be issued.

Mr Balls said "tougher enforcement powers are needed to tackle under-age binge drinking", although he said "enforcement measures alone are not the solution".

He said: "We need to fundamentally influence young people's behaviour and attitudes towards alcohol.

"This will involve talking to young people themselves but, crucially, parents tell us they want better, clearer information as they bring up their children."

'Not the best way'

But charities and opposition MPs have already criticised the proposals.

Some say ministers should have been tougher on the drinks industry and limited advertising of alcohol as well.

"The question is now how can we more precisely calibrate the laws in order to target offenders," said shadow children, schools and families secretary Michael Gove.

"Yes, let's look at that (but) the real question is why are young people drinking alcohol? What is the cause of disaffection?"

And Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said the government's plans were misguided.

"Trying to get parents involved is a good thing but once again the government is trying to create great fanfare for a new offence when criminalising people is not always the best way to deal with it,' he said.

Deborah Campbell of drug and alcohol treatment charity Addaction warned the proposals could make things worse for young people, arguing that "criminalisation" meant youngsters "may just be driven to going to more dangerous areas".


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