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It was recently reported that alcohol, tobacco and drug consumption amongst young people had fallen to the lowest level in a generation, and it has been widely observed that today’s youth seem to be a po-faced, earnest, unadventurous lot compared with their equivalents in earlier decades.
This subject is addressed in a must-read article entitled Britain’s timid teens need to go to the pub by Neil Davenport, who sees it as symptomatic of a wider social malaise.
The downside of making it much more difficult for pubs to socialise young people into adult society is a theme I have mentioned several times in the past. It is how you learn to deal with complex, multi-generational social spaces.
Adults were once of a similar view: many recognised drinking in the pub as a rite of passage, an important means by which young people became part of a local community. This is why many pub landlords used to turn a blind eye to 16- or 17-year-olds sneaking in for an illicit drink. In turn, teens would have to behave in a mature way in pubs to avoid being turfed out. Today, health authoritarians would be aghast at the idea of landlords knowingly serving underage drinkers. They would complain that drinking damages young people’s health, that it encourages alcohol dependency and aggravates anti-social behaviour. But 20 to 30 years ago, landlords and adult society more broadly instinctively understood how the pub helped teenagers become socially adept and confident adults. Far from social boozing automatically being seen as a threat, it was viewed as important to young people’s social development. Today, the reverse is the case: young people’s aversion to social drinking is stunting their development as socially confident and independent adults.
And it’s not only damaging to the pub trade, but is also likely to have wider negative social consequences:
The latest decline in boozing among young people in this new age of teen puritans is nothing to celebrate. Like staying at home with mum and dad into your thirties, it is an avoidance of what once defined us as adults. To have a truly healthy relationship with booze, it is time young people acquainted themselves with pubs and public drinking.
When I was in my late teens and early 20s, going to the pub – and a pub that catered for all age groups, not just one targeted at the young – was the default option for socialising. For most of our counterparts today, that is no longer the case and indeed, even where pubs do survive, their increasingly segmentalised nature makes it much harder than it once was.