Plan for NZ system that will help parents protect their children online

…a carefully designed and flexible package that parents would sign up for when they purchase their phone and internet plan – a package that they pick and choose themselves, according to the level of protection they want to provide for their child.

The Internet has had a major impact on society. Many of us use it daily, it has become an integral part of our lives. There are many good things we can use the Internet for, but there are also many dangers, especially for children.

There is increasing evidence of the extent to which young people are routinely seeing horrible material on their social media feeds. The Youth and Porn study that came out late in 2018, commissioned by the Office of Film and Literature Classification, showed that of 2000 New Zealand teenagers aged between 14 and 17, three-quarters of the boys had seen online porn, and more than half the girls – including sexual violence and non-consensual sex. One in four had seen it before the age of 12. Most had not been looking for it, but they came across it anyway. Most had not talked about this with their parent or caregiver.

Such facts can make parents feel very disempowered and helpless.

It’s common for parents to have little idea what their children do and see online. There is a plan to trial a system in New Zealand to give them control over what their children can do.

Matt Blomfield is the victim of some of the worst online attacks and harassments, much of it via the Internet, based on a sustained series of attacks on the Whale Oil blog. He was also attacked and badly injured at his home by a man with a shotgun. This was witnessed by his wife and daughters.

Matt took Cameron Slater to court over this and after years of battling he won. Slater filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and his company, Social Media Consultants went into liquidation. Matt took control of the whaleoil,co,nz website, which he is now using to promote his plan to give parents better control over what their children do online.

Now if you go to whaleoil.co.nz you will see this:

In the minutes and hours following the shooting of nearly 100 Muslim worshippers at two Christchurch mosques on March 15 this year, Matt Blomfield’s 13-year-old daughter had live footage of the carnage shared to her Instagram account by four separate people. She watched the whole thing, filmed by the gunman on a GoPro attached to his helmet. She saw terror and panic; she saw real people ripped apart by real bullets. She saw the blood. She didn’t tell her parents.

Many of the other kids at her school also saw the video, as did many thousands of others around New Zealand and the world. Instagram, Facebook, YouTube… it was shared more than 1.5 million times. It just popped up on people’s – children’s – social media feeds, unasked for.

It was only some months later that his daughter told Matt what she’d seen. It’s a parent’s nightmare, he says. He felt keenly that his ability to raise his daughters the way he wanted to – that is, appropriately protected, with some control over the rate at which they are exposed to the complexities of the world – had been usurped by the giant corporations whose platforms bring horrible material straight to his kids’ devices.

It felt very wrong. Something needs to be done, he said to himself.

In fact, Matt had already begun work on “next”.  After years of putting energy into the fighting negative court battles with Slater, Matt wanted to work on projects that contribute positively. During his years of struggle he thought long and hard about the wider issues inherent in his personal battle: the immensely complex matter of balancing democratic access to the internet and freedom of expression on it, against controls to prevent it becoming a weapon of harm; the inability of our justice and enforcement systems to effectively respond to breaches of the law when they happen on social media; the sheer, global scale of the platforms that dominate the internet, and the difficulty for individual jurisdictions in controlling content.

When you are attacked and harassed online it can be very difficult to defend yourself and to stop the attacks. I know from my own experiences – the @laudafinem twitter account was used to attack many people with apparent impunity. It has only just been suspended: “Twitter suspends accounts which violate the Twitter Rules” – but that can be difficult to achieve, Twitter dismissed my complaints in 2015. Lauda Finem’s website was shut down in 2017 but they still have content online, including numerous breaches of name suppression orders. Courts are still dealing with some this, but they are very slow, with complaints made five years ago still not over.

This is bad enough for adults. There are also many risks for children.

In November 2016, he drafted a Universal Declaration of Rights Pertaining to the Internet. He managed to get some interest from the Privacy Foundation, with a little more interest expressed by organisations in the aftermath of the Christchurch shootings. He’d hoped it might get championed at government level, but so far that hasn’t happened.

