The idea that all of our problems can be solved if everyone takes ‘responsibility’ for themselves is a common trope amongst the intellectual featherweights that dominate our public discourse. Here’s professional National Party shill Richard Long on youth drinking and alcohol reform:
At some stage it has to be acknowledged that there are parental responsibilities in this as well as community responsibilities.
We know parenting difficult teenagers can be a nightmare, but that is where the responsibility falls, although the law could be fashioned to give parents more legal and moral support and more direct access to police and social services.
Schools could be directed to play a bigger role, warning pupils of the consequences of alcohol misuse, and in urging peers to intervene in cases of dangerous excess by friends.
Social groups and sports groups could also help. All this is likely to be more useful than trying to legislate the problem out of existence with broad brush measures which unfairly penalise a wider majority who use alcohol responsibly for the pleasure and social intercourse it delivers.
All of our social policy debates (child abuse, drinking, obesity etc) seem to run into the same objections from our punditocracy:
New Zealand is facing [serious problem]
‘Something’ must be done to solve this terrible problem!
What about [legislative solution]?
No, that might inconvenience me slightly. It has to be something that has no impact on me.
What about [economic solution]?
No, that will cost me some money. It can cost ‘other people’ (trans. Maori, young people, Pacific Islanders) money but not me.
What about [policy solution]?
No, the nanny state . . .
Yeah, yeah. What do you suggest we do then?
(Long pause). People need to take responsibility for themselves.
A couple of months ago the PM commissioned Sir Peter Gluckman to look into the underlying causes behind youth related social problems. In the introduction to his task force study Gluckman wrote:
Puberty in boys starts somewhere between 8 and 11
years of age and generally takes 4 to 5 years to complete; puberty in girls starts a little earlier and is
completed generally between 11 and 14 years of age. Historically, the age of sexual maturation has
fallen dramatically from about 16 to 17 years of age 200 years ago to between 11½ and 12½ years on
average now. This 5″year fall in the age of puberty is matched by a similar, but less well documented,
decline in the rate of maturation of boys.
The increased rate of sexual maturation has its origins in better maternal and child health and nutrition,
and is a sign of a physically healthy population. It has, however, created an ever”widening gap between
the biological transition to adolescence and other aspects of an individual’s development. Consider, for
example, that many children are well into puberty before they leave primary school and have
completed it before they enter secondary school.
If Gluckman’s hypothesis is true it sheds an interesting light on a lot of youth focused trends – like the latest abortion statistics:
The number of children having abortions has almost doubled over the past 20 years.
The latest statistics have prompted calls for parents to be informed if their daughter is considering an abortion, but health professionals say the move would be “disastrous”.
Last year, 79 girls aged from 11 to 14 had abortions. Of those, 68 were 14-year-olds and 13 aged 11 to 13.
The latest figure is nearly twice the 43 girls under 14 who had abortions in 1991. While the figures have generally been rising, the peak was in 2005, when 105 girls aged 14 and under had an abortion.
If I were a sub at Stuff I’d have led with the angle: Could pre-natal vitamins cause rise in teen abortions? The traditional explanation for statistics like a rise in youth abortions is that our society is sick (lack of parental responsibility!) but it may be because different generations are physiologically different to each other. If only parents would take responsibility and prevent their children from entering puberty so early!