Pubdate: Tue, 10 Jun 2008
Source: Scotsman (UK)
Copyright: 2008 The Scotsman Publications Ltd
Author: Hamish MacDonell
Cited: Scottish Futures Forum
Referenced: The Forum's full report/recommendations, 74 pages Executive summary, 7 pages
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Children Have a Right to Learn About the Real World They Live In. Our 
Goal Should Be to Support That

DRUGS abuse is something most of us like to ignore in a sort of "out 
of sight, out of mind" way. It is only when we are forced to confront 
it that we realise that something has to be done.

It was a couple of years ago, when my children were still young 
enough to crawl around putting things in their mouths, that I found 
two hypodermic needles in our front garden.

I was both terrified and furious. I didn't want my children going out 
of the front door - ever. I don't mind if these people want to kill 
themselves, but how dare they risk the health and future of my children.

In retrospect, that really wasn't good enough. We should mind if 
people take drugs, and not just because they may drop needles over 
our front gates, but because of the knock-on effect that drug use has 
on our society as a whole.

Over the last 24 hours, two major and apparently unconnected reports 
have been published, one on children and one on drugs.

The children's report, prepared by the UK's four children's 
commissioners, warned, among other things, that childhood was being 
diminished because of adult attitudes.

More and more parents are being over-protective of their children. 
Children are not allowed outside to play, they are not allowed to 
walk to school and, as a result, end up living sedentary, 
screen-based existences.

Parents worry about their children being abducted, even though there 
doesn't seem to be any more danger of a child being kidnapped or 
abused now than there was 20 or 30 years ago, when children had much 
more freedom. The drugs report, by the Scottish Futures Forum, called 
for a much more liberal approach to drug use.

Consumption rooms might well cut down the number of discarded 
needles, heroin on prescription might well cut crime and the 
legalisation of cannabis might put some drug dealers out of business.

But the report from the Scottish Futures Forum seems to be about 
managing a problem that is already with us, rather than finding ways 
of actually reducing drug use.

After years of discussion, the debate in Scotland does at last seem 
to have moved on from parking addicts on methadone to a positive 
policy of rehabilitation and abstinence.

Turning Scotland into a rural form of Amsterdam may solve a number of 
drug-related issues, but it would be a mistake for two reasons: first 
because it would not deal with the underlying problem of drug use, 
and second because, while we are still part of the Union, it would 
simply attract drug users up from England.

The only real way to cut drug use is to do as much as possible to get 
current addicts off drugs - all drugs, legal and illegal - and to 
enforce the law with severe penalties on drug dealers to prevent new 
users from getting involved in the first place.

It is here that the two issues of children and drugs, although 
different in scope and effect, do appear to be linked. The more 
parents who find needles in their gardens, the more defensive they 
will get, cocooning their children indoors. That is not to say that 
fear about drugs is the only reason that parents are over-protective 
of their children; it is not.

But a heightened and probably unrealistic concern over drugs is 
symptomatic of wider concerns over violence, crime and a general 
breakdown of society.

The first stage of a solution has to be an acceptance by everyone in 
society that we have a serious drug problem and that it is a shared 
problem because we all suffer from it, not least in a diminishing 
quality of life for all of us.

If we do that, we might then find out more about it. We may then be 
able to inform our children better, giving them the knowledge they 
need to make the right decisions.

The second part of the solution is being better parents.That means 
giving our children freedom and responsibility, as well as doing what 
we can to protect them from harm.

That is going to be difficult, but much of what is wrong in parental 
attitudes comes from misinformation and ignorance. If we let our 
children play outside, we might get to know the group of youths 
hanging around on the street corner and find out that they are not 
quite so menacing as they first appeared.

If we give our children more freedom, they may grow up to be slightly 
more streetwise and able to look after themselves more competently - 
knowing who to walk away from and what to leave alone - than they 
would if we keep them "safe" indoors.

Recently, our backyard was rocked by repeated, erratic thumps on the 
big wooden gate which lets on to the road outside.

Initially, I was angry that a rare peaceful evening was being 
disrupted by the intrusive noise, but it was soon obvious that it was 
just children playing football.

Yes they were using our back gate as a goal; the din was irritating, 
but they were outside, playing, and that is so rare nowadays.

When I actually stopped being a grumpy old man and thought about it, 
I found it refreshing. I was happy to cope with the thump and crash 
of balls just behind me.

It also helped, just about, to put the discarded needles in the front 
garden into some sort of perspective. 
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