A little while back I was having a bit of a chat about underage drinking on BBC Tees. We'd covered most content and were saying our goodbye's when I was asked the perfectly reasonable question "Why do children drink more in the North East?"
It's a question that should be a no-brainer. I was a young person in the North East who drank too much. I spend a lot of time nowadays talking to young people in the North East who drink too much. They message me, we chat. They talk on camera, I listen. It's a question I've skirted around on North East radio shows a great deal, (more so than anywhere else). So why had it suddenly hit me this hard that I'd never properly, consciously considered the answer?
Cos let's face it, I consider what isn't the answer all the fecking time. I see how badly we are getting it wrong. So wrong to the point it's almost reassuring that we are getting the results we get. Because our approach is almost laughable.
Almost. Laughable. Almost. Until we see drunk nine-year-olds in our hospital beds and police cars. Tangible evidence of our broken babies and what we have done to them by getting it this wrong.
So as erudite as I no doubt sounded giving "Erm"as my answer, I should really have said this:
It's a rite of passage. We have a false premise in the North East that abusing alcohol is a rite of passage. I have not done one interview on a North East show where this phrase hasn't been used in drinking's defence. I've never had it said to me in any interview at all in any other part of the country. We really have been conditioned to believe that it's part of our culture and heritage. That we are denying our kids if they don't get to partake in it.
We chronically under-react.To everything. We view "making a fuss over nothing" as a sin. We'd rather wait for overwhelming evidence that there is irrefutably a problem before interfering. And there are some areas we can let this happen. But not drinking. Not with young people. The cost is now too great.
We are terrible communicators. The older generations are anyway. If there is a problem? We don't talk about it in case we draw attention to it. We stop looking at it in the hope it will go away. Kids are used to sharing every thought in their head on social networking sites. They are much more transparent than we are. It's a source of massive frustration to them, this baffling lack of communication, when the rest of the world seems to exist in a bubble of over-sharing and too much information.
We have no other options. We do not put money into evening activities in our communities. Kids are bored. Drinking is cheap. Cheaper than anything else on offer around them leisure-wise by far. And it's sad. Because it wouldn't cost the earth. If kids want to knock about a coffee shop of an evening in London then they can. Because they are open past six o'clock. Why can't we do that for our young people in the North East? Where is the hope if we don't even try to show them other options?
Don't be different. Being seen as different in the North East is something that is avoided at all costs. The aggression that is displayed when faced with this supposed "difference" is something quite formidable. Thinking differently to peers. Speaking differently. Wanting different things out of life than what you've been brought up with. It's sad in many ways, but with drinking it's f*cking dangerous. Kids are dying-literally- dying to fit in.
Put all of these cultural idiosyncrasies together. Then add to the mix our shockingly bad weather. Yes it makes a difference. The weather is sh*t most of the time, rendering cheaper outdoor activities that other areas with similarly limited budgets but better weather enjoy totally impossible. Standing around outside in the cold doing nothing for hours on end is a hell of a lot easier easier with a litre of cider inside you.
There's more to say. There is always more to say. But it really just comes down to this
Why do children drink more in the North East?
Because we don't just make it easy for them to. We leave them with no other f*cking choice.