Researchers believe that the level of teenage alcohol consumption in South Africa is alarming. Astudy conducted by the national Medical Research Council shows that about 50 % of learners in a high school have consumed alcohol. Evidently, alcohol is the most frequently used drug by teenagers and it is at their teenage years that the pressures to participate in drug and alcohol abuse are at their highest.

The article titled “‘It breaks my heart to see this’” by Zinhle Mapumulo (City Press, 22/01/12, p. 10) receives a GLAD1 from Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) for raising awareness about the consequences of alcoholism amongst teenagers, its impact on their health and family life; and for respecting the rights to privacy and dignity of the children interviewed by using pseudonyms to hide their identities.

The article reported on the broader social consequences of teenage alcoholism. It mentioned how teenage drinking and driving is especially dangerous as teens don’t have much experience behind the wheel, and their bodies are not used to metabolising alcohol. For these reasons, drunken driving fatalities involving teenagers are disproportionally high.

The piece also explained how teenagers who drink more are likely to engage in sexual activity, have unprotected sex, have sex with a stranger or be the victim or perpetrator of sexual assault. This is very problematic in a country with a high HIV infection rate and the epidemic incidences of rape.

Zinhle Mapumulo also pointed out that teenagers who drink heavily tend to complete fewer years of education compared to teens that do not and that teenagers who start drinking at an early age are more likely to be dependent on alcohol. Research shows that when teens or anyone else abuses drugs and alcohol for long periods, it becomes harder to stop them. This is illustrated by sourcing is a 16 year old girl who in her interview revealed that she has since quit school and drinks daily as a form escapism.

The journalist also interviewed other young people to get their views on the topic and they cited peer pressure as the main reason they started drinking. Though she does not include details for parents or the teenagers themselves can go to seek help, through expert advice, the journalist offers parents advice on how to prevent alcoholism in their children. Erik Nel, Horizon Alcohol and Drug Centre marketing manager in Ekurhuleni and Khayelihle Gumbi, a rehabilitated alcoholic and founder of Ukukhanya Rehabilitation Centre in Umzinyathi, KwaZulu-Natal advise parents to:

• Host alcohol-free parties and to be at home when their teenagers have parties;

• Talk to their children about alcohol abuse and the dangers thereof;

• Constantly be on the lookout for symptoms such as mood swings, lack of concentration, constant fatigue and sudden poor performance in school;

• Never regard under-age drinking as “kids having fun”, but wrong and illegal; and,

• Never encourage their children to drink because they do.

MMA therefore applauds City Press and Zinhle Mapumulo for the job well done on the coverage of teenage alcoholism. We hope that other media could learn from and emulate such coverage so that people may be better informed of the issues affecting children.

1. On a weekly basis, MMA highlights cases of good practice, where the media has promoted the rights and welfare of children, otherwise referred to as “GLADs”, as well as instances where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage, referred to as “MADs”