Keep booze out of schools, parents told

The average Australian starts drinking at 15 and a half years old, according to the Department of Health and Ageing and DrinkWise Australia.
The average Australian starts drinking at 15 and a half years old, according to the Department of Health and Ageing and DrinkWise Australia.

Parents would be banned from drinking at school fetes, discos, concerts, graduation nights and sports days under a plan that aims to prevent children developing an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

The Australian Drug Foundation will launch a campaign today urging education bosses to adopt ''alcohol management strategies'' to stop parents who booze at school sending the wrong message to children.

The organisation's national policy manager, Geoff Munro, told The Sun-Herald they are taking the step after receiving complaints about the issue. They want schools to introduce policies that ensure alcohol is not permitted at any event where children are present.

''Something really profound has shifted in our culture because schools have never been places in the past where parents felt the need to drink when they attended a school disco for their children, or a school sports event. It's a sign that our society is saturated in alcohol and that adults cannot conceive of doing anything without drinking,'' Mr Munro said.

''People who complain are told that parents won't come to the school function unless they can drink. That indicates a blindness within school administrations of the issue. This is an issue that's causing a great deal of concern in the community and it needs to be addressed at board level.''

One mother, who called the Australian Drug Foundation with concerns, said she was shocked to see fathers bringing eskies of beer to school Christmas concerts.

''I like a drink too but this is a year 6 concert that goes for 90 minutes. My concerns are based around role modelling and exposure to alcohol advertising. When I complained to the school board, the uproar at the meeting was absolutely astounding. They were so emotionally attached to drinking they couldn't imagine having alcohol taken away from these events.''

The mother, who did not want to be named, said other parents argued that if they banned alcohol they did not give their children the opportunity to see responsible drinking.

''My response to that is that part of the spectrum with alcohol is abstinence and there are times when you don't need to drink,'' she said.

''Our message to our children is 'we drink all the time'.''

The foundation will write to education heads in the public, private and Catholic school sectors.

Mr Munro said research showed that parents are a major influence on their children's drinking behaviour and the age at which they have their first drink.

''The earlier children start drinking, the greater risk they have of binge drinking as a teenager. We are seeing that now in the call-outs by emergency services to young people who are hopelessly intoxicated and in the visitations by young people to hospital casualty departments,'' he said.

In the public sector, drinking is banned at school functions either on school grounds or outside school premises when children are present. However, NSW Department of Education policy states that community groups may drink on school premises outside school hours, provided they have the permission of the principal and the school's parents and citizens association.

The policy states any children present must be supervised by an adult and drinkers must ''agree to act in a socially responsible manner that would set an example''. The NSW Parents' Council, which represents the non-government schools, supports a policy of not serving alcohol at school functions in the presence of children.

''But when schools hold events for parents only, alcohol is allowed and I think that's quite reasonable,'' said Ramy Mezrani, the council's vice-president (country).

This story Keep booze out of schools, parents told first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.