He watched with considerable interest as Ardern headed overseas in the wake of the Christchurch shootings to try and win multi-lateral cooperation to better control the spread of harmful material. He noted the increasing public concern and debate about social media platforms but, along with that, the powerless handwringing that usually accompanies such conversations. Many people, and certainly many parents, not only worry about the material that children are watching, but are also deeply conflicted about both their ability and their right to do anything about it.

Matt has no such dilemma.

“As parents, we have a responsibility for our children not to watch mass shootings at age 13, or porn at age 10,” he says. “Let’s stop and take a look at what the problem is, the elephant in the room, which is what’s happening right here on our own shores. Our kids, here in New Zealand, are watching stuff that no parent would want them watching”.

“We’re sitting here worrying about youth suicide statistics, youth mental health, young kids who feel shit about their own bodies and their own lives, kids who are getting their sex and relationship education through free porn sites controlled by massive corporates. And we’re sitting here going, this needs to change. And we’re waiting for the government to do it. Waiting for Facebook to do. Waiting for Instagram to do it. Waiting for who?”

“Jacinda’s efforts are good, but only partially deal with the problem. Up until now, the corporates have decided what happens to us online, and now they’re deciding what steps they’re going to take to help us. We can’t leave it up to them. Let’s take the steps ourselves and get back some control.”

Matt believes it will take a community effort to save our children from the harmful effects of exposure to damaging and illegal material on the internet. Our own community, saving our own children.

“Who are we counting on to sort this out for us? And the answer is, it’s not one person’s fix. This is not just a corporate or government issue. It’s a collective issue. We need a combination of commercial businesses, academia and government to work together on this with a common goal of saving our kids.”

He’s right. We can’t rely on large corporates like Google, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to protect us and our children. we can’t rely on our Government, who haven’t done much so far.

Perhaps we need someone like Matt to promote much better action, but the more support he gets the more chance of achieving something worthwhile.

He talked to people he knows in the technology sector, and it became apparent to him that the technology already exists that could put the power back into the hands of parents. What doesn’t exist, however, is a system around the technology to ensure that it’s easy to use, flexible enough to provide for individual choice and control, and expertly tailored to acknowledge important steps of a child’s developing maturity. In other words, this concept needed a comprehensive vision and, crucially, a plan.

That is what Matt’s doing next.

He’s begun putting together an informal working group, comprising technology experts in big data, AI and software development, child development specialists, media academics, and ISP and handset providers – as well as smart business minds, branding and sales experts. He’s casting his net wide, hoping other people with expertise and ideas in this broad area will get in touch.

He envisages a carefully designed and flexible package that parents would sign up for when they purchase their phone and internet plan – a package that they pick and choose themselves, according to the level of protection they want to provide for their child. Information will be provided about child development, and the levels of understanding inherent in each stage of a child’s developing intellectual and emotional maturity.

“People are daunted by the scale of the internet,” Matt acknowledges.

Daunting, but we will only remain helpless if we don’t do more to help ourselves, and our children and grandchildren.

“We know that China simply banned Facebook – they can do that because they are an authoritarian society. Of course, we don’t want to do that anyway, but it points to the difficulty of creating safeguards in a society like ours where we’re concerned about censorship and the fair balance of opinions. So, let’s give the power back to the people and let the people decide.

“Big corporations want your data. They use it to learn a lot about you, to push advertising and sell you more. On the other hand, they do not enable you to have access to that data, and there is no AI looking out for people in this equation.  There is no balance of data, no fair exchange of value.  As an example, Google is starting to get its hands on individuals’ health data (Stuff: ‘Google wants to get its hand on your health data’, 17-11-19) without people’s consent; its objective is to grow its revenues.

“My plan is about taking that control away from the corporates, and taking the responsibility away from them in some sense because we don’t trust them with that responsibility. We’ll give parents the choice to decide what they can and can’t see.”

New Zealand is the perfect place to trial such a system, he believes.

If enough of us think that something can and should be done, we can help make it happen.

If you are interested in discussing this with Matt, send an email to:  MATT@BLOMFIELD.CO.NZ

Watch this space.

