As I write this morning, thousands of kids around the country are receiving their Junior Cert results… there will be tears and there will be whoops of joy. And later there will be lots of underage drinking and tomorrow some of our papers will carry photos that will strike terror into the heart of lots of us parents.

I myself will be heading into this scary teenage territory again in the coming years.  I have been there before as my oldest is now 25 but I am fairly certain that things in this country have gotten a whole lot worse since she did her Junior Cert in 2003.

How do I know this?  From friends and neighbours who have 15 and 16 year old kids.  From hearing them worry endlessly about how much freedom is enough but most of all from listening to their worries about their children drinking.

From talking with these parents I know that is not just their own children and their friends they have to worry about.  They are also often trying to enforce a ‘no drink’ rule in an environment where other parents are willing to either turn a blind eye to the fact that their 15 year old is drinking or who have decided to allow them a ‘couple of glasses of wine, cos sure they are going to do it anyway.’  You know the logic – the one that says it is better that they drink at home than in a field!!

The drinking culture that up until now we have in Ireland seen as an integral part of having the craic has led us to have a way too relaxed attitude to teenage drinking.  If the stories I hear are true, Dublin city on a weekend night (or possibly tonight) will be full of our young people some so drunk they can’t stand up.  They are vulnerable and they are at risk.

Add into this alcohol fuelled mess our over made up, tangoed, slapper looking teenage girls and we have the right recipe for disaster. You know the look – skirts barely covering their ass, cleavage hoisted to below their chin and vertigo inducing heels that cause them to develop a duck walk would be funny except that increasingly I feel these girls are sometimes living up to the image they are portraying.  Until recently I dismissed the tales of young teenage girls in ‘no alcohol’ discos run in rugby clubs giving blow jobs to boys as urban myths.   Now I wonder…. and I worry.  How we have gotten to the place where our educated young women think that dressing like a hooker and then acting like one is empowered living is beyond this old woman’s comprehension.

As I see it we in Ireland have two major problems with our youth that we need to urgently to address.

The first is our problem with teenage drinking.  As parents we need to wake up.  Allowing our precious very sensible, well brought up 15 year old ‘a few beers or glasses of wine’ is not the sign of responsible parenting.  It’s an abdication of our responsibilities.  We don’t live in a bubble.  We live in a society where alcohol no longer tastes like alcohol (making it so easy to drink by the gallon) and where drinking to excess is seen by our children as an essential part of a good night out.  As parents we need to remember that teenagers (even the well brought up ones) are usually unlikely to tell you the whole story or the truth.  Most of their drinking is not done in the local pub it is done at home or in the homes of a friend.  “No mom, no one will be drinking much, honestly” – don’t believe it – check it out if you can.

As parents I believe we have a right to be over bearing and embarrassing if we feel we need to in order to double check what is going on.  And yes, you will be told “no-one else’s mom is like you,” or “oh mom please don’t embarrass me”.  I say go ahead.  Your teenager most likely doesn’t hold you in very high esteem at this stage in their lives anyway.

I would also welcome the introduction of a no tolerance attitude by the Gardai to drunken behaviour on the streets.  Anyone who is so drunk they can’t stand up or who is caught engaging in ‘lewd behaviour’ on the streets should be rounded up and put in some kind of holding facility overnight.  No comforts, just access to water and toilets and somewhere they will be safe until 9am next morning.  A doctor could be in attendance so that these drunken messes don’t end up clogging up and being a nuisance in our A&E departments.

Radical? Perhaps and for someone who is proud of her leftie credentials I am surprised at my solutions but I really feel it is time as a country we practiced some tough love on our young people.

The other problem I see is one that is not so easily dealt with.  As the mother of girls it is something that bothers me hugely.  Why do our young women think that dressing like slappers is attractive?  They are poured into dresses that are a size too small, too short and too revealing.  They are unable to walk in ridiculous shoes.  Their beautiful skin is plastered in way too much make up.  They have fake nails, fake eyelashes, fake tans and possibly fake boobs.  I know I now sound like a right crabby, bitter, old woman but how have our daughters lost the feminine instinct to be a little mysterious, a little enigmatic.  They put it all out there, piled high like a cheap stall in a car boot sale.

Isn’t it ironic that at a time when women are supposedly at their most empowered (although we still have some way to go yet – but that’s another blog post) we have a generation of girls who think their power lies solely in their advertising their sexuality in the most overt way possible?  How has this happened? How do we change it?

Media’s portrayal of women is probably the single largest factor in this skewed idea of what female empowerment is about.  From music videos (well especially music videos) to movies to advertising, women are largely portrayed as bodies, and surgically enhanced bodies at that.

As the old adage goes “you can’t be what you can’t see”.  We as parents need to be conscious of this constant and very subtle undermining of women’s true power which pervades our everyday.  It’s on buses, in magazines, on the TV, in the cinema and our young girls who are at that stage in their lives of trying to work out who they are, are very open to this brain washing.  

All we can do as individual parents is to be very aware of these almost subliminal messages our daughters are getting every day and try to counter it and highlight what is happening.  We need to actively seek out positive examples of real female power and bring them to our children’s attention.

I would urge you to also visit the Miss Representation website and view the trailer of their powerful documentary.  It will certainly help you understand what is going on.  It might be the first step in us redressing the balance.

In the meantime congratulations to all who received their Junior Cert Results today.
Enjoy celebrating this milestone – but please remember your parents… and your dignity.