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Enough Is Enough
Young people in Ireland have been stereotyped for too long. Now is the time to reclaim the narrative...
The Whole Hog, 03 Jul 2012
Well, here we are at the high point of our daylight season – one hesitates to call it summer – and another of the year’s markers rolls past. Midsummer’s day marks the end of the examination season. And that, of course, is followed by a major exodus of young people, heading off to this year’s favoured destinations. Follow their adventures on Facebook and YouTube. Ehhh, follow their misadventures too: there will be many and they will be seen.
No doubt there will be news reports in the tabloids and photos of drinking, drug-taking and random shagging. It’s almost inevitable that a quasi-reality show will follow, titled “boozed up Irish students abroad” or something similar.
The thing is, that’s the accepted national narrative when it comes to young people. It’s all about the misbehaviour and misdemeanours. The glass is always half empty.
Of course there are issues of concern. For example, recent research by the mental health support group Headstrong revealed worrying trends in alcohol abuse by students. But the national discourse on young people is unduly negative and pessimistic.
As an example, take the coverage of the European School Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD). This is based on self-reporting by 15-16 year olds. (That should give pause for thought for a start. Many researchers regard self-reporting as an unreliable source of information. It’s indicative rather than definitive. But I digress…)
So, what did ESPAD reveal?
Apparently, Irish teenagers drink less often than teenagers in other European countries. They are 7% below the European average. Yes, I said below the average, not 7% below the max as no doubt you might have expected…
Also, the number trying illicit drugs has halved since 1995, from 37% to 19%. Counterintuitive it may be, but that’s what it says. They smoke less cigarettes as well, apparently – 23% of girls and 19% of boys as compared with the European average of 28% across both sexes.
That’s all good news – yet the media could find no good news there. Almost universally they homed in on the fact that Irish teenagers consume more than the European average when they drink (which, I emphasise, is less often). In the Irish Times Brian O’Connell argued that binge-drinking has taken hold for Irish teens.