Stupid National policy: fining parents of school leavers

My disappointment with the direction National is going in has increased even more.

Stuff: Fines for parents of school drop-outs considered for National Party policy

Fines for parents of school drop-outs are among several tough welfare policies the National Party is floating ahead of the 2020 election.

National leader Simon Bridges says New Zealanders know there’s deep-set poverty and welfare dependence problems, and is promising to take Labour on with policies that show “backbone”.

While Bridges wouldn’t speak directly to the policies being considered, it’s understood they include fines of up to $3000 for parents of children who leave high school and don’t enter further education and training.

That’s even worse than fining parents if students leave early. If an 18 year old left school and didn’t enter enter further education and training would National really consider fining their parents for not forcing them to do something they obviously don’t want to do?

There’s more:

National is considering are: more obligations and sanctions for beneficiaries, cutting the number receiving welfare by 25 per cent, and requiring gang members to prove they don’t have illegally-sourced income before receiving the benefit.

Beneficiary bashing is not new, but seems to be a swing back to pandering to people who are unlikely to switch votes anyway.

Bridges said: “It’s no secret. We hate gangs … We are thinking about how we can crack down on gangs.”

Why stop at gangs? It’ would be hard to legally define ‘gang’ anyway. Why not make everyone prove they don’t have illegally-sourced income? And include illegally sourced political donations.

RNZ: Will National propose fines for parents of truant teens? (with audio):

Should parents of teenagers who leave school early and don’t go into education or training be fined?

It’s one of the policies the National Party is reportedly looking into as part of its social policy review.

Other policies under consideration are requiring gang members to prove they don’t have illegal income before getting a benefit, and reassessing the obligations of people who are on the benefit.

Leader Simon Bridges is being coy about the specifics – but says these are priority issues for National.

Priority issues for National? I think a higher priority issue for National is leadership – or more specifically, a lack of decent leadership. Bridges seems to the best chance of getting Labour and Greens in power next year.

I have a better proposal – fine MPs who waste time and (taxpayer) money on stupid policies. Especially party leaders.

 

 

Border control and caging kids

US border control has been in the spotlight more than ever, as a promised clampdown on illegal immigration from Mexico ramps up, and as threatened, children are being separated from parents and contained in cage-like structures.

Being tough on immigration is popular, but being heartless with kids involved is not going down so well.

As usual Donald Trump’s rhetoric is swinging wildly – From ‘I Alone Can Fix It’ to ‘Change the Laws!’

Nearly two years ago, on July 21, 2016, Donald Trump stood at a lectern in Cleveland and made a solemn vow.

“Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” he said.

To his critics, this line was chilling, even authoritarian, defying the democratic nature of the American system. But to many of Trump’s supporters, it was a heartening moment—a sign that he would not allow himself to be tied up in red tape and mealy-mouthed excuses. There would be none of the vacillating and hand-wringing of the Obama administration. President Trump would not hesitate.

Candidate Trump was clear that he was talking, in large part, about immigration, which had been the central issue of his campaign:

Tonight, I want every American whose demands for immigration security have been denied—and every politician who has denied them—to listen very closely to the words I am about to say. On January 21st of 2017, the day after I take the oath of office, Americans will finally wake up in a country where the laws of the United States are enforced. We are going to be considerate and compassionate to everyone.

So Trump promised to be both tough and compassionate.

But his administration also threatened that their children would be separated if illegal immigrants tried to cross the border.

In fact, as my colleagues and I have reported repeatedly, the policy dates to May, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the federal government would prosecute everyone caught crossing the border illegally. Because an existing legal settlement bars children from being imprisoned, that decision means children and parents are separated. The Trump administration knew this would happen from the start.

In May, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly described separations as “a tough deterrent” to those who might try to cross. Sessions said around the same time, “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.”

There were clear warnings – those wanting to cross the border may not have heard them, but the intention was clear.

Image result for caging children usa

And now that this is being done and criticism mounts – including from Trump’s wife and all four other living ex- First Ladies – Mr Fixit is now blaming others.

