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It's time for cotton-wool parenting to change, says Michael Duncan.

On Saturday, the Weekend Herald had as one of its banner headlines, "Number of drunk women astonishes festival paramedics".

On Sunday, binge-drinking by young women also featured on Murray Deaker's Newstalk ZB show. Deaker interviewed former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer and both concurred that somehow, some way, the message must be got to these young women that drinking to get drunk is quite simply dangerous.

I agree with Deaker's and Palmer's views but not with their recommended action. To tell these young middle-class women today that drinking to get drunk is dangerous is to only exacerbate the problem.

The very reason why many young women drink to get drunk is because it is dangerous. They drink to get drunk so as to be in danger. Let me explain.

Many of these young women come from middle-class homes where they were brought up on a diet of safety. Their well-meaning parents worked hard to keep them from harm's way. Schools, play yards, swimming pools, outings, malls, you name it; all had to be safe for their children.

It is this generation of children that has become known as the "cotton-wool kids". They have been quite simply surrounded by safety. They could not walk down "that street" or talk to "that stranger" or jump into "that activity" for fear of being harmed. It was continually drummed into them, "better safe than sorry".

In this culture of fear, risk was stigmatised and an excessive preoccupation with precaution and safety became the new bottom line. These girls were brought up to be risk- averse. But then the inevitable happened and these girls morphed into young women.

Not surprisingly, they began to individuate themselves from their parents, principals and inherited principles; they rebelled against safety and looked for danger. For cotton-wool kids recklessness has become the new form of rebellion.

For many of these young women, binge- drinking is not about alcohol or simply getting "pissed". Rather, it is about creating dangerous situations where they don't know what will happen next.

Drinking sessions are for them a high-wire act, full of exhilarating fear and unanswered questions. Will they survive the night? What will happen to them? Where will they be in the morning and who with?

These young middle-class women have an unbridled fascination with fear and more so than previous generations. They have been brought up on safety and are understandably now hungering for risk.

I can therefore understand why many of these women are excessive elbow-benders but that mustn't be read as my condoning it.

That they yearn for a life of risk-taking, adventure and living on the edge is in my book understandable and to be fanned into flame.

The solution to this search is not found at the end of a bottle. Rather, it's time for parenting to change.

There has been too much about protecting our young from the world and not enough about pushing them into it.

In a considered and guided way, we must expose our school-age children to risk, to scary situations, to turbulence and fear. By doing so, we will help our children see that their need of danger can be found in so many ways other than in substance abuse.

* Michael Duncan is a lecturer in sociology and theology at Carey Baptist College, Auckland.