Saturday, 17 September 2016

A mother's concern about alcohol, football and 'Mad Monday'

Alcohol and sport are bound together tightly in this country and, to be honest, it doesn't look like it's going to change anytime soon. I remember going to a conference many years ago and hearing from an expert in the area that it took 25 years from the day Bob Hawke announced that tobacco sponsorship of sport would end to the day it finally did, but if a Prime Minister did the same thing around alcohol today, it could take close to 40 years to disentangle the two! Pretty amazing stuff but not really surprising ...

Participation in sport is regarded as a protective factor for young people when it comes to alcohol and other drugs. It's a healthy activity, keeps them busy and 'off the streets', as well as offering them a sense of 'connectedness', particularly when it comes to team sports. It is also a way of parents maintaining a positive relationship with their child - e.g., driving them to training and to the actual sporting events, showing an interest in what they do and who they're associating with, supporting them in their efforts and just basically being a part of their lives. Why then would some parents go and stuff this all up by adding alcohol to the mix? Over the years I have heard from many parents who have written to me concerned about the group of mothers who insist on bringing a couple of bottles of wine to watch their primary school children play netball, or the Dad with a carton of beers cheering his son on from the sideline (who will often congratulate his efforts at the end of the game with a swig from a bottle and a slap on the back!) ... Alcohol and school sport should simply just not go together!

I'm certainly not trying to be a wowser here, but really, can't you get together with other adults for a couple of hours watching your child play sport without having a drink? Is it really that much of a hardship to socialise without alcohol? There's a time and place for everything and your child's sporting event is not the place for drinking ...

A mother recently emailed me regarding her concerns about football and the alcohol culture, particularly in relation to the behaviour of fathers, and the impact this could potentially have on her relationship with her son. When a parent tries their best to keep their teen safe and promote positive attitudes towards alcohol and others display such disregard for their beliefs and wishes it makes it extremely difficult. Here is her email ...  

"I should preface this by saying that my husband and I have a united front on this issue and I attribute his convictions, even more than my own, to the fact that our children have not been drinking yet. They know how we feel about the issue and we talk very openly about it.  As a consequence they actually share a lot of stories with us about what is happening and the nature of the 'gatherings' being held.  We do not live in a dream land and know the boundaries can change quickly (and should change), but for now our children accept the rules (even if the oldest one isn't always thrilled about it).  Our eldest has recently attended his first 'gatherings' and they have tested our resolve (and his). At each of these events I was horrified that most of the boys arrived with alcohol supplied by their parents who were clearly authorising their drinking.  While I have heard from many of my own girlfriends that they are allowing their sons to take 'just two beers' (don't get me started!), I know several families where the fathers have recently supported their son's 'need' to take a six pack of beer which has now become the norm. At one of these gatherings the fathers of several of the boys, already intoxicated themselves after a long Friday lunch, actually joined the 16 year-olds in their Friday night drinking!  When my husband said to one of these fathers the next day that our 16 year-old son was not allowed to drink, he had the audacity to tell my husband "your son NEEDS a drink"!   

While the drinking culture around Year 10 and Year 11 youths is an ongoing battle, the catalyst for my email is the conclusion of the football season and the drinking culture that is perpetuated by fathers who are re-living their own football careers through their teenage boys.  Many junior football associations recently had their football grand finals on Sunday.  Several of my son's friends played in grand finals, and a few won them.  Many of these Year 10 and Year 11 boys (and their parents) re-convened at the home of one of the players for a prolonged drinking session on the Sunday evening following the match during which many parents consumed excessive amounts of alcohol (including skolling beer) WITH their 16 and 17 year-old sons! Further, these same parents (and there is a large cohort of them) then gave their sons the following day off school to enjoy a 'Mad Monday' recovery day.  What has the world come to? Is there any wonder that we see the appalling behaviour online towards women when many of their parents are complicit in creating this very atmosphere of entitlement in their sons from such a young age?

I have shared these stories with you because my husband and I feel helpless. As parents we are committed to delaying our teens' drinking for as long as we can but we are realistic that for the oldest boy, that is not far away.  The great advantage of delaying it so far is that he has seen first-hand, the consequences of drinking too much (boys unconscious or vomiting violently… and parents embarrassing their kids with their own drunken attempts to be their best friend!). I wonder if you can use your own profile to raise the profile of the particular drinking culture associated with football celebrations (not football clubs, who generally have strict rules in place, but parents who host post-match 'gatherings' and supply the alcohol for them), the sheer lunacy of a 'Mad Monday' for 16 and 17 year-olds and the significant role that fathers need to play if there is going to be a change in the cycle?"  

As far as this 'Mad Monday' thing is concerned - I contacted a couple of schools that I visit who I know are 'football mad' and asked them if they had experienced any issues with absenteeism after finals week. They asked me to be very careful about what I wrote here but one school admitted to a 10% absentee rate in some classes on the Monday! They have cracked down on parents in this area in recent years (apparently it used to be even worse!) and to their knowledge no parent admitted that that was the reason their son was absent - but it was clear that those who were away were all from the winning football team!

Some, I'm sure, will say that the young men the mother referred to were 16 and 17 years-old - they're almost 18 (I don't quite know how you say that 16 is almost 18, but believe me, I get that all the time - I'm not too sure what mathematics these people work on!). They're very close to being the legal age and I'm sure if you met some of these young men that's exactly what they would look like, young men. That's absolutely true and I have no problems with any parent providing their son, no matter what age (within reason), with alcohol in their own home. If they want to 'do shots', play skolling games or the like, that is also their business. It is when they involve other parents' teens in this type of activity and then ridicule them for not allowing their child to take part that I think it becomes a huge problem. When it comes to young men, it is also the reinforcement of the 'boozy, bloke culture' that is of great concern.

This mother is right - we do need to do something about the culture around alcohol and sport, particularly the football codes. This notion that the two go together and that it is a 'natural fit' simply doesn't make sense and is something that the alcohol industry has worked hard to establish and keep reinforcing through aggressive advertising and sponsorship. Parent who reinforce this link, whether it be by drinking alcohol on the sidelines while watching their child play sport, or worse still by celebrating or commiserating with them after a game, really need to take a close look at their behaviour and work out whether it supports the ideal of why they wanted their teen to participate in the activity in the first place. And, if there are truly fathers out there "who are re-living their own football careers through their teenage boys", well, let's be blunt here - you're tragic!

1 comment:

  1. Appalling to think parents ACTUALLY promote their children to drink - sad to say though the drinking culture amongst this age group (regardless of sport) is rife - we as parents of a just 16 year girl are feeling quite helpless to navigate this 'New World' of not only the drinking culture but the social media scurge!...It appears that the majority of 15/16 kids feel it is their right to drink freely and to dismiss any form of authority or appropriate behaviour - its scarey and parents have seemingly lost control.

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