Trump and the Republicans rule in the White House.

Republicans have a majority in both the Senate and Congress.

So it’s rather disingenuous to blame a clearly signalled family separation policy on the Democrats who have no power to change laws.

But that’s how Trump operates – talks a big game, but blames his political opponents or the media if things don’t look good.

The US has had very loose immigration control for a long time and a clampdown is justified. The splitting of children from parents as a threat tactic is more debatable.

But Trump hasn’t got the integrity to own his administration’s actions.

‘Caging’ kids is not even new. June 2014 (pre-Trump): Immigrant children flood detention center

Young boys sleep in a holding cell U.S. Customs and

Holding cell, US Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center, 18 June 2014.
https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/childrens-concentration-camp/

Trump could blame a Democrat administration for doing it too, but instead he tries to blame them now for something his administration is responsible for it.

Principal on parental and school responsibility and accountability

In a senior prize giving speech a Dunedin principal has spoken of increasing pressures, especially from media, on schools on social issues and responsibilities.

He said that while most parents “did a fantastic job” some needed to take more responsibility for their child’s behaviour.

ODT: Principal bemoans threats to schools

A Dunedin school principal is  increasingly  concerned  by the  social expectations imposed on schools,  and says some parents need to take more responsibility for their children’s actions.

During the recent King’s High School senior prizegiving, rector Dan Reddiex praised his present cohort of pupils for their outstanding achievements  during the year, but went on to express deep concern about the future of education in New Zealand.

He said the school’s ability to educate boys “in mind and in heart” was under threat.

“Alarmingly, in my view, we are increasingly becoming as much a social institution as we are an educational one.

“The expectations imposed upon us now as a school, to attend to and reverse the ills of our society, are completely unrealistic and they are beyond our resource capability.

“It seems now, the first questions about the inappropriate text message sent by a school-age person in the weekend, or the under-age young person attending a party that goes wrong, are not ‘what were the parents thinking and what will the parents do about it’?

“The first questions now are ‘what school does the young person go to and what is the school going to do about it’? And we’ve seen that in the national media this year…

“I believe it’s not our parent body who thrust these expectations upon us. It’s the media and it’s increasingly a broader societal expectation.”

Mr Reddiex said the lines of demarcation between parental and school responsibility and accountability had been “completely obliterated”.

I don’t think this is necessarily new. I remember my school being involved in student behaviour outside school time, like smoking, and there was a kerfluffle at school when I was in Form 1 when a girl self tattooed her hand.

Following the prizegiving, he told the Otago Daily Times there was an expectation that schools would, in part, fulfil the function that historically had been the role of a parent.

“The vast majority of parents are doing a fantastic job, but there are some who need to take more responsibility for their child’s behaviour.”

It usually is a small minority who are at fault.

Otago Secondary Principals’ Association secretary Gordon Wilson said it was a widespread issue.

“Schools are under increasing pressure to help the community solve some of its issues, and often schools are seen as the last place where some of these issues can be addressed.

“That’s not where schools should be. A lot of these issues that schools are being asked to deal with are not internal issues. They are issues that have arisen from outside the school.”

Schools and teachers have long been held as exemplary social examples, with an aim to make it’s pupils similar.

NZ History:  Schools in 1914

George Hogben, who headed the Department of Education from 1899 until 1915, believed that ‘moral purpose should dominate the spirit of the whole school life.’ Schools and teachers were to shape children into productive, moral and healthy citizens prepared to serve their country in both peace and war. J.P. Firth (or ‘the Boss’, as he was known to most) was principal of Wellington College from 1892 to 1920. Firth believed in the virtues of manliness, toil and duty in preference to ease and pleasure, and transmitted to his pupils an abhorrence of ‘slovenliness, sneaking, and all things mean and unworthy’.

Social behaviour outside schools can impact in schools, for example with bullying.

From Tackling Bullying – A guide for Boards and Trustees

“Schools are increasingly involved in incidents where the activities of students at home or in their own time have an impact on the life of the school; for example, creating and posting harmful content on social media using their own Smartphone or computer, whether at school or not. It can affect a student’s wellbeing no matter where it happens.

