"When you're older" is a stock answer we use often in our household to a range of questions.
"When can I get my ears pierced?"
"When can I have an Xbox?"
"When can I give up school?"
"When can I start drinking?"
My kids haven't asked that one yet, but this week Parliament decided that the answer remains 18. The decision by MPs to keep the drinking and purchase age of alcohol at 18, going against the Law Commission Report on Alcohol Reform, would have surely shocked many parents. In a NZ Herald online poll of 14,200, more than 60 per cent voted to raise the age to 20, against just 22 per cent wanting to keep it at 18.
Raising the drinking age would not solve the country's issues related to alcohol abuse but, when the scale of the problem is so great, it surely would have helped.
Those in favour of keeping the status quo spoke about rights - that if we deem 18- and 19-year-olds old enough to live away from home, go to work, university, take out a loan, vote and drive, then surely they are old enough to manage their drinking habits.
In theory yes, but in practice no. Wander along The Strand on a Friday or Saturday night and witness many teenagers in a state a long way from responsible and a short way to unconscious.
Another "appropriate age" under debate is the right age for children to engage in social media, as James Fuller reports today. Currently the right to go on Facebook is not legislated and it is largely left up to parents. Tauranga parenting expert Vicki Kirkland says children as young as 5 log on to the social media network, and has concerns that it is not being adequately monitored. American child advocate and civil rights attorney James Steyer says children should not join Facebook until they are 15.
Unlike a drinking age, a Facebook age would be hard to legislate. While parents and schools can set rules about children's media engagement, it is largely impossible to censor. And why would you want to, when it has the potential to open doors to a new type of understanding about the world?
What would make sense is for schools and parents to engage in media education so that children not only know how to use social media but also have the ability to self-regulate - to analyse and filter what is appropriate and not, what is right and wrong, what is objective or biased or sponsored, what is exploiting them, selling to them and how media works.
Our US expert may argue that children are not able to do this until they are 15 but young children can take on these concepts if they are explained well.
I might be the only person in Tauranga not on Facebook. The use of social media to make friends seems to me such a false pretence. If my children want to partake in it then I will let them, but also suggest to them that the personas and experiences people create on Facebook may not be real but rather just what people want to portray. In that sense, Facebook is one type of reality but it can never replace a real network of friendships which are built on real human connections, including the boring bits. While there are very good arguments for young children to engage in social media - with guidance - there is no such reasonable argument for wanting them to drink at a young age.
In my view, MPs have dropped a very big ball on the drinking age. I only hope that other proposals in the Alcohol Reform Bill are passed, including prosecuting those who supply to minors, even if they are parents.
It's hard to expect children to have any sense of personal responsibility if parents stock the fridge up with RTDs for their sleepovers and let them trawl all night on an unsupervised laptop.