Thursday, June 08, 2017

The Drinking Teenagers Of Mallorca

Hidden behind the rose-tinted sunglasses of a foreign observer, let's call him or her British, there is, one suspects, an enduring opinion regarding the youth and teenagers of Mallorca and Spain. Unlike their British counterparts, who will binge until they drop, the local youth are paragons of adolescent virtue who would no more partake of alcohol than they would dare to utter a swear word.

Generalisations are, as we are all aware, only so useful. They fail to provide an accurate view of society and of its component parts, of which the youth is one. Society is too complex for generalisations to suffice, but they are made nevertheless. Hence, there is the impulse to brand British youth in one way and to do so in a negative fashion when compared with other nationalities, notably the Spanish. Raised in an atmosphere and culture of respect for elders and respect for alcohol, the difference is vast. If only it were so.

Recently, I spoke with the councillor for social services in Pollensa. This was in the context of the day against domestic violence that was held in the town. She was quite clear in seeing the link between alcohol (and drugs) and sexual aggression towards women. There is, she explained, a distinction between types of parenting. One type breeds a family culture of drinking. Not a respectful one but an abusive one.

So it is with parenting in other societies, but even the best parenting can be undone by the power of peer pressure. The alarming nature of what goes on in cyberspace has made this pressure even more intense. The "Blue Whale" game is one of the most extreme examples. The ultimate challenge is for a teenager to commit suicide by jumping off a building. What madness has been cultivated?

If peer pressure might be said to be intensifying, then so also are numbers attending fiestas intensifying. And with the increased numbers come increased incidents. The head of the Balearics 112 emergency service says that there has been a "spectacular increase" in the number of people going to parties in the villages and towns of Mallorca. The "incidents", such as those caused by drunkenness, have risen by up to fifteen per cent in the space of a year.

These increases cannot solely be explained by the fact of more teenagers going to them. There are, of course, far more tourists, though how many of these actually venture to night parties in the villages of the island would be open to question. But the participation of teenagers and the concerns this is raising has led the president of the town halls' federation (and also the mayor of Sencelles) to propose placing restrictions on under-16s attending. His proposal is against a background of the most recent finding regarding alcohol consumption by the young: the average age of starting to drink is 13.8 years.

Over many years now, local authorities have been attempting (and failing) to tackle the existence of the "botellón". Street drinking parties affect all parts of Mallorca. The ages vary, but minors are among them. In Alcudia later this month, there is what is in effect a sanctioned botellón. It is in fact a "macro-botellón", the party for the end of the summer term. Hundreds, thousands of kids from parts of the island descend on the resort for one night of partying. Is drink an aspect of this? It most certainly is. And the numbers who attend offer certain hoteliers another little bonanza. Put them up and let them add to the aggravations already experienced by regular tourists because of Spanish youth.

Does this macro-botellón, though, point to a tolerance that might be said to have backfired? Local authorities are now speaking with some alarm about behaviour at fiestas to the extent that they may stop the younger elements attending, whereas they haven't previously. In Alcudia, police tutors from different municipalities advise youngsters beforehand and are themselves present. But police, as always, can only do so much. Controlling access to fiestas makes demands on police, who are stretched enough during the summer. And Alcudia is the latest town hall to admit to not having sufficient police numbers to deal with, for example, illegal selling.

A way of tackling the problem with drinking is to come down more on supermarkets. Some 60% of kids between the ages of 14 and 17 say that they buy booze from supermarkets. The government's director for public health says that there is a "problem" with teenage drinking. The fact is that it is not a new problem. Put away the rose-tinted sunglasses. Mallorca youth is like any other youth.

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