Schools have the responsibility and power to act when it is reasonable to expect that what’s occurred could have a negative impact on the school’s learning environment. Trying to pinpoint where and when the bullying took place may be less helpful than asking ‘what effect is this having on the student/s involved and how will we respond?’

If signs of bullying such as absenteeism or other worrying behaviour are noticed by school staff, or if anyone reports bullying to school staff, it’s important to investigate and take action, regardless of where and when it happened.”

Often parents are unaware of social exchanges including bullying. Children often stay silent at home about problems they face in school and outside school.

As far as I’m aware schools have always assumed some responsibility for the behaviour of pupils outside school – but in the past at least they took action in school but didn’t want bad publicity for the school.

Schools are a major part of the social interactions of students, so they can’t avoid social responsibilities. They will of course want parents to also take responsibility for their children, but it is a complex issue, and is fraught when there is a clash between school and parent expecations and values.

Disadvantaged children

The problem with waifs and strays is obviously not a new problem:

There are 4123 children under the control of the department. The Minister states that it is well that the State is prepared to stand `in loco parentis’ to this large family of waifs and strays, but it is a matter for public concern that year after year there should be a constant supply of such children claiming the State as its foster-parent.

It has to be admitted with regret that home influence is not so strong nor of so fine a type as it was a generation ago. It has often been urged that, rather than the children, parents who have proved themselves unfit to be parents should be placed under restriction. It certainly seems to be the height of folly to take children from a home which is judged to be unfit for children and from parents who are unfit to rear children, and yet to wait year by year for the succession of additional children which proceeds from the same home.

In many cases the evil effects cannot be remedied even if the children are taken charge of from infancy, for physical or mental infirmity are often stamped on the children for life through the moral or physical degeneracy of their parents.

There has never been easy solutions to bad parents and parenting,  and unsatisfactory home situations for children.

That’s from the ODT 26-9-1917: https://www.odt.co.nz/opinion/100-years-ago/industrial-school-system

Smacking issue again

The smacking issue has come up again.

Newstalk ZB:  One third of mothers still smack their kids – study

The University of Auckland longitudinal study Growing Up in New Zealand shows a third of mothers used smacking as a form of discipline and regularly screamed at their kids.

Research Director Dr Susan Morton told Mike Hosking the trend has been going on for a while.

“I think what we’re seeing with studies like this is actually what’s going on in the home. We know that the law has changed but potentially behaviour at home hasn’t, and that’s what’s concerning.”

That the number of parents who smack their kids seems to not have changed suggests that the ‘smacking’ law hasn’t been effective in changing attitudes to smacking.

It also suggests that one of the fears of opponents of the law – scaring people off smacking due to fear of being prosecuted and ‘made a criminal’ hasn’t eventuated either.

Dr Morton said we are seeing in the home potentially what’s happening in the wider society.

“And the problem is that if violence is tolerated in the wider society and then at home, children are learning that physical punishment is okay and that’s something that’s likely to be perpetuated to them throughout their lives.”

That’s a problem with physical punishment if it is a normal way to deal with problems in the home (rather than an occasional last resort minor sort of punishment).

Those who promoted and voted for the law meant well, they wanted to reduce violence in the home, and they wanted children to be protected by the same laws that adults are protected from. But the law ended up being a muddled compromise, with a key part being left up to police discretion on whether to prosecute or not.

Those who opposed the law have probably sent a message to parents who have learned to use physical punishment as a normal means of discipline that it is normal and no problem.

Most parents who have smacked their children mean no real harm, they think that it will benefit their children by teaching them right from wrong. But the problem is that some parents have different ideas on the amount of violence that is appropriate and hurt their children.

And a parent who learns to use physical punishment as normal is at greater risk of doing harm if they lose control under stress and take their violence too far.

Of course it’;s election time and It’s up for debate again, but should it be?

Conservative lobby group Family First has long campaigned for the right of parents to discipline their children using smacking. On Wednesday, spokesperson Bob McCoskrie told The AM Show the law is a “complete ass” and “parents are sick of politicians telling them how to raise their children”.

This election year, he’s not the only one calling for change. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters wants another referendum on smacking.

But while the likes of Family First and NZ First insist a smack is part of good parenting, child advocate groups like UNICEF say disciplining children without hitting them “is part of creating a society with less violence in the home”. 

Domestic abuse charity Shine says a repeal of the law would be a “terrible step back for our country.”

Client services manager Jill Proudfoot says fewer new generations of parents are smacking their children, but one piece of legislation can’t change a culture of violence and people still need lots of good advice about dealing with challenging behaviour.

It would be good if all the time and effort put into quibbling over a largely ineffective law change was instead put into helping improve parenting skills including promoting effective non-violent discipline them more kids would be better off.

What is a smack?

Smacking is commonly understood to be an open-palmed sharp slap which would leave no mark or injury on a child.

That definition is problematic. An open palmed slap on the bum or on the hand is unlikely to cause any harm – or be very effective as a punishment.

But when does a ‘smack’ become a potentially dangerous hit? Some parents have seen a smack round the ear as fine because it’s just a smack and leaves no visible mark or injury, but brain damage is invisible.

Here are four things you need to know about child discipline law in New Zealand.

1. The law is designed to give child abusers no excuse

The law granted children the same right to protection from assault as adults.

In cases where caregivers were being prosecuted for assault on children, the change in law means the defence of “reasonable force” cannot be used.

The introduction to former Green Party MP Sue Bradford’s Bill explains its purpose was to “stop force, and associated violence being inflicted on children in the context of correction or discipline”.

It says the law in its previous form acted “as a justification, excuse or defence for parents and guardians using force against their children”.

2. Children will not be removed from parents who smack lightly

Oranga Tamariki, the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, says it would not act on reports of a light smack to a child, unless a report of smacking is part of wider concerns for the child.

On its website, the agency says it is concerned “with the abuse and neglect of children, not incidents of light smacking,” and an open-palmed light smack is “most unlikely to constitute abuse”.

The Ministry says its working definition of physical abuse hasn’t changed since 2001. It remains:

“An act, or acts that result in inflicted injury to a child or young person.”

A child would not be removed from their family unless they are subject to harm, abuse or ill-treatment.

3. The law does allow smacking under some circumstances, but it can’t be used for ‘correction’

A parent cannot smack a child for the sake of discipline or correction, but a smack may be used in some circumstances, such as protecting a child from harm.

Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 now reads:

“Every parent of a child and every person in the place of a parent of the child is justified in using force if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances and is for the purpose of:

  • preventing or minimising harm to the child or another person
  • preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that amounts to a criminal offence
  • preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour
  • performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting.”

4. Police are unlikely to prosecute cases of light smacking

Police can choose not to prosecute complaints against parents where the force used is inconsequential or where there is no public interest in prosecuting.

Most parents do not deliberately harm their children, and most parents are not harmed by the ‘smacking’ law.

 

Parata: families and society must step up

As she ends her tenure as Minister of Education Hekia Parata says that the responsibility for education goes beyond schools.

NZ Herald: Schools can’t teach everything, outgoing Education Minister Hekia Parata warns

Outgoing Education Minister Hekia Parata says a push for schools to cover all civic and social responsibilities needs to be resisted – saying families and society must step up.

Parata highlighted the issue during an exit interview with the Herald before she steps down from the role on May 1, with Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye expected to take over.

“We should demand a lot from our education system because we have a quality one. But we shouldn’t demand everything,” Parata said.

“Financial literacy, sex education, bullying – any number of issues – whenever they emerge in the public domain the first response is, ‘This should be taught by schools’. I think there needs to be a much fairer shared responsibility here between parents, family, whanau.

“Schools are there to deliver an education. They are not there to take over all the roles and responsibilities of families or society. The more there is balance in those expectations the more the schools can have the space to be the best that it can be.”

Parata makes an important point.

Curiosity and diligence and a willingness to learn has to start at home, with parents and with wider whanau.

By the time kids get to school – or even to early childhood education – they will have learnt off those they live with.

But how parents and whanau learn how to teach their children better?

And right through a child’s school it is important for parents not to just leave education up to the Government or to schools.

More important than learning stuff is the gaining the ability and desire to learn. A babbling teacher will struggle without a curious child.

There is a growing tendency for some to expect schools to feed the kids, parent the kids, provide social support, and try to fit in a bit of the three ‘R’s.

Most of what most animals learn is from observation, by copying, mimicking, learning off those they associate with. Especially off those they are close to and trust.

Education begins at home, and needs to continue at home. Schools can be a major help, but they will never replace the essential role of parents and whanau.

Teenagers learn binge drinking off their parents

An opinion published in the ODT yesterday:

Teenagers are just following their parents’ example when they binge drink, writes high-school pupil Verity Johnson.

Teenagers pay as much attention to the legal age as they do to a fabric sale at Spotlight.

After watching adults, I can see where teenage binge drinking comes from. We’re just following our parents’ example.

When the Alcohol Reform Bill goes back to Parliament this month, New Zealand will vote on whether we should raise the drinking age. But, even if it does become 20, it’s not going to stop teenage binge drinking.

Even my most moralistic mates think raising the age is pointless.

The present legal age is just ignored. According to the New Zealand parliamentary library, in 2003 the average age to start drinking in New Zealand was 13.6.

That’s a whopping 4.4 years under the present age limit. Teenagers pay as much attention to the legal age as they do to a fabric sale at Spotlight. So it’s optimistic to expect increasing it will deter a population determined to drink.

In any case, fake IDs are easy to come by. In 2009, just one Auckland teenager sold hundreds of fake identifications to pupils from more than 15 Auckland schools. If I had wanted to get a fake ID I could; they are as normal to us as iPods. So if the drinking age is raised, more teenagers will just buy more fake IDs. We haven’t tackled the motivations behind drinking, so the problem is going to continue.

Besides, does the Government’s stance on issues have that much effect?

Look at cannabis: it’s illegal but New Zealand is the world’s ninth-highest cannabis consumer.

What we know about people is they learn from others. In psychology, the social learning theory states that children learn from observing behaviour of others. The likelihood of replicating the behaviour is increased if the child likes the person. We pick up habits from people we admire, such as parents or friends.

When we’re growing up, our parents are the people who set out right and wrong. So if, like in my experience above, parents spend nights in conga lines then this normalises the behaviour for kids.

It also means parents’ banning drinking won’t work. Not with that stench of hypocrisy.

What about society?

We have a drinking culture. Remember (or rather don’t remember) New Year’s Eve?

You’re supposed to have been so drunk that you can’t remember whether you hooked up with a person or a tree. And sports games?

Winning, losing, drawing, throwing, or anything to do with sports equals a booze-up. Our society says to be drunk is to have fun. It’s a little naive to expect teenagers will interpret BYO as bring your orange juice.

If we actually want to reduce teenage binge drinking, we need to change what society demands. We need to show that drinking responsibly is the way to go. After all, drinking is going to happen.

Moderating it is the challenge.

According to Italy’s Permanent Observatory on Alcohol and Youth, Italian teens advocate drinking responsibly. They look down upon teens who binge drink. Where is the difference between New Zealand and Italy apart from the sexy accent?

Italian families teach their teenagers to drink responsibly. Alcohol is also a neutral substance. But in New Zealand it’s a ticket to confidence and social charisma. What insecure teen can resist that mystique?

Teenagers can be rash, insecure and excited by growing up. Parents need to recognise this; they can’t just whip out the booze and say “she’ll be right”.

We definitely can’t ban teens from drinking and rely on the Sober Fairy to keep the RTDs away. Both ways will find us peeling people off the pavement.

Adults need to help teach teens. Set a good example at home. Be a mentor. Otherwise teens might not make it to adulthood.

Verity Johnson (17) is from Coatesville, Auckland.